Sophie BrousCarol Middleton spoke to Sophie Brous, Program Director of the 2010 Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Program Director Sophie Brous is seeing her vision for this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival become a reality. The festival will be opening on 1 May, with a free event in Federation Square. The Big Jam will start at 2pm, with trumpeter James Morrison leading the crowd, from kids to great-grandmothers, in a play-along that everyone can participate in. Brous wants musicians and non-musicians to come along and experience the joy of improvisation. She sees the Big Jam as a symbolic beginning to a festival that will encapsulate the universality of music: There is nothing more affirming than making music together.

Brous should know. At the age of twenty-four, she is an award-winning jazz singer who has chosen to use her contacts here and overseas, as well as what she has learned as a musician, to put together an exciting festival, a template for an evolving international event. For her, this is as creative a process as playing music:

There is no other festival in the world like this. It could only exist in Melbourne, with this city’s rich, innovative arts scene and the enthusiasm people have here for going out to events. We are seeing how far we can take that.

Brous is in her second year as Program Director. In partnership with Artistic Director Michael Tortoni, she is gearing up for the weeklong event (1-8 May), where local jazz musicians of every genre will come together with international players and give Melbourne its rightful place in the worldwide community of jazz.

One of the first international artists Brous invited to the festival was Ethiopian percussionist and vibes player Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-jazz. He will be one of the musicians showcased in the Opening Concert, which will follow The Big Jam at Fed Square. Astatke was the first African to major at a conservatorium in the USA, after which he went back to Addis Ababa in the 1960s and developed his style - a combination of latin jazz, R&B and Ethiopian harmonies. For his Melbourne debut he has joined forces with Melbourne/Ethiopian ensemble The Black Jesus Experience, who play a fusion of jazz, funk and hip hop.

As well as bringing in international Modern Masters, including Charles Lloyd, Ahmad Jamal, Zakir Hussain with Sangam, John Abercrombie and Lionel Loueke, Brous is excited about a new event Overground, which will bring underground music into the limelight. Musos from Australia and overseas will gather in the Town Hall, into its chambers and alcoves as well as the meeting halls, in a day-long event that will push the boundaries of jazz music. Improvisers Peter Brotzmann (Germany), Han Bennink (Holland) and Brian Chase (Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, USA) will be playing with many Australian artists, including Sean Baxter from the Make It Up Club in Fitzroy with Paul Grabowsky.

The festival will be reaching out of the venues into public spaces in the city, indoor and outdoor. From April, jazz messengers will be out on the streets, in the gardens and at the tram stops. As well as The Big Jam and Opening Concert in Federation Square, the stairs at Southern Cross Station will be transformed for the week 1-8 May into a Jazzfest piano staircase from 10am to 4m daily, where musos will entertain the commuters. Installations, visual art and film will be part of the festival, with the National Gallery of Victoria, the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr, ACMI and the Wheeler Centre all playing a part.

Brous’s exuberance is catching. All the pieces are falling into place. She has a vision of Melbourne being transformed in the first week of May by the jazz festival: People will be seeing Melbourne in a different way.

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