Musicians cooking with gas on the Bird’s Basement stage.
When it comes to the cool cities of the world, Melbourne stands tall and proud. Coffee may be the fuel of this city but music is its heartbeat and, over the decades, Melbourne’s live music scene has incubated the likes of AC/DC, Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newton-John, Nick Cave and the Little River Band.
Written by: EMMA WESTWOOD
While a pall of gloom looms over the Melbourne music scene, largely due to dogmatic venue and licensing restrictions threatening its extinction, live bands can, thankfully, still be experienced on any given night of the week in all their musical forms. And one form that refuses to give up the ghost is jazz.
“Melbourne’s jazz scene is unique among Australia’s capital cities. From tiny little jazz bars up an unmarked staircase to acoustically designed clubs and everything in-between,” says Jennifer Kerr, CEO of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) that takes place annually in June. “We’re spoilt for choice as far as artists go too. Whether you’re into the Great American Songbook or experimental free jazz, Melbourne is home to some of the best jazz artists in the world.”
Entering The Jazz Corner Hotel
When questioned about threats to the scene – and jazz itself, given it has often been cited as a dying art – Kerr is quick to point out: “I’m happy to say I’ve watched the local scene do nothing but go from strength to strength since I started with MIJF in late 2010. It’s certainly now getting lots of international attention as well, fuelled by things like MIJF’s exchange program with Singapore and Tokyo Jazz Festivals.”
“Obviously, the closure of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club after 20-odd years of operation [in 2015] was a massive change for all of us,” she continues, referencing one of Melbourne’s most influential jazz venues. “But the scene is – like jazz – ever-adaptive and responsive, and new venues and opportunities are growing in its absence. The important thing is that the number of venues, and therefore opportunities for artists to perform and audiences to hear them, has kept increasing.”
Balcony views at dusk towards Melbourne’s west
Jazz is an addiction and diehard exponents of jazz are almost religiously inured to its appeal. One such person, who caught the jazz bug early and continues to stoke the jazz fires in Melbourne, is Albert Dadon.
A man of many talents, Albert Dadon performs under the name ‘Albare’ and was successful as a pioneer of the style known as Acid Jazz in the early ‘90s. He also assumed a number of philanthropic and diplomatic roles, was responsible for nurturing and then directing the MIJF, and invested in property development where he was able to raise the kind of dollars required to see his dream of creating a Melbourne jazz venue come alive. Bird’s Basement opened in March 2015, in association with New York’s famed jazz Mecca, Birdland.
A year later to the day, and Dadon unveiled the latest of his ventures, The Jazz Corner Hotel, in the high-rise building stretching up above Bird’s Basement. Far from being a seedy juke joint, Jazz Corner is less about period authenticity and more about providing a slick, contemporary and comfortable pad for lovers of jazz to launch from in their exploration of the cultural offerings of Melbourne.
There are no porters or concierge to carry your bags here, only lobby staff in red berets as a très chic nod to the jazz salons of Paris. The hotel sports a self-contained apartment vibe, with 150 rooms offering full kitchen facilities including complimentary coffee pods and machine, which is a much-appreciated Melbourne characteristic.
‘Birds’ above the bed and LP covers in the Jazz Corner Hotel.
Jazz record covers and paraphernalia add dynamic graphic appeal to the walls. Most appropriately, blue infiltrates the colour scheme, such as in the heavy blockout drapes that create more than ample darkness when laying on your king-size pillow-top bed, recovering from a long night at Bird’s Basement.
Speaking of Bird’s, the ‘blue note’ continues into the jazz basement, both figuratively and metaphorically in a salute to the jazz label of the same name. As an event venue, Bird’s Basement is best enjoyed by booking both dinner and show. Every night is a special performance night, and you can be assured of a revelatory music experience, along with an Italian-inspired menu that is worth the visit alone.
Jazz is serious business in Melbourne and, if you need proof, The Jazz Corner Hotel and Bird’s Basement make a strong case for it. A word of warning: talking during Melbourne jazz performances is not tolerated and others are likely to shush you into silence if you do. But you will thank them later, because you won’t want to miss a moment of the music and talent unfolding before you. It’s finger snappin’ good.
The Rebirth Of Cool
Jazz venues around Melbourne
One of the younger jazz venues in Melbourne, The Jazzlab comes from a pre-eminent name in local circles – Michael Tortoni – Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. With this club, Tortoni offers a seven-day-a-week roster of live jazz excellence, although located a touch further out from Melbourne’s CBD grid in the inner northern suburb of Brunswick – jazzlab.club
On the very lively and bohemian social strip of Brunswick Street in Fitzroy (not to be confused with Brunswick the suburb) is Uptown – a late(r) evening jazz hangout open from Wednesday through to Saturday. Uptown celebrates what it calls a particular Melbourne sound that is “krusty, krunchy, more creative or streetwise.” Witness it and make up your own adjectives – uptownjazzcafe.com
Having hopped all over the place to varying locations since 1998, Dizzy’s is staying put (at least for the foreseeable future) on Bridge Road in Richmond, upstairs from the Boheme Restaurant, not far from the centre of Melbourne. A rolling bill of smaller acts appears on Friday, Saturday and Thursday nights, while Wednesday is the night for Dizzy’s Big Band – dizzys.com.au
Tucked down one of Melbourne’s famous back alleyways is the super cool Paris Cat. Open Wednesdays through to Saturdays, Paris Cat offers three levels of jazz indulgence – music in both the Basement and Parisian Loft, and tapas and libations in the Gallery. Exuding French post-war Bee-Bop era style, Bob Dylan’s even been known to loiter in this crowd – pariscat.com.au
In the subterranean depths of The Jazz Corner Hotel in the heart of Melbourne is Bird’s Basement. If you’ve read this article already, you’ll know about it. If not, there’s still time – birdsbasement.com