Wangaratta Jazz Festival

“A jazz maverick is a jazz musician who only plays by his rules and his/her jazz skills will get them far – Howard Moon of the Mighty Boosh is seen as a jazz maverick.

Your correspondent’s only previous exposure to jazz has been courtesy of Howard Moon and the great Ron Burgundy, but there were mavericks a-plenty at this year’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival.

Rules shmools. With the likes of jazz improvisers like Melbourne trumpeter Scott Tinkler and Trio M from the United States, there are no rules, sir. Or if there are, they are a mystery to all but a few. Vulture’s tip for the jazz virgin is to stick to performances featuring a vocalist and work your way up from there.

And this year’s festival provided plenty of choice in the vocalist department, from the old school blues of Charlie Musselwhite to the sweet sounds of Michelle Nicolle’s seemingly effortless vocals. The National Jazz Competition semi finals and finals are held every year on this weekend, and the three finalists provided their audience with thrilling performances. If the length of time taken by the judges to make their decision was any indication, it was a close-run thing. Kristin Berardi was eventually announced the winner, with Kate Kelsey-Sugg coming second, and Vulture favourite Liz Tobias third.*

Other highlights were Firth Date’s brand of swing, appearing at the user-friendly Pinsent Hotel, and USA bad boy Jon Cleary at the Blues Marquee. The mosh pit at the Marquee was crammed full of senior citizens rocking out to the gravel-voiced charms of Cleary, who played his silver-haired audience like his honky tonk piano.

Another category of pianist altogether was Welsh-born Gwilym Simcock, another safe pair of hands for the jazz newcomer. His easy connection with the audience in the magnificent Holy Trinity Cathedral set the scene for each of his compositions. His first, ‘The Gripper’, was named after the party guest/stalker who grips your hand and stands between you and escape. Simcock apologised in advance for his “annoying right hand” aka the Gripper of the title, which dominated and overran his left, the ‘victim’ of the piece.

There is something really special about attending a big-name blues festival in a regional town like Wangaratta. Like your clueless correspondent, you might be wandering through the temporary ‘outdoor cafes’ in a closed off street and bump into French songbird Cyrille Aimée, or be asked directions to the Blues Marquee late at night by crooner Vince Jones.

The Wangaratta Jazz Festival has been working its magic successfully for 22 years, and 2012 was no exception. The combination of top-notch overseas and home-grown talent has shown once again that this country town is no bumpkin where world class jazz is concerned, and has created at least one more would-be Jazz Maverick right here.

If you missed the broadcast on Radio National Classic FM, you can download it at


And so you’re all prepared for next year: 

What: Wangaratta Jazz Festival

When: Melbourne Cup Weekend

Where: Numerous venues throughout Wangaratta

Cost: Day and Weekend Passes are available as well as VIP passes and some free events. Ring (03) 5722 8199 for more information


Betty Barker


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