Enter your username and password

Forgotten your username or password?

Your Shopping Cart

There are no items in your shopping cart.

19 December 2008

Sandy Evans: 10th Annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address

Celebrating humanity through the creative process

Sandy Evans and Peggy Glanville-Hicks Image: Sandy Evans and Peggy Glanville-Hicks  

The 10th annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks address was presented by the saxophonist and composer Sandy Evans on 1 December at the Mint in Sydney. This address is delivered every year by an outstanding advocate of Australian music, under the auspices of the New Music Network. Sandy Evans is an internationally renowned musician with a passion for improvisation and new music. She has written music for dance, theatre and film and won numerous awards. She leads the Sandy Evans Trio, co-leads GEST8 and Clarion Fracture Zone and performs with Ten Part Invention, austraLYSIS, The Australian Art Orchestra, The catholics, Kim Sanders and Friends, SNAP, Waratah and MARA! She is also a dedicated teacher.

It is a great privilege to give the 10th Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – Gadigal clan of the Eora nation.

I am grateful that the New Music Network includes musicians from my field in its vision and community. It’s hard to say exactly what my field is, but it encompasses jazz and other improvised music and music with cross-cultural influences. My practise has many synergies with musicians approaching new music from a Western classical music perspective. I’m going to look at ways we can improve things for all of us and for future adventurers in new music. Our support of each other is probably the most important factor in ensuring the survival of the music we believe in and in improving conditions for the future. Fortunately, we are rich in this resource. Where things become difficult is in the area of money, or the lack of it. We might do better in an economy financed by rum! 45,000 gallons of rum seem to have worked well in facilitating the construction of this building!

I’ll return to money later, but first a more positive subject, death.

The word death creates fear in me. Death confronts us with our impermanence. It challenges us to abandon old ways of doing things and to adapt to whatever each moment brings. New music, by its very nature, embodies change and therefore brings about small deaths of old sounds. At the same time it owes its existence to everything that has gone before it. There is simultaneity of past and present, an essential unity and continuity of human creativity. This continuum of life is full of interesting contradictions and unexpected challenges.

In January 'Respect for artists, and for the life of artists across the wider community, needs to be reinvigorated.'this year, a much loved and very significant Sydney musician, Jackie Orszacky, died after fighting cancer for two years. Jackie's passing was a great loss, but his memory, musical legacy and spirit live on through the myriads of people he influenced. I would like to read from a letter written to The Sydney Morning Herald by one of his closest friends and musical colleagues, drummer Hamish Stuart, after Jackie's wake at The Harold Park Hotel.

'It began at 4pm. About an hour later, the police arrived in two wagons and a sedan. I saw five police on one corner and three on another. There were a number of people outside on the footpath, they were told from the bandstand to come inside. Those, who could fit in, did. The mood, if understandably emotional, was warm and co-operative, and unruly behaviour was improbable. The police left for a while, then returned and stopped the proceedings. ... I know the police do a very difficult job, but to not let a wake proceed in a pub on a Sunday afternoon shows no grasp of how the community as a whole functions. I am deeply concerned that Sydney has come to this. I am angry the tribute performances that evening were stopped and with them the city's cultural spirit.'

This extreme example of the rigid implementation of regulations with little regard for human expression is symptomatic of a deeper crisis of value in our culture. Respect for artists, and for the life of artists across the wider community, needs to be reinvigorated.

I want to affirm'Breathing is at the core of my relationship to sound. I have taken many breaths in my life, but I always gain something from turning my attention to breathing again.' the fundamental importance of expressing our humanity through creative work. Everyone in this room is committed to that belief so it may seem redundant to focus on it, but returning to fundamentals is often instructive. As a saxophonist, I find revisiting, clarifying and strengthening the basics of sound production on my instrument always improves my playing. Breathing is at the core of my relationship to sound. I have taken many breaths in my life, but I always gain something from turning my attention to breathing again. Each breath follows a similar passage through my body, but it’s never the same air that’s moving, or the same sound that it sets vibrating. Newness is inevitable. It regenerates. Research into the canary has even discovered that when an adult canary learns a new song, it grows new brain cells in the upper parts of its brain.

If we believe creative work is important, we need to ensure artists making it can survive.

