It is a well documented fact that Perth is the world’s most isolated capital city.

However, what this fails to describe is that the regional centres in the huge state of Western Australia are both reasonably distant from Perth and not particularly high in population.

WA is about one third of the total area of Australia with about 10% of its population. Perth has about 1.2 million which is roughly 66% of the state’s total population. Outside the Perth metro area, much of the remainder of the state’s population is in the South-west – Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River area, Albany.

In recent times JAZZWA has addressed the challenge of taking jazz to regional WA and I was pleased to be part of a three day/three performance mini-tour with James Flynn [vocals] and Lukasz Slawomirski [keyboards].

Our first destination was Albany and for both Lukasz and myself it was the first time we had performed there, despite living in WA for over 20 years and performing together at jazz festivals in Singapore and Eastern Australia.

Leaving Perth on a Friday morning we travelled through Williams, Kojonup and Mt Barker arriving in Albany mid-afternoon. It is probably about four hours non-stop driving [410Kms] to Albany, but we decided to have morning tea at Kojonup in a café/art gallery, where the piano tuner was tuning the piano [denying Lukasz the chance of playing his Monk meets Richard Clayderman repertoire], also stopping for lunch at Mt Barker [where I sold CDs of James and myself to the café we chose there].

Our two gigs at Albany’s Esplanade Hotel were very well received. For both performances we were joined by local drummer Lachie Gillette – a Perth-born musician who has lived in Albany since 1985 and frequently plays with pianist/arranger Will Upson [who now lives in Mt Barker].

One of the main reasons the two gigs went so well was that they were co-ordinated in Albany by Rod Vervest. Rod is an excellent guitarist in several styles and toured and recorded with James Flynn as part of the “Unforgettable” tour. [Rod is also the PIAF Regional Programme Coordinator, and presenter of the annual HarbourSound Festival in Albany, which JAZZWA proudly supports].

Rod moved to Albany from Perth several years ago and his understanding of the needs of jazz by way of venue, acoustics, local publicity and presentation are invaluable for the presentation of an essentially urban artform like jazz.

He also organized for Lachie to play drums with us.

According to my 1983 Readers Digest
“Motoring Guide to Australia” Albany’s population was 13,610. It would appear that the population has more than doubled in the last 20+ years. Many of the newcomers have moved from Perth but I had an interesting conversation with a Zimbabwean who had lived in the Margaret River area before moving to Albany. He showed a lot of confidence in the future of Albany [and he liked the music].

On the Sunday morning we headed to Bunbury and it is important not to underestimate the time and distance for this section. We allowed ourselves plenty of time with a stop at Manjimup for brunch.
Again the venue – this time at the art gallery which has bar facilities – was ideal. Our concert was very well received and it was good to catch up with former Perth Jazz Society and Jazz Fremantle members who have retired to the South-West.

It is important for WA jazz that this circuit continues to grow. It is over 10 years since I last performed in Bunbury. Leading a quartet in early 2001 I played at Busselton Civic Centre to about 250 people as the guest ensemble with a local community choir. As with this recent tour the audience was incredibly appreciative.

In 1985 I submitted an application to the Australia Council for an eight piece Perth ensemble to tour the South-West. I was successful with the grant, receiving $10,000, but had to give the money back because of lack of interest from the Perth musicians.

More jazz musicians in Perth and less regular hotel gigs means that these days we need to find new audiences to perform to unless we want to focus purely on teaching. Both James and I sold many CDs which given the fact that they were recorded with Perth musicians further disseminates the music to regional WA.

Personally I love taking my music to new audiences and I am sure the same applies to James and Lukasz..

Since 1993 I have made 18 flights out of Perth to perform in Asia and Eastern Australia and apart from the Busselton performance and a performance in January this year at Mountford’s Winery, Pemberton [co-ordinated by JAZZWA] this was my first WA regional tour.

In conclusion a big thank you to Alan Corbet [JAZZWA], Rod Vervest [HarbourSound], Colin Manly [Bunbury Men of Song], Esplanade Hotel [Albany] and Bunbury Regional Art Galleries.

Although this particular leg was not supported by the Country Arts Share The Risk Program due to timing issues, this has been, and will continue to be an essential element in the continuation of JAZZWA’s efforts to develop regional touring. There is no question that this is a long term endeavour, and clearly from the audience reaction, long overdue.

I look forward to another opportunity to play in regional WA.

Garry Lee
13th November 2004

Garry Lee and Lukasz Slawomirski both drive Citroen Berlingos – these vans are ideal for regional touring being excellent on fuel with the capacity to take instruments like vibraphones, keyboards and PAs

The next JAZZWA Mini-tour features vocalist Bronwynn Way (pictured above) with Glyn MacDonald piano, Linda Oh bass and Michael Perkins drums. They will be appearing in Albany on Fri 10th Nov and Pemberton on Sat 11th Nov.

Hash Varsani is the owner of The Jazz Directory, a network of sites related to jazz, travel and everything else he loves. He also runs a selection of jazz related sites including Jazz Club Jury, a jazz club and festival review site. Check out his Google+ Profile, to see what else he's up to...probably setting up another website from one of his many passions.