Yes, you can tell it’s that time of year, as there are just far too many musicians appearing around town wearing Santa hats.
Only just last week we played a traditional “office Christmas lunch”. This was traditional in the sense it was held in the seminar room, and we strongly suspect that they were all back at their computers by 4 pm. Certainly no shenanigans with photocopiers at this one – but each to his own.
But now, let’s cast our minds back to October, where we left you last. Sarah had flown off overseas and Spectrum (with Peter) went to the Manly Festival Jazz Festival, where despite continual rain, a good time was had by all. The following week, Spectrum helped celebrate the birthdays of the Levers twins (Mark and Scott – 18 and 21 respectively, and actually about 6 months apart) in grand swinging style.
To fill in the slight lull in FAQ gigs, Peter went and made random appearances at Floriade with Canberra City Band, and In Full Swing. Also, due to no real fault of his own, he found himself in the Queanbeyan Players orchestra pit – delightfully and ironically disguised as a second trombone player in a Gilbert and Sullivan.
Sarah made in back from the States in one piece, with a brand new microphone and sundry suitcases full of earrings and Broadway merchandise. She was just in time to join Spectrum as they played a “concert” for the Yass Musical Society. This was a very successful evening of swing that evoked memories of Gene Krupa’s visit to the region for at least one local.
Early November saw as back at our now ‘regular gig’, the launch of Canberra Repertory’s 2009 season. Theatre buffs would do well to check what Rep has to offer next year.
Sarah then made her debut as vocalist with the Canberra City Band. Choosing a varied yet reliable program of Gershwin, Gershwin, Gershwin and Arlen/Young, she braved the rigours of a 6am bus ride all the way to the Temora, for the annual Air Show. Peter also went for the ride to ensure there was still plenty of Tuba backing for the necessary Dambusters’ March and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines that always complements Gershwin so nicely at those sorts of events.
Later that week we had the trio back together, and a whole lot more as we played three nights in a row. Thursday was the JaCS (Kings and Queens) Ball, at the Hellenic Club. JACS stands for Justice and Community Safety (the ACT Department thereof) and this was their first effort at a fund raising ball, but hopefully not their last. We kicked off the evening with that well known dinner music combo of Frequently Asked Questions plus Doug Luke on guitar and Mark Levers on drums, and then gave them a couple of solid brackets of the full Spectrum for dancing.
Friday night we were back at the Casino Canberra. Now far be it from us to comment on the diversity of patronage at such a place, but it still remains a mystery as to how some people will see an electric keyboard, automatically assume it is synthesizer, and thus (naturally) request disco music. Despite sporting it out amicably, being forced to use the expression: “Sorry, we are a jazz band” still grates a bit at times.
That night was also the debut of Sarah’s new “Speaker on a Stick’. Now, if you have been to see any live music group play, you may think this is not that big a deal. But we were excited about it, and it now means that everyone gets to carry an amp to the gig.
You might recall Saturday 22 November as being one of the coldest summer afternoons on record in Canberra. We certainly did; as we were in a marquee in Bungendore, braving icy winds and ever threatening rain for a lovely garden wedding reception. Despite the need to brush icicles off instruments it was a very pleasant event and proved the value of playing gigs with decent caterers (we recommend the Rubicon in Griffith).
The following week it really did bucket down, so the new venue for us – the Gold Creek Country Club in Nicholls, had us inside on a Friday evening rather than the preferred spot of out on the terrace over looking the golf course.
The weather was vastly improved for one of the last Spectrum performances for the year, in Garema place (with Sarah on vocals, Peter on Bass). Spectrum has said farewell to band leader Rod Mason, who is moving to Sydney to further his music/army career. Rod did wonders for Spectrum in his time as MD, inspiring us musically and bringing in a host of work. The band now looks forward to working with Steve Carter, from RMC, in the new year.
So with one weekend left before Christmas, you can still catch us at the Folkus Room on Saturday 20th, or else the Repertory Christmas Party on Sunday 21st. After that we all depart for various alternate climates, be it San Diego, Maleny or downtown Cook.