A diverse range of artists belong to the New Music Network. These groups are like a constellation of stars, each unique in its history, identity and aims, and yet somehow related in their quest to respond to the world of the 21st century with new sounds.

What does new music mean in this context?

The New Music Mapping Project was researched and written for the Music Council of Australia by Jo Gray and was headed by Dr Graham Strahle. It was a comprehensive look at new music funding in Australia from 2002 to 2004. Naturally, the project had to define new music to be able to gather any meaningful data:

'What the project also reveals is the lack of a common understanding about the sector variously labelled as "new music", "new classical music" or "new art music". A consistent terminology is needed, as this would avoid a large amount of confusion that presently exists.'

I was very relieved when I read this because I must say I am confused!

Definitions of an evolving art form are, by nature, tricky. One perspective is that once we can define enough about something to give it a name, then it is no longer new. It could also be argued that definitions restrict the creative process, subtly placing limitations that prevent the creator from moving outside certain strict boundaries for fear of losing their authenticity.

Australian drummer, Greg Sheehan, made a great statement about this at a performance with Miroslav Bukovsky’s group Wanderlust for the Jazz Action Society in 1992. As each musician played a phrase in their solo, he kept up a running commentary, 'That’s jazz, that’s not. That’s jazz, now that’s not!'

All of this gets very silly quite quickly, especially in a period where there is a great plurality of art form practice. Most musicians I know play music in several different stylistic areas: jazz, contemporary classical, computer music, early music, free improvised, blues, Brazilian, funk, soul, Afro-Cuban, West African, Arabic, rock, Bulgarian, Celtic, gospel, country, hip hop, Hindustan, Japanese, Carnatic, the list goes on and on. You name it, we do it! So when we write music, or create platforms for improvisation, it’s likely to be influenced by anything from the whole history of music on the planet. And yet, a jazz musician would be quite rightly annoyed if a contemporary classical musician presented themselves as a jazz musician and vice versa.

It is necessary'It is necessary to respect the integrity of different traditions and to protect their future evolution. At the same time, one of the most exciting things about being a musician today is participating in an unprecedented level of musical exchange across genres and cultures.' to respect the integrity of different traditions and to protect their future evolution. At the same time, one of the most exciting things about being a musician today is participating in an unprecedented level of musical exchange across genres and cultures. It is the nature of art to reflect developments in society, so this interaction is not just a quirky little experiment; it’s a fundamental reflection of the way our world is developing.

Is a definition of particular types of musician or music important? To myself as an artist, I would say not. Music, like life, has infinite potential. Sun Ra’s philosophy resonates with me:

'I’m actually painting pictures of infinity with my music.'

Boundaries drawn according to style, fashion, history, race, gender, nationality or politics serve to limit this potential. I prefer not to think in these terms when approaching the creation of music.

Where definitions become important is in selling, analysing and funding music. So I will go a bit further down this road to see if I can reach a meaningful conclusion.

The broadest definition of new music is to say it’s anything written after a certain date. I’ll choose 1960. Why 1960? That’s the year chosen in the New Music Mapping Study. But I chose it because I was born in 1960, so it’s any music created in my lifetime! My God, that’s a lot of music!

Can I narrow it down from that? Maybe style will help? Take the blues, a form much loved by jazz musicians and a form developed before 1960. If I write a new bebop melody over a 12-bar blues form, is this new music? If I add a new chord change that no one has ever tried before, is it new music? What if I take all the chords out and write a blues only on B flat? Hang on, the blues has to be sad, better make it A. If, as trombonist Roswell Rudd has done, I play the blues with traditional musicians from Tuva, is this new music? If I put in a 5/4 bar at the end of the chorus, is this new music? What about a 5/4, 7/8 and a 3/16 bar? How about multiphonics? Add a few quartertones? What if I write a flute concerto in the style of Bach? I’ve got it, the Evans Bach flute concerto while the throat singers of Tuva play the blues in quartertones in 5/4 and 7/8 and John Pochee tells the life story of Roger Frampton. I would be safely across the line into new music then. Hey!

What about Silverchair? I don’t think anyone disputes that Daniel Johns writes new music. But Silverchair don’t belong to the NMN. They weren’t discussed in the New Music Mapping Project. We all know why … because they are commercial! So is the definition of new music that it’s music that not many people like.

