I was walking back to my car with two guys I work with. The conversation was standard: “what are you up to for the rest of the week?” I told them of the article I was working on about the young Adelaide jazz scene.
“We have a young Adelaide jazz scene?“
Who knows where we went wrong, but something about jazz conjures up feelings of distaste in many people. Maybe it's because you were like me and—against your will—forced to be in the high school jazz band that featured one too many guitars, and a horn section that made your ears bleed. Maybe, again, it's stereotypes leading us down a path of lies and misconception, where our minds connect jazz music to dusty old has-beens, pretentious music snobs, and standing in elevators. Hub-tones are one of the Adelaide jazz outfits breaking down these misconceptions: they're young, they're charming, and, above all, they're downright hip.
In the sensual atmosphere of dim chandeliers and red velvet that is La Boheme, Hub-tones played an elegant two-set gig. The young four-piece outfit have a beautiful chemistry. The Hub-tones sound is sophisticated and precise, yet fluid and soothing, with a knack for demonstrating their incredible skill as musicians without becoming self-indulgent. While their stage presence is understated, Hub-tones possess something magnetic, and I find myself completely engrossed by their subtleties and apparent effortlessness. Throughout the instrumental sets, guest vocalists were occasionally beckoned to the stage from the audience—and, if you were wondering, the heads that filled La Boheme for some late-night jazz on a Thursday were all young cats—adding another beautiful layer to this stylish soundscape.
While I was absorbed in their music, I began to wonder why jazz has this undercurrent of being 'outdated', when before me was a quartet of passionate, intelligent and talented humans composing and performing their own music. There is nothing unfashionable about raw artistic expression.
When I first met Anthony Costanzo, double bassist of Hub-tones, I was interested by the fact that he was studying jazz at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, but instantly my subconscious decided that he was only doing it because it had more weight than studying pop music (but was more free than classical). The more I hung around with Anthony, I came to realise the preconceptions my brain spits out are often wrong. Anthony is a twenty-something who is thoroughly passionate about jazz. His Snapchats often filled with him spinning a jazz vinyl over his morning coffee. I'll always accept and respect someone's passion, but being the over-thinking, curious creature I am, I want to understand things. So I shared many, many coffees with Anthony Costanzo, and we spoke about jazz, the scene, and why it's not tickling the sweet spot of more people...
Nicole: What is jazz to you?
Anthony: For the most part, jazz was, and still is, an improvised art form. I don't say this in terms of purely the soloist as people are accustom to in popular music (such as the lead guitarist taking a solo in a rock band). In jazz, the entire band is improvising and interacting with the soloist. So, essentially each member of the ensemble is free to interpret the tune in their own way.
This is why, for me, jazz is an emotionally open art form. When I'm soloing, sometimes I feel like I would feel the same if I was stark naked.
As a member of the Adelaide jazz scene, do you think that the general public have a stigma towards jazz?
Yeah, I think there is a stigma surrounding jazz musicians (but it works both ways, because it's common for some jazz musos to have a stigma towards the pop crowd). People get put off of jazz because they feel that one song can go on 'forever', but when you compare that to the psych scene—which is really popular at the moment—that extended song form is closely related to jazz, but is more readily accepted by punters.
I feel this is because people have this idea that jazz is 'crusty' and old. But again, in comparison to the psych scene (that's a throw-back to the ‘60s) both styles are making a resurgence—but jazz is having a harder time losing its stigma of being outdated.
I mean, maybe this could be because the average listener is intimidated by jazz. Generally speaking, jazz has lots of notes played over lots of different chords, whereas a trip in psych music is usually built over a drone or motif.
This links into the next misconception that people have of jazz music, where there is this belief that jazz musicians are just playing random notes. In reality, these 'off notes'—or, as we call it, 'colour notes'—sound wrong, but really they serve a function to the music and are deliberate.
