Swingtime Xmas at Queenscliff – Festive Jazz by Janet Walker

Dave and his Quartet, a swinging jazz start to Janet’s festive season

The David Gardner Swing Quartet, Queenscliff and Christmas; it doesn’t get much better than that… but it did at Jazz Australia’s event, Hark The Herald Angels Swing on Saturday, December 15th, 2013.

Presented by Diana Allen, Director of Jazz Australia, in the Queenscliff Uniting Church, it featured: The Dave Gardner Swing Quartet with vocalists Carol Fogg and Allison Whytcross. (Quite incidentally David featured with Steve Sedergreen on the sound track for one of the Miss Fisher Mysteries playing “Rose Room”, arranged by composer Jonathan Dreyfus).

Queenscliff, a lovely old seaside town of nineteenth century buildings, located on the Bellarine Peninsula, 106 kms south-west of Melbourne (roughly 20 minutes driving time from Geelong).

The Jazz Australia event finished at 8.00pm which made it an easy round trip; drive to Queenscliff and back along the M1 Geelong Freeway to the suburbs of Melbourne. But, hey, it was Christmas… time for a treat.

So I stayed overnight at Benambra Boutique Bn’B. In Hesse Street, Queenscliff’s main drag, it’s ideal accommodation to wander along the historical streetscapes browsing shops, cafes and tour the surrounding area.

Benambra hosts, Anne and Geoff, fans of Jazz Australia events, walked with me to the Uniting Church where we were welcomed with finger food and a buzz of excited anticipation from the large crowd already in attendance.

Comfortably seated in the Uniting Church pews, Diana Allen gave a brief background on the Quartet: David Gardner, clarinet and saxophone, Kim Dillon, piano, Isaac Barter, double bass and Daniel Zampatti, drums.

Then it was over to Dave – before the quartet played each Christmas hymn or traditional song he gave a short bio on when and where it came from and what the guys were going to do with it – and what they did was sensational.

Maybe you have heard ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ played with a boogie-woogie beat?

It was my first time and it was a rather uplifting, seriously toe tapping, wonderfullly exciting rendition of a hymn that will never sound quite the same to me again.

The program included so many of my favourite old Christmas melodies: Sleigh Ride, White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire, Deck The Halls, just a few of David Gardner’s innovative orchestrations that reinterpreted traditional tunes into the Quartet’s  jazzy swinging syncopated rhythms.

Must have been audience favourites as well, because the applause was huge at the end of each offering.

It seems there’s nothing quite like cool yule jazz to bring on the Xmas spirit.

David Gardner, one of Australia’s top clarinet players, is also a virtuoso on saxophone, playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax. Head of Woodwind at Christian College in Geelong, Dave has performed with Australian jazz greats: Don Burrows and James Morrison, and international artists Louis Bellison, Joe Williams, Buddy De Franco, Bob Mintzer.

His bio also includes gigs with The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Dave has gathered a talented group of young musicians around him to form The David Gardner Swing Quartet.

All well known in the Melbourne and Geelong jazz scenes they are: bassist, Isaac Barter who plays double and electric bass in a range of styles, specialising in jazz.

He is also an experienced recording engineer.

Then there is Daniel Zampatti, the drummer, who has a Bachelor of Music and Dip. Ed.

Daniel is Head of Percussion at Christian College, Geelong and performs with various jazz ensembles, he also works with a local recording company in music production and lighting.

That leaves pianist, Kym Dillon, a guy who plays jazz piano with a real feel for ‘the swing’ in swinging.

Chatting to jazz fans at the event interval, the general consensus was: David Gardner and the guys ensemble work and solos were pretty special; the Quartet’s solo spots highlighted by great playing, the rhythms sustained by the swinging ensemble syncopation.

Mustn’t forget the girls, though.