I’m reminded of lyrics that I love from one of Michele Morgan’s songs 'Sea of Glass'.

I remember standing by my mother's side
I can feel her fingers lightly through my hair
Don't ask me reasons I have none to give
Why I write love songs for strangers and I sing them for empty rooms

As artists producing new music we are, almost by definition, unpopular. This realisation hits many artists at some point in their career, often through their bank balance, or a series of knock-backs for a much-loved project. It feels like a violent kick to the stomach, leaving one winded, bruised, depressed, isolated, angry, excluded. I have seen it cause people to give up music. I’ve seen it completely destroy people’s lives. But what I’ve seen much more often is that we keep going, drawing strength from the support of friends, belief in ourselves and the power of music itself. I find this extraordinary.

Two of the most inspiring people I’ve had the privilege to work with in recent years have been Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach. This is with the Australian Art Orchestra’s (AAO) project, 'Ruby’s Story'. Ruby was forcibly removed from her family when she was eight years old. She grew up in foster homes and on the streets of Adelaide. She met her partner Archie Roach, also a member of the Stolen Generation, in Melbourne where they were homeless teenagers. Completely outside mainstream Australian society, Ruby and Archie rebuilt their lives through the love and care of each other and their shared love of music. Every time Archie performs his song 'Little by Little', I’m moved to tears.

'Little by little, stone by stone, I’m gonna build this building on my own and nobody can say that this is mine but me. Aint nobody gonna tear this building down. Cause its built inside of me, where nobody else can see. Aint nobody gonna tear this building down.'

In her sound techno-drama, 'Live Music, Dead Bodies', poet Hazel Smith asks us to debate the question, 'Can music change anything?', I believe it can. 

Through telling his story, Archie instils strength in his listeners and moves us one step closer to the healing of our country. This is an anthem for Indigenous Australia. It’s also an anthem for artists to persevere with their creative expression.

Ten years ago, my husband Tony Gorman, a very fine musician, was diagnosed with MS. Last year, Jon Rose spoke in his address about the zeal with which another Sydney musician, John Blades, has responded to his struggle with the same illness. I would like to add to the story of the healing power of music. Watching the person closest to you struggle with simple tasks, manage pain and deal with the grief of losing their career is extremely challenging. It’s a constant reminder of how fortunate I am to be able to make music and to have a career doing it. The lessons I have learned go beyond this sense of appreciation.

Tony says he feels a primal urge to create music as an expression of hope in response to his illness. He describes this as something beyond rational thought, almost a physical compulsion. Although he wants to, Tony is not making a living out of music, yet he spends most of his day sitting in our living room tuning his sruti boxes, playing and contemplating his clarinets. There is a power in music that gives meaning to his life, brings him peace and, as in the case of John Blades, has helped to reverse the development of his illness. MS lesions aren’t supposed to repair themselves, but in his last MRI, the lesion on Tony’s brain had reduced in size. Music can change the way we feel. It may even change us physically.

In traditional societies, there are many models of musicians as healers, and practitioners of rituals. This has largely been lost in our society. This is partly a consequence of the demise of organised religion in Western countries.

Are there ways new music can reconnect with sacred events in life?

I have received one commission from a church in my career. In 1997, Eastside Arts, the arts program of the Paddington Uniting Church, commissioned Clarion Fracture Zone (CFZ), to compose and perform Canticle. Tony Gorman, Alister Spence and I wrote the music, which featured CFZ and The Martenitsa Choir. Canticle is based on an excerpt from the biblical love poem Song of Songs and was a response to the Uniting Church’s enquiry into sexuality. It was courageous and innovative for the Church to commission this work. It was well received and attracted sell-out audiences. Sadly, Eastside Arts dismantled their arts program last year, standing down their loyal administrators who had worked very hard to build up a new music venue, an annual program, funding and a great reputation over the previous twelve years. The reason given by the Church was that it was losing too much money. On a positive note, the Church is now discussing ways to rebuild links with the music community. I hope this can be done because Eastside’s arts policy was a groundbreaking initiative.

