Perth International Jazz Festival comes to town from Friday, November 6, to Sunday, November 8, across multiple venues in Perth. One of the highlights this year is set to be Cotton Club Dance Party, where audiences will be transported back to New York in the 1920s when jazz was all the rage. It’s an opportunity to catch two of Perth’s best big bands, 950 Express and the Oz Big Band, playing almost simultaneously on opposite sides of the Rechabite Hall, Northbridge, on Saturday, November 7 (get more info and tickets here). BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Musical Director of the Oz Big Band, Adrian Hicks, to find out what jazz meant to society back in the prohibition era, the fun in recreating it now, and why it’s still so danceable after all these years.
How does it feel to be performing for Perth International Jazz Festival?
We are very excited, as we’re a semi-professional band it really makes us feel proud to be recognised as a high-quality jazz ensemble. We have toured interstate seven times to headline swing dance festivals, but I’m really looking forward to this high-profile performance in our home state.
It must have felt for some time that the festival wasn’t going to happen this year?
Definitely! Every cloud has a silver lining and in WA we can have the opportunity to showcase more of the talent we have in this great state.
Tell us about what jazz was like back in the prohibition era?
Jazz was emerging from a melting pot of Blues and Ragtime in a time when there was still severe racial oppression. It was a voice of a suppressed people that blossomed into something that could not be ignored by the wider society. It became a signature of fun and excitement as well as a reflection of the fast times.
What do you think was behind its dramatic rise and how was it viewed by most of society at the time?
Once the depression hit, Americans needed heroes and those heroes emerged from that despair and gave people hope. Legends like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman. I also feel it was the works of George Gershwin and Louis Armstrong that started to make inroads into mainstream society.
And what was it that drew you toward playing the music of yesteryear?
Personally, it was the Neo-Swing style that hit in the 1990s that inspired me to get more into my trumpet playing. Bands like the Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were hip and getting airplay on Triple J at the time. Perth Big Bands like Libby Hammer’s Hip Mo Toast were regularly playing downstairs at His Majesty’s Theatre (Formerly the Greenwich) and I loved watching her band, so I got into WAYJO (West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra) and never looked back.
And how is this all going to play out with the Cotton Club Dance Party? What kind of night can we look forward to?
If you love big bands, then this is for you. If you don’t know what it’s all about, then you’ll know by the end of the night! It’s basically a Big Band Battle with both bands playing a set of 30 minutes each back-to-back, so the music never stops. That’s three hours straight of live music. Both The Oz Big Band and 950 Local are regulars on the swing dance scene here in Perth so expect to see some great “Lindy Hop” dancing too.
What or who else are you looking forward to catching at Perth International Jazz Festival this year?
I am really keen to see The Amnesiacs doing Radiohead arrangements in a Big Jazz Band format. I’ve always admired Radiohead and their effort to constantly innovative their style. I will also pop into some WAYJO gigs too as I’m always interested in seeing the next generation of WA’s talent.
And finally, what is your favourite dance move you hope to see on the floor when you are performing?
I’ll never be tired of watching a full dance floor do the “Shim Sham” to Tain’t What You Do. I’m sure we’ll get a swag of dance “cats” down to the gig as they always make performing more spectacular for us and the audience. After all, the music was made for dancing!