We talk to Caroline Speight about the Manly jazz festival as she keeps up the family tradition of the artistic direction of Sydney’s largest and longest running jazz festival

Musings from Caroline

A highlight for me? More a memory….
I was a dancer in front of the first jazz parade along with my sister and some friends.  Growing up in the Speight household there was not way of avoiding being part of the festival in some way.

Proud achievement
I am incredibly proud of my father for having the passion and energy to put the program together each year which he did voluntarily.  In it’s early days, he had to do all of the logistics too.  It was a huge effort.

The naming of the John Speight Stage was such an honour and an appropriate tribute to him.
I am proud to be continuing the incredible legacy he has left … although I will never have the same vision as he did, I am doing my best.

This Year…
More great music across all stages.  Some familiar bands who have played at the festival for many years and several excellent upcoming bands.  Of course, around 50 youth and community bands will also be part of the program right aross the weekend.

Eric Alexander, US Tenor Saxophonist will be joining the Centenary Big Band on Sunday 1 October in the Star of the Sea Theatre.

Eric Alexander (USA) and The Centenary Big Band
One of the leading talents of the modern tenor saxophone, Eric Alexander is known for his sophisticated hard bop and post bop style. Boasting a warm, finely burnished tone, a robust melodic and harmonic imagination, Alexander has appeared as a leader, sideman, producer and composer featuring on more than 70 albums.

He has studied under Harold Mabern, Joe Lovano and Rufus Reid and placed second in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition which launched him into the whirlwind life of a professional jazz musician.

Eric is joined on stage by a sizzling quartet comprising Andrew Dickeson (drums), John Harkins (piano), Ashley Turner (bass) and Andrew Speight (alto-saxophone).

The Centenary Big Band is made up of the finest soloists and ensemble players on the Australian jazz scene. Formed for Manly Jazz Festival’s 40 Year anniversary, the band will celebrate the 100th birthdays of four legends of jazz.

“First Lady of song”
“One of the greatest trumpeters of all time”
“The greatest drummer to have ever drawn breath.”
“One of first creators of modern jazz”.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich and Thelonious Monk’s influence on jazz music is undisputed. In this special concert we will celebrate these jazz legends with a repertoire as diverse and as captivating as the legends themselves.

All this talent on one stage makes for a ‘must see’ event.

Established 40 years ago the festival has grown from 11 bands on 3 stages in the middle of The Corso to almost 100 bands on several stages/venues across the Manly precinct.

Built on the strong foundation of big band, mainstream and traditional jazz to education and draw audiences in to the jazz fold.  The programming is accessible to everyone and of high quality.  With this foundation, more modern stylings such a post bop, fusion and contemporary bands can be added.

An unwritten rule is to always have student bands – they are the musicians of tomorrow and the jazz fans too.

One of the festival founders and Artistic Director for 28 years, the late John Speight  OAM, built the festival into an international success. He had great vision and passion and created an event that is as popular today as it was when it began.

John’s musical credentials were impeccable!  He was an organiser of school bands, a jazz pianist and had taught music for a number of years at a local primary school.

He was also the moving force behind the internationally acclaimed Young Northside Big Band. Drawn mainly from pupils from around 30 North Shore public and private high schools – this band and the Warringah Stage Band (a nursery band for the Northside) were directed by John.  The Northside Big Band, as it was later known, was one of the main attractions of the early Carnivals.  Many of its alumni returned to Manly as guest artists in subsequent years.

By mid 80’s John had settled on a fine balance of between the traditional, modern, and some avant-garde music — and more or less everything in between.  It was a policy that worked well, given the increasingly large numbers of dedicated jazz buffs, both ancient and modern, and the crowds of enthusiastic family groups music to suit all tastes.

In 40 years, it is estimated that around 4,000 bands have performed and approximately 5 million patrons have been to Manly Jazz Festival.



Eric Alexander Four legends gig

Date: Sunday 1 October
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Star of the Sea Theatre, Stella Maris College, near corner of Illuka Ave &  Collingwood St, Manly
MORE INFO On the Festival taking place this October long weekend