Patronage of the arts by religious institutions may be under threat in Australia, but it is alive and well in some parts of India. In May this year, I toured India with a small group from the AAO and Sruthi Laya, an ensemble of Carnatic musicians led by Guru Karaaikudi R. Mani. We performed at the Mysore Ashram of Sri Sri Sri Ganapathy Sachidananda Swamiji as part of his 66th birthday celebrations. The Swamiji has built a huge amphitheatre at his Ashram where 6,000 devotees enjoy performances by many of India’s leading artists. Around the concert hall are imposing pillars representing each note of the scale. The Swamiji commissioned us to arrange some of his Bhajans to perform in our own style. We felt a bit like medieval court musicians, especially when he came on stage at the end of the concert and asked us to reprise one of the pieces over and over again.

I’m not suggesting that India has all the answers for Australia. According to an Indian friend of mine, the government arts funding system in India and Sri Lanka is completely dysfunctional. 'It is not fair and the ministers’ relatives usually get the funding. It is a dead system over there', he says.

Playing 'What if the commissioning of new works was encouraged as a way of demonstrating the forward thinking of a company, or celebrating the career of a CEO who was retiring?'at weddings is a source of income for many jazz musicians. Imagine if it was common practise to commission new work for weddings or other important events like christenings, naming days, significant birthdays, graduation ceremonies, wedding anniversaries, house warmings, even requiems for funerals. What if the commissioning of new works was encouraged as a way of demonstrating the forward thinking of a company, or celebrating the career of a CEO who was retiring? 

This might sound like a horrendous idea to some musicians. If we were expected to rewrite 'Brown-Eyed Girl' every time round, it would be. But if artistic control is vested with the artist, it could be rewarding for everyone. Why does new music have to exist in a little difficult box that has nothing to do with the rest of life?

Education can have a lot to do with changing this. Last year, I toured with MARA! for Musica Viva to remote parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. We played in a number of Aboriginal communities, sometimes performing adult concerts, sometimes performing for school children. We weren’t sure what to expect on our visit to Kalumburu. Before we went, we were warned about serious problems in the community, including the arrest of a number of elders for paedophilia.

We arrived at Kalumburu in a small plane. Our concert for local schoolchildren started at 8.30am. About 100 kids of all ages turned up. The teachers were amazed that so many kids came to school at all, let alone that early in the morning. What was even more remarkable was that they knew every one of our songs. And I mean they knew the tunes and all the words to songs in four different languages, Bulgarian, Irish Gaelic, English (which was a second language for a lot of them) and Turkish! They also knew a lot about our music and instruments. This was due to the determination and enthusiasm of one teacher, a young Japanese lady on her first posting. The pilot of our plane was from Bankstown in Sydney. It was the first time he had ever seen a saxophone played live. What does that say about the general level of exposure to jazz in Sydney?

Dr Michael Webb and others at the Sydney Conservatorium are instigating new programs to broaden the scope of music studied in the music education course to better reflect contemporary Australian music. This is extremely important and will lead in the long term to a better understanding of contemporary music across the whole community.


I am a composer and an improviser. So are most of my colleagues. My first serious musical studies were in classical flute. I enjoyed this study, but knew from quite an early age that I wanted to have more input into the creative process than I would have as a performer of notated music. It is becoming more common for musicians from a Western classical music background to engage in improvisation, both as a way of generating compositional ideas and as a performance practise. This is leading to dialogue and exchange of ideas between genres. 

Dr Margery Smith is a leading light in this area. She has developed her own language as an improviser which beautifully balances mind, body and spirit. Her thesis, Improvisation as a catalyst for collaborative musical thinking and composition, is a wonderful document of her journey to explore and develop her work through improvisation.

Another improviser I greatly admire is percussionist Dr Vanessa Tomlinson. She co-directs Clocked Out Duo with pianist Eric Griswold. I was thrilled when Vanessa joined the AAO several years ago, doubling the number of women in the orchestra!

Vanessa is head of percussion at Queensland Conservatorium. She observed from the 2005 and 2006 concert calendars at the university that females composed less than 5% of music performed. An unofficial questionnaire also noted that many students graduating had never knowingly performed a work by a female composer. In response to this, she inaugurated 'Amazing Women', a concert program that has had three successful seasons so far, to redress the percentage slump of female composers, and to get students involved in performing music by females.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear from Vanessa that performances of works by female composers were so low. Positive action, like the establishment of the Amazing Women program, is essential to bring about change for female composers.

