Shenzo Gregorio Quartet and Melissa Western – Saturday November 27 2021

Shenzo Gregorio Quartet and Melissa Western – Saturday November 27 2021

Imagine, if you will, a Parisian street scape. An all-night café. Shot glasses of absinthe. Smoke slowly rising from a Gauloise.

Close your eyes. Sense, feel, hear the spirit, the presence…of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. And is that Ernest Hemingway sitting quietly in the corner, with his head in a notebook?

Well, that’s how it all felt, as we settled in for the Saturday night session of Oz Manouche 2021, at the Brisbane Jazz Club.

And while ‘Paris’ may have been the first word that came to mind as these musicians slipped into their performance…it was quickly followed by words like…‘sublime’…and ‘exquisite’. And ‘Wow!!’

The Shenzo Gregorio Quartet is Shenzo on guitar and violin. (Cameron James aka) Camaron De La Vega on guitar. John Reeves on piano accordion. And Peter Walters on his Bob Manzaneres custom, electric double bass…which he thinks might be radioactive, as it was built in Los Alamos, New Mexico!!

Radioactive? Maybe. Electric and hot? Oh, yes!! This awesome foursome of talented musicians had those forty fingers charged up and absolutely sparking across their instruments!!

They gave us Jazz manouche classics like Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’ and Django’s ‘Swing 42’. And they gave us great originals such as ‘N’Awlins’  and ‘Sahara Swing’…all before introducing their vocalist…former BJC President and darling of the Edinburgh Festival…Melissa Western.

And in introducing her, bass-man Peter waxed lyrical about Melissa’s outstanding contribution to the Club’s development…including being President at the time that the late, great, much-missed Ewan Mackenzie brought to the Club, his ideas for the very first Oz Manouche Gypsy Jazz Festival…16 years ago!!

And so now, there were five instruments on our stage.

Whether delivering the heart-felt lyric of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’, or scatting in support of Brahms’ ‘Hungarian Dance’, Melissa’s incredible power, range, control and high-octane vocal gymnastics soared beautifully…in flawless synch with the violin, guitar, accordion and bass.

Have Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ or Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless The Child’ ever been done any better? Anywhere? By anyone?

And when they gave us the Duke Ellington classic, ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing, (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’, where on the scale was Melissa scatting at? Just how does she doooo that?

At the end of the evening…which came far too soon…when Melissa asked, ‘Can you handle an encore?’, they gave us Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. And the packed house audience’s response blew the roof off!!

What an enjoyable and memorable performance. Five great musicians, each adding their own personal touch of Django.

It was gentle. It was frantic. It was simple. It was complex. It was all exactly where and when and how it needed to be.

C’est formidable!! Thank you.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

Robyn Brown – Sunday November 14 2021

A sweet, glowing halo flitted and shone around the Brisbane Jazz Club today.

Powered by a heavenly band of talented musicians and the powerful rhythms, emotion and enthusiasm of Gospel Music, the halo finally settled above the head of our lady on the stage, Ms. Robyn Brown.

And it touched and moved us all, through Robyn’s angelic voice, her deep, deep conviction, and her great love for this music and its message.

Yes, we were blessed, as Robyn and her six disciples shone their light on an afternoon of musical history: sharing a compelling and captivating journey of soul-stirring vocals, and a This Train load of engaging anecdotes about the genesis and legacy of Gospel Music, and many of its best-known saints and champions.

And we were carried high over Jordan, (aka The Brisbane River), on the wings of those spontaneous, memorable, dancing arrangements of the otherwise modest 1, 2 and 3-chord songs.

So, who was this band of Holy Rollers that held us spell-bound and captivated through an inspiring BJC Sunday session?

Well, up front, Robyn Brown is the vocalist and historian.

At the piano, and playing with a broken left pinkie, that’s David Spicer.             .

Behind the upright bass, under the same tousled, curly hair that he had last time he was at the BJC, (which was some time ago), was Peter Walters.  (Welcome back, Pete!! Great to see you).       .

At the kit, with the perfect mix of driving, rousing and gently understated drumming, that is Max Sportelli.

And blowing us all the way to dem ole Pearly Gates, the Horn Section is Emeritus Professor, Dr. Rob McWilliams on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Spencer on tenor saxophone and David Murtough on slide trombone.

So, thank you Robyn and your ensemble. Through your two-set song-list and informative anecdotes, we learnt much about this music, and many of its founders and pioneering influences.

We now know that the story of Gospel Music begins back in the 17th Century, with the African-American spirituals that sprang from the deprivations of the US Slave Trade. And we understand why the songs, which can be low, slow and dramatic, or happy, clappy and uplifting, are so full of biblical narrative and allusion, and the recurring theme of freedom.

Along the way, we met Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) and ‘The Godmother/Grandmother of Rock n Roll’, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973). There was Ethel Waters. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Mahalia Jackson. Aretha Franklin. Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. The Blind Boys Of Alabama. And more.