Kym, Daniel, David, Isaac, Diana Allen, Allison & Carol at Queenscliff

Vocalists Carol Fogg and Allison Whytcross delighted the audience by joining the Quartet on some tunes, most notably: Carol’s, strong pure voice duetting with David Gardner’s clarinet in Ave Maria and Allison’s honeyed tones bopping along with the Afro-Cuban beat in the quartet’s version of We Three Kings of Orient.

With backgrounds in musical comedy, Carol and Allison adapted to the jazz rhythms with style and grace, inviting the audience to sing-along on some tunes; the event finale, ‘Silent Night’, Quartet playing, Carol and Allison singing with the audience joining in, is a lovely memory of Christmas 2013.

I chatted with David Gardner at interval and asked these questions:

What’s your musical background and when did it all begin?

Dave said: “I began learning clarinet at school when I was 13. My grandfather and mother were both involved with amateur music comedy in Geelong when I was a child.”

What prompted your selection of old songs and traditional carols for the Jazz Australia Queenscliff event and how hard was it to turn them it into the cool swinging jazz rhythms played by the quartet?

“The tunes that were written over the past 100 years I chose because they convert very easily to a jazz performance type tune as they were written either in the jazz era or by people from within that genre.

The more traditional carols were chosen as an idea came to my head regarding how to convert them to jazz style pieces. They all took time to achieve as the idea for each germinated and developed over time.”

Wish-list for The David Gardner Swing Quartet and what’s upcoming for you and the quartet?

“We as a group would like to perform to the public as much as possible. We have a Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw Show and an up and coming Louis Armstrong Show. The first two have been accepted by audiences with enthusiastic approval.

We would love to take these shows to wider audiences. At present we hope to perform in 2014 at some of the high profile festivals such as Wangaratta and the Melbourne international festivals.

If you haven’t heard The David Gardner Swing Quartet, they have recently recorded a CD: ‘A Shaw Thing’, a tribute to Artie Shaw, available at the quartet’s gigs.”

Jazz Australia events always feature amazingly talented jazz singers and musicians.

Impressive architecture at Queenscliff

After a night of marvellous music I awoke to a delicious big Benambra breakfast. Saying goodbye to Anne and Geoff, before heading back to Melbourne I sampled a little of Queenscliff’s attractions.

Close to Point Lonsdale, and near the entrance to Port Philip Bay, Queenscliff is a popular seaside resort for day trippers and travelers to the Great Ocean Road.

The ambience, nineteenth century, a walk along the wide streets with historic hotels, public buildings and quaint cottages is a relaxing interesting experience. Be sure to keep your trigger figure away from your credit card as the clothing boutiques and gift shops are filled with unusually tempting items.

Surrounded by water, on three sides, Queenscliff has a large stretch of coastline. A walk along the coastline provides a panorama of large rocky outcrops, white sandy beaches, historic piers and jagged cliffs.

Around 1880, Queenscliff was a defence post, the site of the most heavily armed fort in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fully restored, Fort Queenscliff (Museum and Fort) a short walk from the retail area, allows visitors to tour the Fort and view Museum indoor and outdoor displays.

At Shortland’s Bluff, the Queenscliff Lighthouse stands tall and proud; built in 1862, it still looks impressive, and close to the base is a lookout.

The Black Lighthouse lies north of the Queenscliff Lighthouse; made of bluestone it is one of the most unique structures in Australia.

The harbour and wharves are home to fishing fleets and if you would like an alternate route to Melbourne then a passenger and car ferry service is located at the eastern end of the harbour.

The service operates between Sorrento and Queenscliff, via the Mornington Peninsula which offers a chance to visit that area’s wineries and local attractions while travelling back to Melbourne.

For train buffs a collection of Australian heritage trains is operated by the Bellarine Peninsula Railway. With 16 kilometers of restored track lines, the passenger service runs between Drysdale and Queenscliff.

Lots to see and do on the Bellarine Peninsula, will definitely make my visit longer next time.

Janet Walker, Special Features Victoria, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

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