The first time I heard a performance of one of Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s compositions was when her Sonata for piano and percussion was played at the Women’s Music Festival in Canberra. I look forward to the day when the idea of a women’s music festival seems absurd because the performance of music by female composers is so commonplace. Sadly that day has not yet arrived.

I am often asked, why are there so few women playing jazz? This question used to annoy me. I would prefer to be asked about my music and taken on my merits as a musician rather than be asked about my gender.

As 'I am often asked, why are there so few women playing jazz? This question used to annoy me. However, something changed in me around the turn of this century and I now welcome the question.'trombonist Shannon Barnett so eloquently expressed, 'It doesn't matter what colour hair or skin you have, whether you like crumpets or not, how fast you can play a Charlie Parker head, or if you are male or female. What matters is that your music comes from a good place, deep down in your heart and soul'. This is still my fundamental position.

However, something changed in me around the turn of this century and I now welcome the question.

In 2001, I resolved to do my best to actively encourage other women to pursue a career in jazz and improvised music. I did this because I love playing this music. I love the people I work with. They are mostly men, and I know they, too, would like to see more women onstage alongside them. The result has been the Sydney Improvised Music Association’s (SIMA) jazz improvisation course for young women, now in its seventh year. It is a chance for women to learn jazz in a supportive environment, build confidence and tap into a network of other women with similar interests. The results have been extraordinary. This year we outgrew the Sound Lounge at the Seymour Centre for our end-of-course concert and had to move to The Basement. We have seen a steady increase in the standard of playing amongst our students. We have had many students succeed in entering tertiary study in jazz and improvisation. Numbers of women in these courses and in jazz bands around Australia remain relatively low, so we have by no means fully achieved our goals.

There have been very few times in my career where private sponsorship has been forthcoming. I was overwhelmed and delighted when a sponsor came forward, looking for a way to support young women in jazz. This person was responding to SIMA’s course and the great work done by the Melbourne International Women’s Jazz Festival, (MIWJF). In 2005, The Jann Rutherford Memorial Award was established in honour of the late jazz pianist Jann Rutherford. In partnership with ABC Radio National, SIMA and MIWJF, the award assists a young female jazz musician in the development of her career. The award has been extended to include a mentorship scheme for three outstanding high school students from SIMA’s workshops. A professional female musician mentors each student. There is funding for the awards for 2009, but no funding beyond that, so we are looking for a new sponsor.

Under the mentorship scheme, I mentored a talented alto saxophonist from Wollongong. This year, she wrote a paper for her HSC subject 'Society and Culture', titled Blow That Horn Sister: An investigation into the lack of females choosing to pursue jazz music as either an interest or a career. She concludes there are three factors inhibiting women’s involvement in jazz. She writes,

'Past values, perpetuating negative and sexist attitudes towards women have unfortunately continued, creating a male chauvinistic industry that does not always include women as equals. Low confidence and high levels of anxiety experienced by women, compared to an overwhelming confidence displayed by males, leads to intimidation of women and a lack of enjoyment. Finally, the social issues associated with being a minority group within a male dominated industry are affecting the sense of belonging women feel.' Her final word: 'Women need to be encouraged and valued in their pursuit of jazz. This will see a magnificent evolution in the music benefiting men and women alike.' I believe she is right.

Dreaming a future

Where are all these fantastic women going to play and how are they going to support their families while they do it? In many ways, this is a hopeful time for jazz in Australia. We have an explosion of great musicians, passionate jazz organisations in most capital cities, jazz festivals, new books and journals, excellent tertiary jazz courses, record labels, community and ABC radio programs, a national website, touring initiatives like Sound Travellers, internationally recognised artists, even a National Jazz Alliance researching and writing a National Jazz Plan.

Peter Rechniewski wrote an excellent essay this year on the business of jazz in Australia. The book is called The Permanent Underground. Many of us who have a long involvement in the art form feel like we do exist in a permanent underground. The best fees we can expect for gigs in Sydney barely cover the costs involved in doing the gig. In response to the scarcity of gigs, there are several underground venues in Sydney operating out of musician’s lofts and living rooms. The long fight to change NSW licensing laws was won earlier this year so we can expect the number of live music venues in Sydney to increase. Hopefully this will lead to more gigs, but it is unlikely to lead to higher fees.

