One of the comments I received about Issue 1 of extempore has stuck with me. To paraphrase, this reader said she’d expected stories of the good old days of jazz in Australia and instead found she came away with a feeling of excitement about the future of the music. She tapped right into a central dilemma for a journal such as this: ‘What is extempore?’
When it comes to the question of what type of music you might find discussed in our pages, and from what era, there is certainly a long and interesting history of jazz and improvised music in this country, and many stories about that history have already been well-told. Meanwhile, true to its nature, the music continues to grow and develop. It is being played all over the country—from recital halls (I heard the Australian Art Orchestra at the New Melbourne Recital Centre in March) to jazz clubs and suburban cafés and pubs. There are mountains of subject matter and bucket-loads of inspiration all along the timeline of jazz in this country, and along the continuum of music styles and approaches that sit under that great big beach umbrella of a definition: jazz and improvised music. We hope to dip into all of it, over time. Please excuse the mangled metaphors!
On a related note, the adventure we began with Issue 1 has led to an observation that to some extent extempore sits in a space between worlds—defying definition as belonging to this category or that. The journal has grown out of a combination of a love for music and a love for literature. It has not arisen solely out of either camp. As the journal’s editor, I’m not affiliated strongly with either the musical or literary networks in this country. My profile and reputation are about equal in both—in the literary world as a small-time, little-known practitioner with a Masters in Creative Writing, a few short stories in small anthologies and a published novel whose yellowing pages sit mouldering in stacks in a warehouse somewhere. In the world of jazz and improvised music I am an indefatigable audience member and commentator who does interviews, blogs and writes features yet refuses to do reviews, and builds websites for musicians that take about three times longer than anybody expected and for which I often forget to invoice.
When applying for funding from various bodies, for what I thought was a brilliant and very fundable project, I kept running into this problem… how to define extempore? Of course I thought it was brilliant. There’s no way I would have found and maintained the energy to get it up and running if I didn’t! But the question has to be about more than my opinion. Readers, contributors, reviewers and the staff I’ve talked to at a number of funding bodies (with all the expected cautious caveats) agree about its worth. Is extempore enriching the literary landscape? Yes! Does it document jazz and improvised music in a valuable and interesting way? Yes!
That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re eligible for two lots of funding. It means that everybody gets confused and we’re eligible for nothing until the next funding round, when we have all figured out which category the journal belongs to for the purposes of providing financial support. Many discussions, misunderstandings (mostly mine!), negotiations and some great new contacts have ensued. I think we’re closer, and I certainly feel hopeful that we’ll get the help we’ve been asking for—soon. Meanwhile, we rely on subscriptions, advertising, and my own ability to bring in a salary in my spare time. If you want to support the journal, your subscription is the best way to help. It means two very important things are happening. Well, three actually. You provide valuable dollars to pay for basics like printing. You ensure the journal is being read (unless of course you pack it away, unread, to sell on eBay when we finally get worldwide recognition!) And you also make me and the small team of people who help with the journal feel loved and appreciated for our efforts. We’ve slipped a subscription card between the pages, somewhere in this issue…
In terms of direction and editorial policy―after all this to-ing and fro-ing around the question of ‘What is extempore?’―I am loathe to force the journal into one direction or another. I think, for a while at least, its content must be dictated by the content we receive that sparks our interest, our general interest in writing, music and art and the links between them, and our commitment to flexibility and balance. Jazz and literature are both big worlds and, to stay interesting, I think extempore has to be willing to travel into their many different corners. Clichéd aphorisms such as ‘go with the flow’ and ‘hang loose’ and ‘just have fun’ must be the guiding principles to some extent, tempered of course by a certain ferocity about quality.
In a spirit of flexibility, you will have noticed that Bill Leak has contributed to this issue—but not as a cartoonist. His review of Emma Franz’s directorial debut—the film Intangible Asset Number 82—was something he did for us while not feeling terribly well, so we’re immensely grateful for his efforts! I hope when you read the review you’ll be prompted to see the film when it is released. I’ve seen a preview and loved it.
We are also very proud to have lured Andrew Lindsay away from his normal genre—fiction—and onto our pages with his Verbatim piece. I first met Andrew when I interviewed him for a book show on Eastside FM in Sydney and I love his work. Anybody who uses the word louche the way he does has me as a fan for life! He gives us a snapshot of the music scene in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote that will have you buying your ticket for the 86 tram up High Street before you can say ‘gypsy dancing’! Our other fiction piece is from the inimitable Mandy Sayer, who treats us to a sneak peek of her forthcoming novel, Love in the Years of Lunacy, set in the jazz age of 1940s’ Sydney.
Interviews in this issue are with Mike Nock (twice!), Judy Bailey and Scott Tinkler. We also reprint an interview with Art Pepper. We have another zinging Verbatim from John Clare. One reader asked me: ‘Is he still dangerous?’ I’ll let you decide! More Verbatim from Paul Pax Andrews—with a piece about the wonderful Joe Lane—from veteran trumpeter Keith Hounslow on ‘Creative Improvised Music’, from SIMA’s Peter Rechniewski on the El Rocco Jazz Cellar in Sydney and, finally, Adrian Jackson reveals who is to blame for his long-time fascination with jazz and improvised music. There are 19 pages of poetry in this issue—some of it from names you may know well. The much-loved π o, for example, with his poem ‘1928 Jazz in Melbourne’ about that juicy slice of Australian history when Sonny Clay and his Colored Idea visited our shores in 1928 and young ladies jumped out of windows in East Melbourne.
Melissa Bellanta gives us some scholarly background on the same events, in her essay. Sascha Feinstein, our friend from Brilliant Corners, also features again, this time with a fascinating piece about the relationship poet William Matthews had with Charles Mingus and his music. Andrew W Hurley writes about Horst Liepolt—a name familiar to anyone active in the Australian jazz scene in the Seventies and Eighties and who clearly, as Andrew shows, had an enormous influence on the performance and recording opportunities for jazz at that time—a legacy we still feel today.
Essays are a special focus for us at the moment as we gear up to the fifth National Jazz Writing Competition. This year is the year of the essay, and entries can be submitted right up until the end of July. We’re still able to offer a $750 first prize and, thanks to the generosity of Birdland Records, second and third prizes of great CD packs. Details about the competition are on page 93. And we have good news for all you scholarly types: from Issue 3 (November 2009) we’ll be able to offer peer review for a limited number of essays. More details on page 132, or see the website.
So here it is. Issue 2 of extempore. If you enjoy it, spread the word. We need as many readers as we can get! Now I’m off to a gig… with my notebook…