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An interview with Mal Stanley and Joanne Kee for Jazz Australia

Celebrating forty years of Jazztrack

JK: So I’m here with Mal Stanley and we’re celebrating 40 Years of Jazztrack this year. How did it all begin?
MS: Well the program began in 1976 in January of that year. The idea was to create a radio station that had a really high standard with a number of different genres, primarily classical music but there was also rock music programs and there were jazz programs, there was radio drama, some more experimental music, some ambient music.

Jim McLeod began  the program. He had been at the ABC since the fifties and he was into jazz and into broadcasting and they asked him because of his knowledge to start the show. From the programs beginning really a year or so later, it became apparent that Jim wanted to record original jazz music for the program. Before that I think the ABC had had various music departments record music. This change meant that Jim had a lot of freedom and independence about what to choose to record. So he started recording for his program, in particular from 1978 onwards live recordings and then asking musicians to come into the studio.

Jim retired in 2004. I became involved in 1990 to 93 as an engineer/producer to start with, recording jazz live and in the studio. When Jim retired in 2004 I took over presenting the program and continuing recording.

As part of the 40th year anniversary ABC music commercial has released a three CD set of two live and one studio recording. They’re also available digitally. They asked me to compile so I went back into archives as well as some more recent recordings. So we’ve got recordings going back to 1978 I think the earliest one is Mike Nock with Roger Frampton there’s some recordings from the 80s with Bob Birtles and Chris Abraham, Joe Chindamo, Mike Nock on a couple Paul Grabowsky, the Trio when they Reunited in 2003 with Gary Costello and Allan Browne. So there’s a whole range of styles.

I wanted to compile it so they work as a listen if you put the CD on, so they work stylistically flowing through as we cover the range of music styles that we record, because really the ABC is perfectly poised to do this and what we should be doing is covering artistic endeavours in all sorts of forms.  I guess the good thing is that it’s coincided really with the growth in Australian Jazz since the program started. It’s not necessarily because of the program, but it’s been a happy parallel that perhaps from the late 70s up to now there’s been such a growth in Australian musicians. The number of musicians, the venues have ebbs and flows and the stars I guess have developed over those intervening years. I guess what we do is try and document that.

Not everything comes out commercially, so that’s why there’s two CDs of live and one studio. Quite a few of those studio recordings have been licensed and are out on release. We have such a big live amount of recording that it’s important, I felt anyway to get some of the material out that might not get another hearing. So we balanced up some of the different styles and some of the rarer things and some of the performances. For instance there’s some of Bernie McGann who is no longer with us, so one of his quartet. I think in ‘86 or ‘87 the Sydney Studios with Bernie playing with Jex Saarelaht Trio playing the music of Monk which is perfect. So I just hope people will enjoy and listen.

JK: So what special things have you got planned for the anniversary year?
MS: What we’ve been doing is focusing on getting this release out coming up to Wangaratta. It’s Australian music month in November at ABC so we’re going to play a lot of our own recordings on Jazztrack in particular and also throughout the month on ABC jazz  and Thursday nights Live.

To be honest what we can do with our resources and within our time is to continue doing what we do, is to continue on with the projects which includes commissioning, the recordings, going out and documenting life – what’s happening, coming to festivals like we are today at Wangaratta. We’ve done probably a dozen concert recordings plus the National Jazz Awards, and this year in particular there’s a lot of Australian content here. More than other years as perhaps not so many internationals are here for various reasons. So it gives us an opportunity to cover that aspect of it. It’s almost as much as we can do with our budget with the ABC Jazz team.

I think that the fact that the program is still there is quite an achievement, not just for our team now but also for Jim McLeod and the fact that ABC Jazz is going digital network, on digital radio and also digital TV. As well this year we started doing a couple of Facebook live recordings from the festival, just to broaden the platforms that you can get us on. We’re a fairly lean operation for what we do and particularly for the Australian content we cover. I think that’s particularly important just to keep going and to keep covering what we are doing.

JK: Has the audience changed over the last 40 years?
MS: Yeh, I think it is. Commentators have kind of said jazz is dying I don’t think it is at all. I think it’s a very malleable almost amorphous art form sometimes and there’s older musicians who’ve been around for a long time since the ‘70s and ‘80s Paul Grabowksy, Joe Chindamo, Sandy Evans, Lloyd Swanton and unfortunately Bernie’s no longer with us, but the music has developed a lot and changed.