I was 'What are our chances of realising our full potential if we spend a lot of time and energy away from our core artistic practise?'discussing the virtual impossibility of making a living from new music with several colleagues recently. We were listening to an early recording of a live concert by Miles Davis while we were having this discussion. The music was sensational. We felt music on this level couldn’t be created by part-timers or hobbyists. What are our chances of realising our full potential if we spend a lot of time and energy away from our core artistic practise?

Some very determined people manage to organise tours and recordings for their groups. During these heavenly times, a band feels like a band. There is no substitute for playing several gigs in a row. It’s how a band develops its own sound and identity. Tours also increase CD sales, build audiences and generate media coverage. It’s common for musicians to organise everything to do with a tour themselves, out of economic necessity.

The musician is composer, performer, musical director, manager, publicist, accountant, graphic designer, travel coordinator, record label manager and sometimes even underwriter of the tour. The tour is a great success, at least in jazz terms. You make your triumphant return. Your family is complaining they haven’t seen you and that you haven’t been making any money. Oh sorry, you may have actually been losing money. You are keen to build on the success of the tour but have no one to write the next grant application for you. Instead of the momentum you were hoping to build and that you probably talked about very sincerely in your grant application, you have to pay off the bills and save up to figure out how to do it all over again.

What would it take to really make a change to this scenario?

The main source of public subsidy for music is the Australia Council. The Australia Council research hub says this was 71% of total public subsidy in 2005-2006. I’m going to concentrate on the Australia Council in my analysis. I’d like to preface this by expressing my appreciation of the Australia Council. Without their support I would not have been able to have a career in music in Australia.

There are 15 companies listed under 'Music' in the Australia Council’s grants list for Major Performing Arts Organisations for the year 2007-08. The amount of money given to these organisations was $58,831,951. None of this went to jazz groups, no surprises there. By comparison, the total funding allocated through the Music Board was $4,355,230. It’s obvious that this sector is seriously underfunded. In its 2007-08 budget, the government announced additional funding of $19.5 million for the small to medium arts sector over the next four years. This is a step in the right direction and a hopeful sign for the future.

Let’s have a look at where the big money is going at present. $58,831,951 – I just have to get used to saying that figure. It’s a lot of rum! Of all the organisations listed, Musica Viva is probably the only one who could claim an ongoing commitment to jazz or world music. This is in three areas that I’m aware of: the Musica Viva In Schools program, Café Carnivale and presentation of Countrywide Concerts. Thanks Musica Viva.

Occasionally orchestras present collaborations with jazz musicians, such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) 'Kaleidoscope Series', coordinated by James Morrison, which featured Kurt Elling earlier this year. The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) has presented concerts with Roger Dean and more recently Katie Noonan, or, in the world music area, with Joe Tawardros. These are welcome collaborations and it would be great to see more of them.

However, no jazz musician is going to make a living out of these rare opportunities, or find sufficient opportunity to develop and present their new work through music groups like the SSO. These companies all present music from the Western classical music tradition. The music organisations funded through the Music Board of the Australia Council don’t reflect the current cultural make-up of Australian society. They have a poor record of presenting new music from their own tradition. They rarely present computer music or electro-acoustic music. What about Australian music? In 2007, Opera Australia, 'There is a pressing need to oblige the major performing arts organisations to present a reasonable percentage of new work and Australian work.'another recipient of funding in this category, presented no Australian works. In the same year the SSO presented 169 symphonic works. 10 of these, or 6%, were Australian. This is typical of most companies in this category. By comparison, a rough estimate of the percentage of Australian new work presented by Jazzgroove and SIMA would be about 80%.

There is a pressing need to oblige the major performing arts organisations to present a reasonable percentage of new work and Australian work. This could be done through percentage targets that they have to meet to guarantee their funding.

This still isn’t going to change much for new jazz music.

I decided to take a closer look at a company in the major performing arts fund to see what I could learn from their history. It is an amazing achievement to build a music organisation to a point of such public prominence. Why have so many classical music groups done it and we haven’t?

The history of the SSO dates back to 1932 and is linked to the early days of radio when the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra was heard in a live broadcast on the first night of transmission by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The first orchestra had 24 players, about the size of a big band! At the end of World War II the orchestra became the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with 82 players. The current size of the orchestra is around 100 players. In 2007, the orchestra became completely independent of the ABC.

