Head into Jazz Country

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Head into Jazz Country

The high country are no strangers to the festival scene. Now in its 27th year, The Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival will be showcasing the more than 200 artists over three days in Victoria’s north-east. Forte chat to festival chairperson Paul Squires.

Hi Paul, thank you for taking some time to talk to Forte, has it been smooth sailing with festival preparation so far?
‘Smooth Sailing’ isn’t a phrase that usually jumps to mind when organising a music festival! But we are very fortunate to have benefited from some significant funding from Creative Victoria which certainly takes some pressure off.

We’ve noticed and appreciated female presence in the line-up, has that development been noticed by others?
We are focussing on emerging stars in both the jazz and blues disciplines and it’s no surprise that women are well represented given the sheer quality of performers starting to make names for themselves. It hasn’t been a conscious direction but it certainly has been well received by our loyal festival-goers.

If you can only make one day of the festival which day and venues would you recommend?
With over 200 artists performing over three days at seven venues, it’s a bit hard to pin down a single day or venue. Each day has a strong and distinct line-up and each venue has a a distinct ambience. If I had to pick though, St Patricks usually delivers a few surprises and the line-up on the Saturday this year at that venue looks very exciting. We are also very excited about the King George Gardens Stage which was a new addition last year. It’s an open air stage for the less ‘die-hard’ jazz and blues fans, in a beautiful setting with all the best local food and wine, giving it a real festival feel.

Is there any ‘fresh meat’ we should be paying attention to this festival?
Plenty. The festival prides itself on providing a foundation for emerging performers, best demonstrated by the National Jazz Awards. This year’s instrument is the saxophone and we expect a hotly contested award. There are also some exceptional young saxophonists on the main bill, including Melissa Aldana and Kellie Santin.

Do you feel the region with its rolling hills and wineries is the perfect atmosphere for jazz?
We always suggest people explore our region while they’re here as we have some of Australia’s finest wine and food regions at our doorstep. Whether it’s the hills, food and wine or perhaps the people, the festival has a friendly and relaxed reputation and that certainly suits the music and creates a beautiful experience.

There are some international acts coming that locals mightn’t even of heard of, what drew you to bringing these performers to Wangaratta?

The opportunity to catch some of the emerging stars of jazz and blues ‘before they’re big’. Melissa Aldana is a magnificent saxophonist which is appropriate given the instrument for this year’s National Jazz Awards, and JJ Thames is a blues performer set to take the blues world by storm. Ronan Guilfoyle is an established bassist whose eight piece suite ‘A Shy-Going Boy’ will be a musical treat.

Thank you for your answers, any sage advice for aspiring jazz musicians?
Stick with it and come visit us in jazz country for a leg up.

When & Where: Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival, Wangaratta – October 28 – 30