A Merry Christmas to al our readers and see you in the New Year.
(Don’t try and work out the title of this piece. It’s just something that appeals to Bass players)
Anyway, back in August, FAQ was entirely subsumed by Spectrum as we ‘Battled With the Bands’ as part of the Canberrang weekend of swing dancing. Spectrum and The Blamey Street Big Band set up at either end of the Albert Hall for a Savoy-style battle of the big bands. The winners were clearly, music, swing and dancing, as both bands filled the night with top big band music.
Next week, we celebrated James’ birthday at the Southern Cross Club with a great evening of music by Janet Seidel, along with her touring trio, plus piano great Joe Chindamo. Janet was promoting her most recent album: Charade - The Henry Mancini Songbook, and we now have several autographed copies, if you want to hear a sample.
On the weekend, Sarah and Peter were part of Spectrum as they played at the 70th birthday party for Bob Wood – the living legend within Canberra City Band. Bob has been playing with City Band and Canberra jazz groups since the late 1800’s, including the days when live dance bands were just about the only form of entertainment in this town. Apart from an unfortunate incident involving bagpipes (ie they were played in a confined space), it was a great night for all.
Spectrum also had a bit of a novelty night on 29 August when it played for “Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque Graduation Night” (the title says it all really). Billed as Searchlights and Sirens, the combination of swing, World War II songs, and women of all ages in varying degrees of undress, definitely had something for everyone. Spectrum leader, Rod Mason, was later heard to remark that he felt that he had too much fall in his lap – but we still aren’t sure if he was talking about setting up the sound system, or the audience participation segment. Whilst the trumpet section did generally behave themselves, there did seem to be a lot more saliva on the floor than normally produced.
Moving on to things more decorous, Spectrum (including all of FAQ) played at the Folkus Club, the following night. Set within the Serbian Club, Mawson, the Folkus Room is an excellent live music venue and deserves the support of all music fans. For the band it was also a delight to play a ready made venue with everything set up and the sound all under control. As a trio we have vowed to return there at the earliest opportunity.
Early September saw us back at the Casino for a regular Friday night slot. Several new charts made their debut, including Pick Yourself Up, Secret Love, and What’ll I Do – a delightful waltz, as long as we remember to play it in three–four. Due to whole host of rearrangements, playing on the Friday left Saturday free for some us to go and see The Kranksy Sisters. This trio is a truly inspirational, comic music group, and since we already have the Tuba, we are now seriously investigating which one of us should take up the musical saw.
Mid-September saw the trio grow into a sextet. Under the ambiguous guise of 'the CCB Combo' we played a conference dinner at Old Parliament House. With running theme of 'The Forties', Frequently Asked Questions, plus Doug Luke and the Levers Brothers (Mark and Scott) were well suited to rolling out dinner music and swing dance tunes. Some of our friends from Jumptown dropped in to provide some demonstrations and a quick lesson in dance steps. We were left only slightly bemused by the actions of the commercial event organisers, for such odd requests as “Band to play CD so people can talk”, and the inability to distinguish tempo from genre:
“Can you play something more up tempo ?”
”You mean faster ?”
“No, we were thinking ABBA.”
The next night we were back at it, in the slightly less salubrious, but much better decorated, surrounds of the YMCA Boat Shed in Yarralumla, for a private 30th birthday party. The requests this time were far more appropriate, so we were able to knock out a version of Fever without too much trouble. It is also quite likely that Sweet Georgia Brown is going to find its way onto our play list more often from now on.
You won’t see us around this town in the immediate oncoming weeks, as Sarah sets off overseas – to buy a new microphone, and possibly some earrings. Peter will also be up at the Manly Jazz festival, playing with Spectrum on October 4.
