Graham Wood intends to ‘right a wrong’ next year with plans to hold a three-day international jazz festival in Western Australia.
Currently, 48 jazz festivals are held across Australia annually, yet none of these is in WA.
Mr Wood, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts music director and Ellington Jazz club owner, wants to run the event over the last weekend in May 2013, with a mix of free and paid shows making the performances accessible to a range of audience types.
WA has held jazz festivals in the past, with The York Jazz Festival among the more notable, but Mr Wood wants to attract international acts to the Perth CBD area to make it accessible to tourists and locals alike.
The venues he has in mind include The Ellington on Beaufort Street, an outdoor venue across the road at Weld Square, the Cultural Centre precinct and the Northbridge Piazza, Forrest Chase and central city venues including the Concert Hall and licensed music spots.
Mr Wood hopes the list of acts will include three of the world’s best jazz acts, 10 mid-tier artists, and six interstate artists, while the event will provide opportunity for local artists to partake in an international festival in their own backyard.
Mr Wood has been working on the idea for three years, and his dream has started to gain traction.
He hosted an event in April with a government and corporate-focused guest list to garner support, which gave him new confidence in the festival getting off the ground.
“It is definitely going to get legs, it will definitely get going,” Mr Wood told WA Business News.
He has mapped out a path for sponsorship and support, and is a targeting state and federal governments, and the corporate sector for funding.
The first step is to gain support from state government bodies Healthway, Department of Culture and the Arts, Lotterywest and Eventscorp, and federal government support from Festivals Australia.
Next target will be suppliers from the corporate sector, then booking performance spaces across Perth, Northbridge and Mount Lawley and lining up the acts to perform in them.
Of course promotion, marketing and publicity will be key.
Mr Wood has taken a strategic approachwith his timing, with an international jazz festival in Kuala Lumpur preceding the Perth event, and Melbourne’s International Jazz Festival coming after.
Mr Wood said positioning the Perth so that it was flanked by other events in the region would help attract artists appearing at those festivals to WA.
“There is quite a lot of activity in the region, so it is capitalising on that and making Perth a destination for not only these artists but tourists,” he said.
Mr Wood has used the same approach with this year’s inaugural Ellington Winter Jazz Fest, which will act as a lead in to next year’s international festival.
The 13-day event opened on May 25 and offered artists playing the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in June an additional reason to venture to Australia.
“These people need places to play as well as we need them over here, it is really about seizing that opportunity,” Mr Wood said.
Mr Wood organised the Winter Jazz Fest in impressive time, having only come up with the idea in February, after returning from one of his twice-yearly reconnaissance trips to New York.
He has played the piano since he was five years old, was trained as a classical pianist before moving onto jazz in high school with a role in the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, and followed this with an undergraduate jazz degree at WAAPA, topped off with a PhD in pain and injury for musicians.
Mr Wood now juggles his multiple roles as a musician, part owner of The Ellington, and director of music at WAAPA with his trips to New York to play gigs and soak up the atmosphere.
After all, the Ellington runs 600 shows over 52 weeks, while WAAPA produces 200 or more performances a year, excluding repeat shows.
Any initial scepticism about The Ellington have proved well and truly unfounded, with the Perth music scene one of the strongest in the country, supported by organisations such as Jazz WA, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, a strong music program at WAAPA and venues including The Bird, The Hyde Park Hotel, and The Bakery.
“People now accept it and expect it. Before we opened [The Ellington] the naysayers were saying we were nuts, they said Perth people wouldn’t get it; but they do,” he said.
“A bricks-and-mortar venue like the Ellington is seen as a much bigger risk [than a festival] because it is the unknown and uncertainty; what’s it going to be like, what if it changes and becomes a rock venue and all that sort of stuff.
“A festival is three days, in and out. If it doesn’t work or if people don’t like it, you don’t do it again. (But it seems) everyone is keen to give it a shot.”