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

Sunny Vicars – Sunday April 11 2021

It’s a beautiful Autumn afternoon in Brisbane. Under a soft blue, Sunday sky, the river is flowing gently by the Brisbane Jazz Club.

Inside, a super-cool quartet of Jazz musos is warming up the audience. Setting the scene.

That’s Damian Sim on piano, Robert Corcoran on tenor sax, Andrew Shaw on double bass, and Dom Machen on drums.

This is a great band, with a smoo-oooth sound. And the audience is quickly settled into a sweet Sunday vibe.

So, we now know just how good this afternoon is going to be….and the best is yet to come!!

Then Sunny glides in. Sweet. Quirky. Old-fashioned gal. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce Ms. Sunny Vicars’.

Sunny and her band are here to present, It Might As Well Be Swing: Top songs from the Swing era. Ballads to Bop. Sizzling hot to icy cool’.

And it is quite a journey. Quite a history. Quite a set-list.

There’s 1918’s ‘After You’ve Gone’, and from the 20’s, songs like ‘It Had to Be You’ and ‘Makin’ Whoopee’.

From the 30’s, songs like ‘Exactly Like You’ and ‘I Thought About You’.

Songs from the 40’s included, ‘Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby’ and ‘A Slow Boat to China’.

And among songs from the 50’s, there’s ‘If I Were a Bell’ and ‘Aged and Mellow Blues’.

And from 1960, Sunny gave us, ‘Hit the Road Jack’, featuring a glamorous chorus line of friends, Irene McLeod, Pam Hodgson and Carole Marco.

Sunny’s bio tells us that, ‘…she began singing professionally at the age of sixteen in the Melbourne Big Band scene and is an accomplished small-group singer with an unmatched vocal clarity and impeccable phrasing, that will delight any listener’.

And that is what we were treated to today…her first solo show at the Brisbane Jazz Club.

This is style. This is class.

Sunny is an experienced performer. A natural. She has the professional’s touch, with just the right amount of casual. And at the mic, she engages easily with her audience…chatting comfortably, affably and effectively.

And it is all wrapped up in her charming personality and sweet smile.

There is velvet. There is silk. There is heart-melting sensitivity. There is cheek and sass when called for. And there is fun.

There is perfect timing and beautiful phrasing. And Sunny knows these songs so well. Each word, each perfect note, loaded with the lived story, the emotion, the feeling and the spice.

Yes, Sunny is living those songs. There on our stage. And in working so well with the band, she is clearly, the fifth instrument!!

Sunny, Damian, Robert, Andrew, Dom. The music. The songs. The Brisbane Jazz Club on a sunny Sunday afternoon.     A perfect fit!!

Thank you, each one of you, for entertaining our enthusiastic audience, and for sending them home happy and satisfied. And eager to come back.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club