Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble members Bill Beasley on trombone, Band Leader, Ken Collins, on trumpet, and Barry Currie on clarinet and saxophone at the recent celebrations.
By JOHN DOOLEY
MILDURA River City Jazz Club has marked its 39th birthday in style, with a luncheon held at the Mildura Golf Resort attended by more than 50 of the Club’s members and other jazz devotees last weekend.
A highlight of the day was a jam- packed program of jazz numbers performed by the six-piece Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble, who were in town for the event and who have performed in Mildura for the past 29 years.
Mildura City River Jazz Club Inc. was formed in July 1979 by a group of like-minded local businessmen, tourist operators, hotel owners and lovers of jazz.
Today, however, jazz is a dying genre of music, something former Manangatang dryland farmer and president of the Club, Jack Thompson, finds greatly disappointing.
“Despite all the enthusiasm for jazz by our almost 60 members, Mildura still can’t ‘muster’ a jazz band,” he said. “There used to be one in the early days and we‘d love to have one here, but it’s just not in vogue these days.
“Jazz has been through two cycles since it began in the late 1800s in New Orleans, including during prohibition in America, when it was almost put out of business.
“Then came the swing era, which became popular during the Second World War, and jazz really never recovered until about 1946.”
With prohibition in America from 1920 to 1933, and the introduction of speak-easies, jazz started to get a bad name, the press also started to brand it as ‘immoral’, even citing people were having heart attacks due to jazz.
Speak-easies were illegal drinking dens, saloons or nightclubs that sold illicit alcoholic beverages during the prohibition era, a time when it was illegal to sell, manufacture or transport alcoholic beverages (bootlegging) throughout the United States, although it was not against the law to drink alcohol.
Speak-easies was a nickname given to these bars because patrons had to whisper code-words to enter the establishments, which claimed to sell soft drinks, but in reality, served liquor behind the scenes.
With the end of prohibition, big bands playing swing were making their presence felt and jazz slowly took a back seat until after World War 2 (WW2).
Interestingly, during WW2 the German war machine banned jazz and other similar styles of music, and only allowed German marching and drinking styles of music to be played, which developed an underground of musicians, and so when the war ended, jazz exploded across Europe.
The visiting jazz ensemble’s leader, trumpet player and vocalist, Ken Collins, said his band was formed out of the Maryborough Jazz Club almost 30 years ago.
“A group of musicians in the region decided to get together, some of whom were already part of a local dance band, and that’s where it started,” he said. “I was one of the first members and I’m about the only original member left.”
Ken said the reality is that interest in jazz is dying.
“You’ve just got to look at the age of the crowd here today, and we find it’s pretty much the same case at any of the venues we play at throughout Victoria, it’s a very grey-headed audience,” he said. “Sadly, every year when we come back to Mildura, there’s someone missing.”
The boys in the band all come from different parts of the State, including Moe, Castlemaine, Ballarat, Newstead and Stawell.
“We have a great deal of fun playing together, we average a gig once a month, which is ideal for us, and we always look forward to coming to Mildura,” Ken said. “We have great memories of the festival that Mildura used to hold, we came every year and now it’s gone, we miss it greatly.
“We’ve made marvellous friends up here, just looking around we know everyone here today.”
They may be getting on in years, but that didn’t stop jazz enthusiasts from strutting their stuff on the dance floor as the Maryborough band played bracket after bracket of well known hits, including the famous Glenn Miller big band classic, ‘In the mood’.
Jack said that today’s younger people have different interests and tastes in music, and so it’s difficult to see the club going on for much longer, as all the members are quite aged.
“The biggest problem for jazz in general, is that the people who are interested in it and run the clubs are all getting older,” he said. “I’m one of the younger ones and I’m getting on, and this is the case for most clubs like ours.”
Jack said the membership was around 60, having fallen from 85 over the years as people have either moved from the district, grown too old to attend, or sadly passed away.
“Having said that, quite a lot of our active members visit other regions to attend Jazz Festivals, including Port Fairy, Murray Bridge and many others, which is always an enjoyable time,” he said.
“Sadly like the Mildura Jazz Festival, the last of which was held in 2015, many festivals have ceased to exist.”
Next year the local club will celebrate its 40th birthday, and will no doubt have a big event to mark that milestone.
“The last big event we had was for our 35th birthday, and we had a night at the RSL, and also a dinner and music aboard the PS Mundoo the following night,” Jack said. “That was a big show to get to 35, and now we’re looking forward to our 40th and that’ll be a major milestone and we’ll do something special for that too.
“I’ll stand corrected, but I think we’re about the third or fourth oldest Jazz Club in Australia.”
The Mildura River City Jazz Club meets every month at MADEC, and welcomes new members and people interested in attending the next meeting or joining the club.
More information is available by contacting Jack on 0409 184 084.