Mt Gambier champions jazz talent

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By Kaia Wallis

Mt Gambier may be famous for its blue lake, but the Limestone Coast city is forging a new identity as Australia’s jazz hot spot by fostering the next generation of musical talent.

More than 5000 music students are expected to pour into the South East town in May 2019 for Generations in Jazz, the nation’s largest youth festival of jazz workshops, competitions and performances.

“It’s one of the largest events of its type in the world. The kids love it, you have never seen such enthusiasm in 5000 bodies in a tent,” Belinda Shannon, CEO of Generations in Jazz says.

Preparations are already under way for the annual three-day festival, with more than 150 Australian schools expected to participate, including three schools from New Zealand set to make their first appearance.

“We usually see about 10% growth each year as an average, and in the last ten years we’ve gone from 1700 to 5000 participants,” Belinda says.

“The schools come from all over, with around 50–60% from Victoria and 36% from SA, and what that does for the city of Mt Gambier and the Limestone Coast is amazing.”

The festival was started in 1982 by three friends wanting to share their musical craft and champion the next generation of jazz musicians, but Belinda says the festival took flight when renowned jazz musician James Morrison became heavily involved in the festival.

“James Morrison is very hands-on with the kids and he always makes himself available to them for any questions,” she says.

The Australian musician has since opened the James Morrison Academy of Music and Morrison’s Jazz Club in Mt Gambier to further nurture musical talent in SA.

Patti Austin and James Morrison at Generations in Jazz 2018. Image: supplied.

More than 1000 performances take place over the festival weekend, with eligible students competing for a number of awards including the James Morrison Jazz Scholarship, which gifts the winner $10,000 to assist with their musical career.

Cohorts of students also perform in divisions based on their ability throughout the festival to represent their schools. These performances are judged by a panel of adjudicators who have often written the musical pieces performed.

“The adjudicators will look at how they pick up stylistic interpretation as well as technique,” Belinda says.

“They want to see how different schools interpret what it should be, rather than simply going out and playing.”

The 2018 event was filled to capacity, with the general public pouring in to watch global jazz artists including international trombone star Shannon Barnett, James Morrison and Australian band The Cat Empire perform.

The Cat Empire at Generations in Jazz. Image: supplied.

After the success of this year’s festival, Belinda says the event has secured the world’s largest modular tent, which has the capacity to house 11,000 people.

“People know our guest artists are going to be amazing, so they need to get in early with tickets,” Belinda says.

“Luckily, with a bigger tent next year, no one will miss out.”

As a volunteer run organisation, Belinda says Generations in Jazz relies on sponsorships, income donations and the generosity of the community.

“It’s an extraordinary event with amazing volunteers, and it wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of organisations like ANZ Bank and the Mt Gambier Council,” Belinda says.

In February 2019, the magic of jazz and a snippet of what’s in store for the Mt Gambier festival will be brought to life at the ANZ Community Ball in Adelaide.

Held at the Adelaide Festival Centre and hosted by ANZ, the ball will be headlined by James Morrison and his Motown band. The event will raise crucial funds for five SA charities, including Generations in Jazz. Grab your tickets here. 

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