Sarah lost her dear friend Craig Patterson on Monday 15 September. Craig had an extraordinary passion for music. He & Sarah met debating, when still at school, and worked in the same shopping centre - he in the classical music store, and she in the bookstore (which sort of sums them up) - and they bonded over an argument over whether she should buy a recording of the Nutcracker conducted by Dorati (his choice) or one by Previn (hers) - reflecting his lifelong love of classical music and hers of jazz. They studied together, lived together, worked together and shared music and laughter and tears and a relationship of more than 25 years which the word "friendship" is not adequate to describe.
With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young hearts ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be,--
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.
-- George Santayana
We played a really lovely gig this evening at Old Parliament House. We were booked by DEEWR for a cocktail reception in the Members Dining Room - Peter & his bass are on sabbatical in Queensland, but we pulled a few strings, and the fabulous Doug Luke stepped into the breach on guitar. The different ensemble let us mix it up a bit and James had a great time letting his left hand loose on the bass lines for once (usually he only needs it to change light bulbs) while Doug gave us some gorgeous solos and Sarah tried out some new scat. We had included Jobim's Wave in the set list specifically for Doug's nifty chord progressions, and were rewarded when the organiser told us the Brazilian ambassador had thanked her for the Brazilian music and how well it was performed. The gig was a short one - only 90 minutes - but we really enjoyed ourselves, and we think the audience did too (especially the lady waving napkins in time to the music!)
While we're not ruling out any last minute gigs should they be offered, the next few weeks will be taken up a bit by our commitments with the Spectrum Big Band, with the Battle of the Bands (Spectrum vs Blamey Street) on 8 August at the Albert Hall; Bob's Birthday Bash on 16 August, and a big weekend at the end of August with appearances at Miss Kitka's House of Burlesque on the 29th and then at the Folkus Room in Mawson on 30th. FAQ will be a supporting act at the Folkus and it's a very family friendly Saturday afternoon gig, so if you've been wondering where to park the kids so you could come and hear us, bring them instead, and catch both bands together!
Our bumper year continues with another busy few weeks kicking off the new financial year. On 11 July we had another of our regular Casino gigs, and this one was a corker! A very friendly audience member introduced himself to us, and then to a few others, and then introduced his new friends to some even newer friends who had just arrived, and by the second set everyone knew everyone else, and us, and were chatting and dancing and we suspect the bar was doing very well! Lots of requests - some even for songs we had just finished - and a fun and riotous evening for all concerned. We trust everyone got home safely and will come and hear us again - we could name names, but for a modest fee we promise we won't!
The following night saw us performing at a much more decorous EoFY celebration for a corporate client at the beautiful Royal Canberra Golf Club at Yarralumla. The audience was fairly quiet until we decided to ginger them up a bit with Blues In The Night! Once again, by the end of the evening there were a bunch of couples up & dancing and requesting their favourites - including "something romantic", and what could fit that bill better than My Romance? (If you think the answer to that is Isn't It Romantic, then you should listen to that second chorus again.) Some more than usually persistent listeners clamoured for an encore even as we were packing up - so finally we gave up, plugged ourselves back in, and let loose with Somewhere Over The Rainbow (we knew there must have been a reason Peter left it off the set list proper!). OK, it made for a late night - but it's good to be appreciated.
A scant few days later we were all back with Spectrum for the STOMP Titanic Ball at the Albert Hall, raising funds for CanTeen. Sarah dug out her flashiest earrings (and the competition in that regard is fierce) and the boys looked very dashing in their tuxes - especially Peter, who wore his Captain Stubing cap at a rakish angle, the effect being only slightly spoiled by Sarah's claims that it was left at his place by a sailor. James got a few solos to show off his big band chops, and Rod Mason darted about impressively, directing, sound-engineering, MC'ing and playing tenor sax all at the same time, while Tony Haley and Sarah raced up and down the stairs during each others' vocals trying to gauge the sound balance! But the effect was great, with everyone up and dancing and some excellent feedback from the crowd. As usual, the highlight of the evening was Sing Sing Sing, with the dancers clearing a space for their crack squad, and climactic solos from Mark Levers on drums and Tom Manley on clarinet.