What was happening with jazz bands at the ABC in 1932? According to the ABC’s website, 'Dance music was an important part of ABC programming in the 1930s and the bands that performed live in the studio delivered the best of contemporary music, although jazz was frowned upon in the early days. ABC dance bands continued for many years in a variety of different guises, including the ABC dance band led by Jim Davidson during the 1930s, Frank Thorne’s ABC Melbourne Dance Band, and from 1969, Brian May’s ABC Melbourne Show Band.

The ABC’s website concludes, 'In 1982 however, the era of the ABC dance and show bands ended, leaving only the symphony orchestras to continue the grand tradition of in-house ABC music-making'. Of course, ABC Radio makes an important contribution to our industry today, with a number of outstanding jazz, world music and new music programs. The ABC is also very active in studio and live recording of jazz groups.

Since 1982, the only full-time employment available to jazz musicians as performers has been the bands run by the Services. Much to the surprise of many of their colleagues, a number of leading jazz musicians have joined the Air Force, Army and Navy Bands in recent years. Some very creative projects, including quite a lot of new work has come from this unlikely area.

A few countries in Europe still have full-time radio big bands. At one time, Germany had a big band at the radio station of virtually every major city – there are now three left, the WDR Big Band in Koln, the NDR Big Band in Hamburg and the HR Big Band in Frankfurt. 

This tradition has largely died out around the world. This is partly due to a change in the nature of jazz. Since the bebop era, jazz has evolved predominantly as small group music. It also became less of a dance music form, leading to a drop in its popularity. Symphony orchestras became bigger and more consolidated, making it easier for them to build management structures to access funding and promotion. Symphony orchestras were also historically the music of the dominant culture of our society, i.e., not frowned upon! Jazz groups became smaller and more disparate. In an economic sense this has made things tougher for jazz musicians.

Artistically, however, it has given us a freedom that has been embraced with vigour, leading to a scene in Australia that is on a par with that anywhere in the world. It is also a scene where a lot of genres intersect: jazz, improvisation, world music, sound art, electronica, contemporary classical music. All the artists working in these fields currently compete for the relatively small amount of funding that is available from the Music Board. I think we need to find a way to take a quantum leap onto a different economic level.

Is it possible for new music groups to enter the realm of Music Board of the Australia Council funding?

Let’s see. the Australian New Music Collective (ANMC) was formed in 2009 and comprises 100 leading Australian musicians from the fields of jazz, improvisation, world music, sound art, electronica and contemporary classical music. In 2020, we want to apply to fund our activities through the Music Board of the Australia Council.

What do we need to do to meet the criteria?

Demonstrate the highest artistic standards in performances. (No problem)
Show an ongoing commitment to the development of the art form. (No problem)
Demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the development of artists within the art form. (No problem)
Show evidence of a sizeable and increasing audience base. (Starting to struggle, but could make a plausible case if we work hard between now and then.)
Have a minimum average annual total income of $1.54 million over the previous three year period. (OK, so we have to make a lot of money between us in the next three years.)
Demonstrate an ongoing ability to be financially viable, including increasing levels of financial support from the broader community. (Another challenge, but not impossible.)

To be included in the board, a company must also be categorised according to the role it is expected to play in its core activities. The categories are:

International company
Australian flagship company – resident or touring
Specialist company
State flagship company

No problem being one of these.

One goal of the ANMC is to provide full-time employment for each of its 100 musicians. This is about the same number as the SSO. I’m going to give one of our musicians a name now. I’m sick of trying to work out whether to say, jazz, new music, my field, our field etc, etc, etc. The generic ANMC musician is christened RetroAgroAngloBimbo, or just Globimbo for short. If we want to be more formal, it’s Dr Globimbo.

In 2008, the closest Dr Globimbo can get to full time employment as an artist is an Australia Council Fellowship. This once in a lifetime grant is worth $45,000 per annum for three years. Let’s give Dr Globimbo an annual salary of $65,000, about that of a rank and file member of the SSO. Our 100 musicians would be based around Australia according to demographics and artistic activity. There would be a national artistic director and an artistic head in each capital city.