All of whom had helped lay the foundation for much of the American music that has been popularised since, including Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, Soul, Hip-Hop

…and of course, Jazz

…which leaves the circle unbroken, by eventually leading the faithful to here, our beloved Brisbane Jazz Club, for another beautiful afternoon….Down By The Riverside!!


Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club


Justin Stephenson Ensemble – Friday October 15 2021

What a memorable way to spend my birthday!!

A night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. A great band. A funky front-man. And the flawless delivery of every song from the Grammy Award-winning, Tamla Motown double album, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Released in September 1976, it was the eighteenth studio album…and a masterpiece…for Steveland Hardaway Judkins…later, Steveland Morris…then Little Stevie Wonder…and finally, Stevie Wonder.

And here, paying homage, left to right, across our river-side stage tonight, the Ensemble are:

Up front, in the flat cap, on electronic keyboard, piano and lead vocal…that’s Justin Stephenson, aka J-FUNK.

The tall guy on the custom-built Fender Strat and supporting vocals, is the cruisy, Mr. Bluesy, Aaron West.

At the heart of it all, is the driving Rhythm Section…

On electric bass and backing vocals, is Justin’s long-time friend and collaborator, Robbie Flay.

James Sandon is the oh, so cooool dude on the drum kit. And that’s Mark O’Brien on congas and percussion, with his great assortment of tings, tangs, dongs and tinkles

And adding shrill power and sweet depth when required, is the Horn Section: Matt Christensen on Tenor sax, Cassie Whitehead on Alto sax and Greg Spence on Trumpet.

So, if you are ready…  Let’s power up the turntable.   Slip the vinyl from that colourful cover. Gently ease the stylus down.   Cue the crackle…

And we are away….

From Track 1, Side 1: ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’ to Track 4, Side 4: ‘Another Star’, we are treated in sequence, to every one of the album’s 17 songs. And as a nice little extra…Track 1, Side 1: ‘Saturn’, from the bonus 4-track EP.

And wow!! At times, we could have been back there in ’76, at the The Hit Factory in New York City, or The Record Plant in Hollywood, sitting in with Stevie, his band and big-name cameo guests, at those recording sessions.  It was all so tight…so cool…and so faithful to the original arrangements.

And we really were ‘feelin’ it all o-o-o-ver’…calling for more and roaring our applause, by the time they gave us an encore reprise of Track 1, Side 5: the horns-driven classic, ‘Sir Duke’.

Thank you to the Justin Stephenson Ensemble for another great night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. And thank you for sharing your journey from 2021 back to 1976. That was 45 years in the key of life!!

We loved it!!  Come back soon!!

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

Melody Graves and The Hokum Redemption – Sunday September 6 2021

Melody Graves and The Hokum Redemption – Sunday September 6 2021

Welcome to another cruisy Sunday afternoon, riverside at the Brisbane’s Home of Live Jazz.

Now step right up. Into our time machine.

Set the dial for the good ol’ US of A in the first few decades of the 20th Century.

Settle in for a fabulous History Lesson. And get ready to meet the pioneering musicians and the music of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s.

Melody Graves and The Hokum Redemption are here to take us waaaay back to those days, by presenting the great music that became the foundation of soooo much of what we love about Jazz to this day.

There’s the Creole/Dixieland/Traditional Jazz sound of early New Orleans. There’s a touch of Ragtime. Some Rockabilly. Lots of Swing. And plenty of those raunchy, tongue-in-cheek, big-grinnin’, Depression-era Hokum Blues.

This six-piece band of superbly talented musicians delivered it all in spades!! And they are:

Paula Hackney (aka Melody Graves)            Lead vocals. Washboard.

Dennis Duigan                                                   Lead vocals. Guild acoustic guitar.  Mandolin. Harmonica.

Bayden Mitchell                                                Gretsch semi-acoustic guitar.

Richard Ferrari                                                Trombone.

Toby Mellonie                                                   Upright bass.

Trevor Gollagher                                             Drums.

And the name?

Paula explains that ‘….we wanted the band name to echo the type of music we play’.

‘‘Melody Graves’, an imagined character, was the starting point in coming up with a name that resonates with the Depression era, when music was an elixir for hard times – to dance your blues away. And it is just as relevant today!!’.

‘Hokum Redemption is about Hokum Blues and speaks to a lot of our songs and styles…the New Orleans street music vibe and themes of love, break-ups, revenge, murder, hard times, and looking for salvation.

And once they get their mouths around it – Melody Graves and the Hokum Redemption is a name that people remember!!’

Well, it is certainly a name that won’t be forgotten here at the Brisbane Jazz Club.

With their slick musicianship, they had us chair-dancing all the way through two sets of toe-tappin’, high-steppin’ songs, from a long list of revered and much-loved greats.