Spectrum's fast developing a reputation as a first-rate swing band, and getting lots of work from swing dance troupes. Our next big gig is the Battle of the Bands, for Jumptown, on 8 August, where we'll be facing off against the formidable Blamey Street for the title of Best Big Band - it's going to be brilliant, so make sure you get there!
As if Merimbula wasn't enough, the rest of June was busy too - even though we cancelled our gig supporting the James Le Fevre Quintet at the Folkus Room because of a conflict with Peter's famous Sousaphone Sketch in Olde Time Music Hall (we'll be setting a new date with the Folkus soon, we hope). Yes, for most of June you could catch Peter in a very respectable dinner suit playing some amusing sousaphone punchlines at the Canberra Theatre Playhouse. He declined an invitation to sing a verse in the Cricketing Song however - an informed decision, one assumes, as he wrote it himself (with the legendary Dr Andrew Kay).
17 June was a particularly auspicious day for us, with our support of Save The Children earlier in the year resulting in an unexpected but very welcome invitation to breakfast at Government House, and then James playing his second vice-regal solo piano gig the same evening, for an official dinner for Commonwealth government ministers.
28 June provided us with an agonising dilemma - play a bracket with Spectrum at the Highland Ball? Or take a very fun private birthday party gig at the schmick Z Brasserie in Tuggeranong? Much as we hate turning Spectrum down, we chose the four brackets at Z over the single one on offer at the Ball, and in hindsight we think it was the right decision (though we were sad to miss out on working with the AFP Pipes & Drums. Policemen! In kilts!). At Z we got to premiere a couple of new arrangements of God Bless The Child and Secret Love, plus we tested ourselves at the end of the evening by accepting a few audience requests, notably What'll I Do - which worked so well we've made it a permanent fixture in the repertoire - and a waltz (any waltz - but we opted for My Favourite Things). We liked this venue, and were amused to see a poster on the wall there for our friend Tony Haley - given that Tony was guesting on vocals for Spectrum in Sarah's absence.
We have some great gigs lined up for July, too, including another public outing at the Casino on 11 July, so mark your calendars now!
Day 2 at Merimbula was a more leisurely start - we wandered into town for brunch and found a random vibraphone had set up at Poppy's Cafe, so we could enjoy yet more live music over our meals. Spectrum's second gig was at the much bigger venue at the RSL, and happily for us, word had spread about our great set the day before, and the place was packed - though we had to drop Mack the Knife as our big finale, because the previous band (the Presbyterian Ladies College Band) was performing it as their big finale as we made our way up to the stage. We opted for Sing Sing Sing instead and it went off - so we were in high spirits as we headed down to the Santa Fe again for our second gig as FAQ.
We were very pleased to have drawn the prime 7.10pm dinner slot at the Santa Fe, and again the place was full. The band before us was Jazz Travellers, and as with Spectrum, we had to make a couple of quick changes to our set list after we heard theirs! - Our arrangements are so different we could have got away with repeating some numbers, but we had lots to choose from so it was no hardship to drop a few.
To our great delight, Doug Luke arrived at the last minute and was able to join us on guitar for the whole set. We know we say a lot about how much we love working with Doug - but we really do! We kicked off with This Can't Be Love which has something for everyone - all the guys take a solo and Sarah gets to scat - and the gig just got better from there. It was particularly gratifying seeing the pianist from Jazz Travellers applauding James' solos and hearing the calls for encores of Peter's tuba instrumental in Dream A Little Dream - at least, that what we think the shouting was about... We had planned some slower, ballad type numbers for the dinner music crowd - but the crowd was buzzing so much we decided to keep the tempo up, and it paid off.
We stayed around after that set for some dinner with those very patient jazz widows Susan & Melinda, and to enjoy the next couple of bands, a Date With Neville (we tried to Google them but only got Harry Potter fan fic) and Forum. It was a great evening. And a big thank you to someone whose name badge read "Krissy", who came up to us at the end of the night and said we were the highlight of the Festival - that was one of the highlights of ours, too!
All in all, this was a very successful first Festival for us, and we're looking forward to doing it all over again at Wagga Wagga in September- hope to see you there!
