“Growing up in Wang, this is a pretty big deal,” he said at a recent press conference. “If there is work that can be done to provide [support], there’s lots of grant funds, there’s different money that is potentially available if people want one last ditch effort to try and have a 2024 festival … my door is always open.”
Creative Victoria confirmed that the festival received $112,500 to cover January 2022 to December 2023. The bulk of this funding was spent on the 2022 festival, said chair of the festival board Dave Fuller, with only a third of that amount allocated to 2023.
Following three unsuccessful applications for federal funding, “we had begun discussions about winding down – we didn’t feel comfortable applying [to Creative Victoria for 2024 funding] and potentially narrowing chances for another group”, he said.
A spokesperson for Creative Australia (formerly the Australia Council for the Arts) said: “Creative Australia acknowledges the importance of regional jazz festivals, and the Wangaratta Jazz Festival in particular, to Australian music. This festival has been a valuable launching pad for many important jazz artists and a hub for jazz in Australia, and we are very sorry to see it come to an end. We are happy to discuss available funding options that may be open to them.”
Saxophonist Julien Wilson, the 1994 winner of the prestigious National Jazz Award presented by the festival, said that “Wangaratta was like Christmas for jazz musicians. It was the event you’d look forward to all year”.
“As well as the great and varied music … it was a chance to see friends and colleagues from all over the country, and relax in a country venue or restaurant with world-famous musicians,” Wilson said.
For pianist Barney McAll, the first National Jazz Award winner, the festival “was a place where culture thrived, fostering vital cross-pollination between international virtuosos and Australia’s finest improvising musicians”.
“The international jazz competition offered young talent a chance to grow. It is disheartening that the importance of these things wasn’t fully understood,” McAll said.
Pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky was more philosophical: “It is always a pity to see a festival with such a wonderful history, with such an extraordinary contribution to Australian jazz in many, many forms, and to Australian blues music, to see its passing.”
“We have to be grateful to the enormous contribution that it made … as sad as it is, we have to kiss it goodbye.”
Andra Jackson is a former journalist for The Age. She is co-author with her brother Adrian, the festival’s artistic director from 1990 to 1916, of the book Thirty Years of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues (Melbourne Books 2022)
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