While the musical stigmas are a factor, I think the biggest issue is the social stigma—that jazz is a community of academics, older people, or reserved for the upper class. In saying that, it's not a music that needs to be understood to be listened to. It's not about how many chords are in the song, it's about how the song makes you feel.
We're just the same as any musician: we're all poor, we smoke the cheapest cigarettes, and can't afford a beer. So please, come to our shows so that can change!
The young Adelaide jazz scene appears to be quite low-key. I mean, until I met you, I didn't know that there was a scene of twenty-somethings writing and performing jazz music in bars around town. How large is your community?
Truth be told, our community is fairly small, but it is growing at a steady rate. Every year, a new batch of first-year students come into the Conservatorium and start checking out what gigs are going on. From that small group, a few will become regular attendees—that’s how I got into jazz.
The main songwriters of the Hub-tones are Andrew Casey and Emile Ryjoch. Additional young jazz musicians who are writing original pieces are Angus Mason and Nicholas Pennington. Each composer's work reflects the personality of the writer. So while they're all creating music under the blanket of the jazz genre, each one has their own original flare and sound.
You're the bassist of the Hub-tones, as well as other Adelaide acts, such as Donnarumma and MANE. Do you feel that people in your social network are less likely to come to your jazz gigs in comparison?
The difference between the jazz scene and the other music scenes we have in Adelaide is that I rarely see people who aren’t students or ex-students of the Con’ attend gigs regularly. Promotion, I think, can sometimes be lacking in the jazz scene,
Either Facebook events aren't made, or when they are made, people are only inviting people that are already apart of the scene, and that makes it nearly impossible for people outside our community to actually know what's going on.
Playing in MANE and Donnarumma, there's opportunity for higher profile gigs to larger audiences. For example, having the chance to play with MANE at WOMAD this year was surreal for me because the crowd was huge, and lots of people got to see and hear her music. Whereas in the Jazz scene, the event COMA, or the gigs at La Boheme, are considered to be quite good gigs in our community, however people outside of our network might not understand the weight of it.
I feel like having jazz bands playing regularly at some of the east-end cocktail clubs would provide a great atmosphere, as well as expose the music to a wider audience. I've expressed interests to a few newer cocktail bars on the east-end in hopes of achieving this.
At the moment, most gigs are tucked away in the quieter pockets of the CBD and surrounding suburbs. Situating jazz in the more happening parts of town would increase the probability of walk-ins, as there's more foot traffic.
Jazz in some ways is getting closer to being seen like the classical world. I say this in the sense of back in the day, jazz bars were a place for parties, and it was essentially dance music, however over time things progress and evolve, so the place of jazz in society has changed.
Now it's more of a chill-out music to sip a nice drink and listen to. [In] saying that, sometimes two worlds collide, and I find myself seeing business people having cocktails at a jazz gig and being told to be quiet by other punters. Personally, at my gigs, I don’t mind the crowd talking as it adds to the atmosphere, as long as it doesn’t swallow the bands, but there has to be a happy medium.
If people want to come watch some jazz, where are your favourite spots?
Weekly people should see...
Mondays : COMA @ the Wheatsheaf Hotel from 7:30pm
Tuesdays: Airbenders @ Gilbert St Hotel from 7:30pm
Wednesdays: Adelaide Uni Jazz Students Night @ Publishers Hotel from 7:30pm
The New Cabal @ La Boheme from 9pm
First Thursday of the Month: Mike Stewart Big Band @ Norwood Live from 7pm
First Sunday of the Month: Ben Fuller Quarter @ The Exeter Beer Garden from 5pm
Each of these bands play a different style of jazz, from the contemporary sound of COMA to the more traditional sounds of the Mike Stewart Big Band.
I think there's something great about being able to check out these gigs regularly, as they're all such different styles of jazz, so hit up the Jazz SA newsletter for a more detailed run-down on what's on, and stay tuned to the Hub-tones Facebook for upcoming gigs.
Go try something different, push yourself, explore all types of music, and check out the next Hubtones gig on May 25th at LaBoheme from 9pm.