And there's a free drink for the first person to guess correctly which of us came up with that header...
Yes, we're back from the Merimbula Jazz Festival where we had a fabulous time and some really successful gigs. We started off with a slight logistical hitch, discovering the house Peter foresightedly rented well in advance had been double-booked! Sarah will tell you this is why you should never leave home without a lawyer; in any event we were soon resettled in an even nicer house and scored a decent refund, to boot, courtesy of some nifty negotiating by the Rhythm Section.
We had four gigs in all booked for the weekend - two with Spectrum, and two as Frequently Asked Questions at the Santa Fe Restaurant, the official Festival venue for small bands. FAQ did particularly well in the allocation of time slots, drawing a late lunch time gig at the Santa Fe on Saturday, and the prime dinner slot on Sunday.
Day 1, Gig 1 was with Spectrum at the Twyford Hall, a nice little venue. We hung about beforehand listening to an ensemble called "Shifting Winds"; James was particularly impressed with their arrangement of Song For Susie. Under the usual brilliant direction of the inspiring Rod Mason OAM, Spectrum's gig was tight and solid and a lot of fun - Sarah was really happy with the sound production and also relieved that the first performance of Sweet Georgia Brown went over so well! It was a packed house and the audience really seemed to be getting into it - not least some of our friends from In Full Swing who came to see James' first public appearance with Spectrum.
We then headed straight down the road to catch the last few numbers from Jazz Therapy at the Santa Fe before setting up for our own gig there. It was a blast! We hit paydirt straight away with Route 66 and even without a table full of Spectrum trumpets cheering us on we knew it was going to be a good set. And it got even better when a few numbers in we were joined - ex tempore - by our favourite drummer, Mark Levers - who had come immediately from his set with Connexions, which had immediately followed his set with Spectrum- phew! He kept us ticking over nicely for a few numbers until we lost him to mild exhaustion and the lure of the Santa Fe's nachos. Sarah was in voice, James tore up the keys, and as usual Peter's tuba solos were a palpable hit.
The MC then asked us to stay on and play a bit longer while we waited for the next band - as it turned out, the next band was in fact waiting outside for us to stop. It was the Wayne Kelly Trio, so well worth waiting for, and we stayed on to swap compliments with them and listen to the atmospheric modern jazz over a few pizzas. The MC was also highly complimentary, comparing Sarah to Blossom Dearie, and all in all, the gig went so well that she almost didn't want to come back in case we couldn't repeat the high the next day!
After Wayne Kelly's magic set, we drifted back to Twyford Hall to hear our friends in In Full Swing knocking out some cool swing and hot funk under the direction of the lovely Nathan Sciberras. Then we all went our separate ways for a bit, Sarah finding an unnamed trad band at a waterfront cafe, then meeting up with James & Susan to hear the Blamey Street Big Band for a very professional double set, while Peter went along to enjoy Smoooth and some other small ensembles, before we all caught up again for a Thai dinner backed by yet another trad ensemble, this one featuring two clarinets. The great thing about the Merimbula festival is that the jazz is everywhere, not just in the official venues - there are bands playing in every cafe and on every corner, and it made us feel extra chuffed to have scored such good slots on the official programme.
Day 2 was, if anything, even better... but that's quite enough for one post. The rest will follow shortly!
May was busy for the Rhythm Section - a bit less so for Sarah who was still in recovery. We were back at the Casino on 9 May and experimenting with more instrumentals than usual so that Sarah could ease back in gently. This meant some great stuff like James' arrangements of A Train and Black Orpheus getting an outing, and Peter throwing in some extra tuba instrumentals on Georgia and Dream A Little Dream - a number which we can already tell is going to be on the "16 Most Requested" album when Verve gets around to calling us. (NB, Blue Note, you can still get in first, the details are on the contact page!)
