Jazz in Castlemaine – the monthly jam and the festival

By John Hannah and Ken Turnbull, 6 October 2015

ONE SUNDAY IN NOVEMBER 2012 during the Maldon Folk Festival, Gwynn James and John Hannah did some busking in Maldon.

The Comma Hotel, site of the first jazz jam

The Comma Hotel, site of the first jazz jam

Jazz fan and former local radio presenter Chris Crassweller heard the duo and told his friend Ken Turnbull, who invited them to saxophonist James Cox’s birthday jam at the Maldon Hotel the following month. Ken and John met at that event and the idea of a regular jazz jam in the Castlemaine region was discussed.

Ken had run blues jams in North Melbourne and Fitzroy during the 1990s and had tried to get a jazz jam started in Maldon.

John Hannah was presenting a radio show on Main FM and organising live music for the 2013 Fringe Festival. He became the booking agent for the Comma Hotel and eventually started planning with Ken for a monthly jazz jam there.

For the first jam in May 2013 Geoff Sayer of Bendigo played drums. Doug Kuhn of Melbourne played bass (and attended every jam for more than two years). Ted Woollan offered to fill the piano position for a few months to get us started. Ted had years of experience as a player and as an organiser of the Melbourne Jazz Jammers. He encouraged vocalists and instrumentalists from the city to come to the jams.

In a separate development, Ted and Ken had chatted informally in 2012 about a possible jazz festival in central Victoria.

Ted and saxophonist colleague Colin Garrett had also been discussing the idea and were determined to make it happen. They approached Mount Alexander Shire Council in February 2013 and were directed to the Penny School in Maldon. The two Melbourne men acquired a small sum from the Melbourne Jazz Jammers and put on a jazz event at the Penny School to promote the idea of a festival. Unfortunately, only a few people turned up.

John Hannah, who knew them from the Melbourne jazz jam before he moved to Castlemaine, heard of their plight. He suggested they establish a jazz festival in Castlemaine, rather than Maldon, where his contacts and experience would be useful.

Vocalists Meg Corson and Jude Parsons

Vocalists Meg Corson and Jude Parsons

A jazz festival committee made up of regional and Melbourne enthusiasts was formed. The first meeting was held in September 2013 and the association was incorporated a month later. The first Castlemaine Jazz Festival took place in June 2014.

The Castlemaine Jazz Festival, which is run by volunteers, is gearing up for its sixth annual event. It has been a great success.

The monthly Castlemaine Jazz Jam is still run by Ken and John. It has also been successful and continues to grow in both audience and musician particpation. Although not formally connected with the festival, the jazz jam helps to promote it and keeps the enthusiasm for jazz alive during the year.