As well you’ve got an influx of younger musicians particularly through the colleges who may have been brought up without jazz tradition in their teaching and they’re drawing on other music styles like pop and all sorts of other instrumental styles. You’ve still got the people who stay in the tradition, some in the middle and then you’ve got a whole group of younger musicians who are not necessarily consciously thinking we’re not going to do that, but they’re not just not doing it because it’s not part of their breeding, if you like it’s almost a genre, if you really need to put a label on it, of jazz instrumental music played by younger musicians, played by jazz educated musicians, jazz experienced musicians so the barriers break down. I don’t think it’s a bad thing it’s always the way that jazz has developed.

Big bands kicked off in popular culture. There seems to be the rise and fall of big bands. In the swing area era when jazz orchestras were they were kind of the training grounds like Woody Herman and there was also the ABC show band the Daly Wilson big band in Australia. There were others as well. Then there weren’t that many big bands for a while. There were small ensembles but there’s certainly a lot more around now then there was 15 years ago the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra is possibly a great example, Mace Francis Big band and various others that are based around original compositions so you see the same in America.

There’s a lot of big bands in America, there are some, sure in the traditional big band, but there’s a lot of really adventurous big bands like D’Arcy James Argue of course Maria Schneider is a long-running one and of course there’s a lot of other smaller ones that are playing quite adventurous stuff and in some ways they may not make a lot of money but they are fantastic training grounds for musicians to play as part of an ensemble or sections and as well as soloists, so again it sort of flies in the face of jazz being dead or saying jazz is not so much a relevant artform.

It is interesting with some of the more traditional Styles how some of the younger players are taking this up and reinventing that sound. As you mentioned earlier some of the Bands like the Sousaphonics the Lagerphones, the Horns of Leroy, the Hoodangers who have been going for nearly 20 years and were pioneers of this sort allen browne  New Orleans Rascals it’s kind of taking the spirit of the tradition and it’s not just aping it. It’s also playing original music in the style of the older Styles New Orleans jazz the traditional styles but breathing life into it. I think I think it’s a good thing a respectful thing.

They’re not just reviving it for the sake of it. They’re all good players who often might play a much more contemporary style with another band but will get together and find what it takes to make that music come alive. This is where jazz started.

JK: What would you see as important ingredients for Jazztrack still being here in another forty years?
MS: I think what we need to do is to reflect on what’s being created. There’s a place for Legacy programming and Heritage programming. What I try to do is put older styles of music in context to be able to appreciate newer styles of music. I think you can get a lot out of it if you are aware of what’s come before, it makes your enjoyment a bit deeper, so what we need to do is to reflect on what’s going on in our recordings and also what we play both in Australia and in America and in Europe. Increasingly also in Europe, because there’s a huge jazz and improvised scene in Europe and also developing in Asia as well. We’ve also recently had recordings through from South Korea. There is quite an interesting scene happening there. From Japan is the Orbiturtle collaboration – Sydney musicians and some Japanese musicians. There’s a big jazz scene in Japan. We’re in that area so I think that’s an area where we also need to reflect on what’s going on.

JK: Do you think that maybe we haven’t paid so much attention to these places as we’ve been seduced by America?
MS: So we haven’t heard so many European and now it’s starting to be Asian influences perhaps in the past. Certainly over the last six or seven years both myself and Gerry Costa who hosted Jazz up Late (which unfortunately doesn’t run anymore) were becoming much more aware of what’s happening in Europe, because Europe and particularly the UK took it’s lead from America, particularly in the ‘50s. It’s really developed a very diverse and interesting scene in the 60s. There’s some fantastic musicians in the UK.  I think the UK has undergone a Revival in the last decade so we get a lot of music now from some of the UK labels like Edition records which is a great label or Whirlwind recordings or from Europe as well, though we tend to have to chase those a bit. But there’s a big scene and always has been in Europe too. You know in some ways when I look back at some of the programs, in some ways there’s a little less from America. It ebbs and flows. Of course there’s nothing wrong with the American approach it’s where it comes from, but yes diversity is the buzz word. At the moment it’s what we should be doing and certainly there’s more happening now in Asia but we probably need to chase it up

JK:  Any tips for your listeners on where to be listening to widen their hearing styles.
MS: Listen to Jazztrack!
With the Internet now do some sleuthing. Look for small labels with sound clips and chase up Internet radio stations. We try and do what we can in presenting it but now you can almost find anything you want. It just takes some time and effort, though hopefully we can do some of the work for you. Hopefully we can let the ABC know how much we love Jazz. Indeed it’s forty years for the program and hopefully we can go for much longer.

JK: Congratulations and I look forward to the continuation of Jazztrack. Hopefully the expansion of more Jazz on to ABC that would be good. Thank you

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