Each ANMC musician will be a proven leader in their field, with a track record of artistic excellence and the ability to imagine, create and execute projects. They will be appointed for a three-year period, based on peer assessment of their project ideas and the standard of their creative work. They would be eligible to keep reapplying after that, based on the work they do in their previous term.

In addition to her salary, Dr Globimbo would have a budget to spend on projects. We’ll follow a model used in science fellowships where a fellow receives 1/3 of their money for expenses and 2/3 of their money as a salary. So Dr Globimbo and each other artist in the ANMC will have an annual budget of $97,500. If she chooses, Dr Globimbo could use a larger percentage of her salary on project expenditure. In effect, each of our 100 musicians would be running their own small- to medium-sized arts company with the security of an infrastructure provided by a major organisation and the likelihood of attracting sponsorship.

Dr Globimbo and her colleagues would have a well-funded management structure to help with coordination, promotion, selling their work to festivals, raising sponsorship and organising tours in Australia and internationally.

How is the model looking financially? So far expenditure on musicians is $9,750,000. Add 10% management costs. Total expenditure: $10,725,000.

Income: Roughly speaking, SSO generate slightly more in ticket sales than they receive from government funding and earn about 1/8th of their income from sponsorship. Adjust this for the ANMC’s budget, and we need government funding and ticket sales of $4,692,187.50 (I love the way the 50 cents pops up in these calculations. No we can’t do it, we can’t find that extra fifty cents!), and $1,340,625 from sponsorship and donations.

I started to feel pretty ill as I watched these figures unfold. 45,000 gallons of rum was looking very attractive. My dream seemed to be disappearing into the distance. Come on Sandy, don’t give up yet ... OK, our organisation is spread across six states, so we have access to a lot of state funding. What if we look at one state for a while?

Sydney has about a fifth of Australia’s population, so about 20 of our musicians are based in Sydney. The Sydney budget would only be for 20 musicians we are only looking at a measly $2,145,000. Easy! $268,125 in sponsorship and $938, 437.50 (I’m glad our 50 cents is back) in box office and government funding. Dr Globimbo and her projects need to generate $46,921.875 (lets round it up!). Groups like the AAO and Synergy Percussion already have budgets in excess of this so it is possible.

Next challenge, the ANMC has to build its income to $1.5 million PA to get far enough up the ladder to apply to Music Board funding. Between 100 artists that’s $15,000 a year. Sounds feasible.

I know this idea has a lot of holes in it, but I present it as a challenge to think in a different way. When I compare economic conditions for jazz today to what they were twelve years ago, not much has changed. If anything, we’re worse off today because fees have not risen at anything like the rate of the cost of living. If we want things to be different twelve years hence, we have to think differently now and act in a united way to bring about change.

We need to value people who have the courage to take risks.

I’d like to conclude by honouring one of those people. Dr Roger Frampton died of a brain tumour in January 2000. He was brilliant, cantankerous, imaginative, witty, innovative. Stories about his life are legendary. Roger was the one whose car would break down on the way to the gig, the one arrested by police for stealing the sandwiches of the builders next door when they started noisy construction work at some ungodly hour, the one who would retaliate by mowing the concrete at midnight or playing Albert Ayler records at full volume at 3am.

More importantly he was one of the first jazz musicians in Sydney to introduce chance ideas and graphic scores into his compositions, to play electronic music, to play free music, to play prepared piano, to explore odd meters and metric modulations, to explore polytonality, to use serial techniques in his composition, to play the sopranino saxophone. This was all in addition to his extensive knowledge of the standard jazz repertoire which he played with uncanny originality and invention.

I don’t know if Roger ever met Peggy Glanville-Hicks, but from what I’ve read, I think they would have enjoyed each other’s company and could have had some very fine arguments over a brandy soda.

Further links


Subjects discussed by this article:

As a national service organisation, the Australian Music Centre is dedicated to increasing the profile and sustainability of Australian composers and other creative artists. The AMC facilitates the performance, awareness and appreciation of music by these artists through: composer and other creative artist representation and assistance; resonate – its online magazine; library and retail services; sheet music publishing; and the management, administration and publication of project-based initiatives. Its library collection holds over 30,000 items by more than 500 artists.


Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.

You must login to post a comment.