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Lismore brings jazz to Sydney

What could New Orleans and Lismore have in common?

New Orleans is world-renowned for its distinctive music, for being the birthplace of jazz, its annual celebrations and festivals, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which flooded more than 80 per cent of the city, killed more than 1,800 people, and displaced thousands of residents.

Lismore, in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, is situated on a low floodplain, is susceptible to flooding, including its worst ever flood in 2022.

It has a vibrant arts and music scene, is billed as Australia’s music festival capital … and it has jazz, including jazz clubs and the Northern Rivers Conservatorium with its Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Cubano Combo, which visited Sydney at the end of September.

Anita Bellman, the executive director of the Conservatorium, brought a small contingent of the Youth Jazz Orchestra to play with Sydney musician and bandleader Gai Bryant at Club York on September 23.

In the lead up, Ms Bryant, committed to working with young musicians, had visited Lismore three times pre-Covid and post-Covid to teach and mentor the jazz prospects.

Ms Bellman said, “The Northern Rivers is home to the largest population of creatives outside metropolitan Sydney. So it’s a very creative area and a lot of musical genres are represented. The Conservatorium serves the whole region and the student body, from babies to people in their 80s, is reflective of that.”

And jazz, she said, was a big thing.

The lucky contingent chosen to play in Sydney included Tobias Beck on alto sax and another sax player, Tilly Jones, who is completing a contemporary music degree at Southern Cross University.

Ms Jones has her own band and is a classical and jazz composer. She has had her music played by a quartet from the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s participatory workshop program, Move, which gave young adults with disability opportunities to participate in music, movement and composition activities.

Ms Jones’s compositions were the first original compositions used in the program.

Ms Bellman said the young musicians were comfortable with their audience in Lismore and every time they played they were really loved. Bringing them to Sydney was about putting them in a new environment and giving them an opportunity to play to a different audience.

She said, “They have had a great time as the guests of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, seeing a symphonic wind concert and the Manly Jazz festival, and were inspired by Sydney Con Big Band.”

A small contingent of the Northern Rivers Conservatorium’s Youth Jazz Orchestra played with Sydney musician and bandleader Gai Bryant (left) at Club York on September 23.

Ms Jones and Mr Beck said opening for famous Latin jazz bands Sonido and Caribe felt great and was a lot of fun.

“It leaves you on a bit of a high,” said Ms Jones.

“We played well,” said Mr Beck. “Everything felt like it went perfectly.”

Ms Jones said coming from the Manly Jazz festival had given her inspiration, areas she could improve. “Watching these guys kill their solos was pretty inspiring.”

Both Mr Beck and Ms Jones named their teachers as key figures in their musical trajectories.

Mr Beck, finishing year 12 with hopes of entering a jazz course and making jazz his career, said he started classical but recently had an inspiring teacher who pushed him toward jazz and he had really fallen in love with it.

Ms Jones said teaching was very important and she certainly wouldn’t be where she was without Ms Bellman and the Con, the teachers and the Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Music – composing, performing, arranging – was her whole life, she said, and her teacher, Nic Campbell, was “absolutely amazing”.

Ms Jones said Lismore took a hit after the floods and Covid but she thought it was really starting to come back. “The streets are starting to come alive and there is a bit of a revival coming on,” she said.

They both said the Lismore musical community was lovely, tight-knit and supportive of one another.

Ms Bellman said she hoped the young musicians would take back an idea of where music could take them, a possible trajectory for themselves … and inspiration for more practice.

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