They moved and amused us with their ringing, heart-felt vocals. (Two great voices in this band; Paula/Melody and Dennis). And they blew us away with those skilled, driving solos.

And for just a taste of the History Lesson we received…

1902       (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey   Hughie Cannon      

1920’s    Big Butter and Egg Man                          Louis Armstrong

               Crow Jane Blues                                     Julius Daniels         

               Jackson Stomp                                       Charlie McCoy

               St. James Infirmary Blues                       Louis Armstrong                 

1930’s    I’m Crazy About My Baby                        Fats Waller

               I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues               Cab Calloway

               Krazy Kapers                                          The Chocolate Dandies

               Biscuit Roller Blues                                 Kokomo Arnold

               Truckin’ My Blues Away                           Blind Boy Fuller

               He Ain’t Got Rhythm                               Billie Holiday

               Jerry The Junker                                     Clarence Williams

1940’s    Benny’s Bugle                                          Benny Goodman

               Me And My Chauffeur Blues                    Memphis Minnie

               Devil Ain’t Lazy                                         Bob Wills

And for good measure, a couple of originals… Little Birdie and Carry Me Home…that could have been penned down by the bayou in 1930!!

And while these songs say ‘History’…in your style, there is no missing the influences of the contemporary artists that you are also inspired by, such as Tuba Skinny, Pokey Lafarge, C.W. Stoneking and Albanie Falletta.

Thank you. All of you.

Please come back to the BJC soon…so that you may continue our education…and give us a little more of that Hokum Redemption.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club


Shannon Marshall Trio – Saturday May 29 2021

A chilly, late Autumn night by the Brisbane River…and inside, a red-hot Brisbane trio; Shannon Marshall on flugelhorn and vocals. Dale Rabic on Hammond, Wurlitzer and bass pedals. Paul ‘Hitman’ Hudson on drums.

These three supremely talented musicians are great mates and a great combo. And while Shannon and Dale have been playing together for much longer, they were joined by Paul about 15 years ago. However, it has been 5 years since they played in this combination. So, tonight was something of a reunion.

And oh, it was worth the wait!!

They kicked off the night, and immediately set the bar high, with a bright, soul-touching version of ‘Work Song’, a tune by Cannonball Adderley’s younger brother, Nat, who is a favourite of Shannon’s.

And then, through two powerful sets, they entertained us with a sparkling mix of driving instrumentals, reimagined standards, and cruisy vocals from Shannon.

‘Is it too early to do something funkeeee?’ Shannon asked. And because  it’s never too early for funky…they gave us George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. Like we’ve never heard it before.

Later, Shannon asked, ‘Do you feel like some Jazz or some Soul?’  When ‘Soul’, was the resounding response, Shannon replied with a smile, ‘Then what are you doing in a Jazz Club?’. And then gave us sweet and soulful renditions of Ray Charles’ ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’ and Reverend Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’.

What a set-list, with soooo many highlights….

For the Mancini/Mercer classic, Days of Wine and Roses, no vocal was needed. The voice was in Shannon’s sweet and dreamy flugelhorn.

Muddy Waters’ ‘Got My Mojo Working’ started with rimshots from Paul…and in no time, all three of them had their…and our…mojos working overtime!!

Dale’s two keyboards featured big on the Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. And they be-bopped through Monk’s Straight No Chaser.

They all cried the Blues on Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, and were in a reflective mood for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s, ‘Corcovado: Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars’.

There was even a touch of Gospel, with Wade in the Water’. And if you are on your way to Heaven, then this has got to be the way to go!!

Their signature song…Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’…was built up slowly. Dale set the scene and the ‘atmos’ with his keyboards, his left foot on the bass pedals, and his right foot on the big wah-wah pedal. That was followed in by Shannon’s vocal and flugelhorn. And then in came Paul’s drums.

And wow, what a surprisingly big sound!! You can’t help but wonder just how a threesome is able to do it.

There are the lead instruments, of course; Dale’s keys and Shannon’s horn and voice. And there’s Paul’s always-there, in the pocket, backbeat and fills.

But take a closer look. And notice Dale’s flying feet.

That pedal board, across which his stockinged feet are constantly moving, is providing the powerful bass line. And that bass goes, via the Hammond, into the big, bold, beautiful Leslie speaker, with its built-in amplifier, treble horn and bass speaker.

And our great sound man, Mark Smith, has mic-ed the bottom end from the Leslie, and is pushing it out through the PA.

So, put it all together; Shannon’s virtuosity and sensitivity on the horn. His soulful, Jazzy/Bluesy voice. The wild variety and excitement of Dale’s keys and pedals. The range of timings, tempos and feels from Paul. And you have a very exciting vibe!!

And a night to remember.

Another stand-out among many on the almost 50-years long journey that is the story of The Brisbane Jazz Club.

Thank you Shannon, Dale and Paul…and Mark. And a special mention for Dale’s dancing feet!!

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club