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The Melbourne International Jazz Festival is an annual event showcasing international jazz musicians in Melbourne and it’s starting in a week’s time, from 1 to 8 May. During the week Melbourne’s streets, concert halls, clubs, bars and galleries will host to world’s leading modern masters of jazz, including Charles Lloyd, Ahmad Jamal, Mulatu Estatke and Peter Brotzmann.

Michael Tortoni (Artistic Director) and Sophia Brous (Program Director) have put together a rich multi-layered program of events – of course there will be music, but there will also be film, visual art, public art installations and forums. As you can imagine it’s an extremely busy time of year for the festival so big thanks to Sophia Brous for taking time out for today’s HOT Chat.

9331_125209859063_686259063_2561621_1922451_nSophia, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to be the Program Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival?

I have been playing music and singing since I was very young… I studied jazz at the VCA and also at a conservatory in the USA and all along the way I was getting involved in radio and curating different music series and one-off shows. I moved back to Melbourne a few years a go after a few years of frat parties in Boston and immersed myself in the local music scene, going to shows every night and playing. Around that time I was offered the opportunity to work at the Festival, it’s been tutti frutti ride ever since…

Jazz is often considered an ‘old people’ genre of music. So how did you become interested in jazz and do you think your young age (24!) brings anything different to the festival program?

When I was around 12 or 13 I just became obsessed with jazz and listened to a lot of records, mostly bebop and swing and then into more free jazz stuff as I got older. I was also listening to a lot of rock, noise and DIY home recorded pop. I had music teachers that encouraged me a lot to look at jazz repertoire, experiment and improvise. I guess my musical interests have broadened a lot since then but I still have a very firm connection and deep love of jazz.

I tend to think of music as incremental and evolving …I definitely apply this to how I put together the festival. I really hope to express what’s actually going on in Melbourne and around the world in a way that’s inviting for people, if we’re able to even partly articulate that then we’re on the right track…

What’s a typical work day for you?

Wake up, no breakfast, head to the office, work, work, meetings, work (with RRR blaring), dinner with friend or go to a gig, go home and work, collapse into bed. Repeat.

I’m working on inserting a rest on a tropical island somewhere in there…

What do you enjoy most about working in the Melbourne International Jazz Festival?

It’s a great thing to be able to put together so many projects around a city that I love so much, I get real kick out of that…plus the shows at the Festival will be FUN, it’s pretty blissful to sit back after the many months of putting it together and enjoy the show…

What are some of the most interesting or challenging projects that you’ve worked on in your career?

Taking on my role at the festival at 22 certainly ushered me along a learning curve. I was able to apply the knowledge I had built up about the Australian and international music community whilst at the same time working within in a broader context of a large festival with partners across the government, corporate and cultural sectors. I’m not sure I even knew what a sector was before I started at the Festival…now that’s progress!

What are your must-see recommendations from this year’s festival?

Phwoar, now that’s a hard one…I’m excited about A LOT that’s happening this year. If I had to extract some highlights:


Overground, a 6 hour ‘festival within a festival’ being held across several stages in the hidden spaces of Melbourne Town Hall. The day features a huge line-up of creative improvisers including Brian Chase the classically trained drummer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, legendary free jazz improviser Peter Brotzmann, pianist Paul Grabowsky, Oren Ambarchi and a host of Melbourne’s finest including My Disco, Mick Turner, Kim Salmon, Pikelet, Kram from Spiderbait and Snawklor…it’s going to be big!

The legendary and influential Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke performing in Australia for the first time. He’s the godfather of ‘Ethio-jazz’, the infectious music dating back to the 1960s that combines Latin jazz, early soul and funk with traditional Ethiopian melodies and rhythms.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet – my pick as the most dynamic jazz quartet performing in the world right now and headed by legendary American jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd.

The Claudia Quintet from New York, led by one of musical heroes, composer John Hollenbeck.

Sangam: Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, music of absolute beauty.

Tortoise , a group combingin a fluid intersection of jazz, krautrock, techno, rock and classical minimalism.

Plus Paul Capsis, Theo Bleckmann, Miles Davis: Prince of Darkness, Noah Preminger Trio, the masterclasses, public art installations and of course The Big Jam with James Morrison, the official kick off of the festival where thousands of people are invited to come to Federation Square with an instrument or tin can and make music together…I’ll be there singing out loud and banging my chest…!

big jam

Finally, what are your tips for what’s HOT in Melbourne?

Some recent sanctuaries from the hoo ha:

Record stores: Sunshine & Grease (9 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill), Liquorice Pie Records (249A High St, Prahran +61 3 9510 4600), Northside Records (236 Gertrude St, Fitzroy +61 3 9417 7557).

Cafes: Mitte -bean on bean (76 Michael St, Fitzroy North +61 3 9077 7379) , Grigons & Orr Corner Store (445 Queensberry St, North Melbourne +61 3 9663 5192), Luncheonette (173 Rankins Road, Kensington).

Hang spots: tennis in Fitzroy Gardens; Footscray – particularly the Ethiopian stretch of restaurants and bars up from the station; dancing to wedding songs in seedy bars on King Street; monthly dance night Bamboo Musik held at the upper floor of  The Mercat (456 Queen St, Melbourne); munching pizza with coworkers in jazz festival office on a balmy autumn night (right now)…

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival will run from 1-8 May 2010. For more information check out the website, become a Facebook fan and follow them on Twitter.

For other HOT chats with interesting Melburnians, click here.