Sarah then crawled back among the flannie sheets for a couple more weeks of self-pity and daytime television (not a tautology, but nearly), while the Rhythm Section steamed ahead without a backward glance. James has now joined Spectrum too, to sub for Adam when the latter is N/A, and part of what this means is that we now have a very cool Spectrum Small Jazz Combo which is essentially FAQ plus Doug Luke on guitar and Mark Levers on drums - and also on occasion Scott Levers on trumpet. More of which, later.
Between rehearsals for the million gigs Spectrum has coming up, James scored himself a solo gig playing the piano at Government House for a drinks reception for the Red Cross, to great acclaim and a return invitation; and Peter played tuba, timpani and tambourine (and for all we know triangle, tabor, tin whistle and other random and obscure t-beginning instruments) for SUPA's world premiere production of The Wall. Yes, the one by Pink Floyd. (That's a rock band, apparently. Sarah and James looked it up on Wikipedia.) Peter had to miss opening night for our Casino gig, and it is no secret that the producer said it was the second night that really took the roof off. By the end of the run the production was playing to completely packed houses, entirely on the strength of the reputation of the tambourine figures. Or so we heard.
May finished strongly with a double header of a Spectrum Small Combo gig at the Hyatt and the National Big Band Eisteddfod. The Small Combo on this occasion was FAQ plus Doug, Mark & Scott, and we were in top form, playing for the Hewlett-Packard Ball welcoming Towersoft employees on their merger. James directed traffic like Bernstein, Doug & Sarah traded Ella quotes, and we all got fed Wagyu veal (except Sarah, who merely sucked on an Anticol ice lozenge in a martyred fashion). The feedback from the client and the crowd was really great, and the only downside of the evening - unless you count the Levers boys being asked for ID, and none of the rest of us - was a nasty accident to the tuba, which found itself breaking the fall of an amp, which in turn was breaking the fall of a bass player whose chair was a bit too close to the edge of the stage - fortunately during set up and not while the party was underway! The tuba has been commended to the tender ministrations of Dr Dirk at Tritone and we hope to see it recovered in time for Merimbula. The amp, chair and bass player are all fine.
May closed with a bang, Spectrum taking out the Big Band Eisteddfod held at some club somewhere in the north which Sarah couldn't find if you gave her a map, a Sherpa and a carefully laid trail of shoes and earrings. Fortunately Peter is not thus handicapped. James wasn't with us for this one, but the commentator said good things about the performance of the rhythm section generally, in both pieces, and about the vocals on Too Close For Comfort - our first public outing of a very nifty Gordon Goodwin arrangement, and a promising omen for the Merimbula Jazz Festival in June.
Which is where we hope to see you next! Stay tuned for our next report. In fact, stay tuned whenever possible - James will give you an A if you need it.
April started off well, with a great gig for a Save the Children fundraising dinner at the Goolabri Golf Club, organised by the redoubtable Ruth Tannahill. Though strongly tempted to bid for an evening with Gary Humphries at the charity auction, we restrained ourselves, as what was supposed to be a 6 - 9 gig crept up to 11pm, such a good time was being had by all. Especially the table doing synchronised jazz hands to Bye Bye Blackbird, and the enthusiastic lady who started moving furniture out of the way so everyone could dance, unfortunately while the speeches were still in progress! It was a very fun gig and a very worthy cause, and not only have we already been invited back for next year, we've been invited to Government House for breakfast (not a big deal for James, but the rest of us are chuffed.)
Things took a slight nosedive after that, with Sarah coming down with pneumonia, meaning we had to cancel our regular Casino gig (thanks to the Brendan Drake Trio for filling in) and turn down a couple of private functions. Peter managed, as ever, to keep busy, playing with Spectrum for the Jumptown Fall Ball - Sarah was very unhappy to miss that one - and the Beijing Torch Relay - which Sarah was phlegmatic about (pun fully intended) once she discovered it involved getting up at some insane hour and queueing inconveniently for security passes. James has been able to use the downtime to do his musical director thing and work on some new arrangements, which we're looking forward to trying out soon!
Unfortunately the new demo recording has had to wait for Sarah's lungs to start functioning again, but we'll keep you posted. Better health & lots more gigs to come in May!