Sydney Conservatorium International Jazz Festival

Billy Childs Trio & Bill Frisell

Billy Childs Trio & Bill Frisell

For the third year running the heavyweights of the international and Australian jazz scenes will descend upon our city for the Sydney Conservatorium International Jazz Festival (SCIJF).

Forming in 2017 thanks to the tireless work of Artistic Director and Head Of The Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Studies Program, David Theak, the festival has been promoting and celebrating an often under-appreciated music scene. As 2019 marks the third outing for the festival J.A.M spoke with Theak about his mindset when first creating the festival as compared to now when curating the lineup.

“Starting anything new in a competitive place like Sydney is not necessarily easy, so we had no idea if the festival would continue beyond 2017,” recalled Theak before continuing, “We worked really hard, had a great program and had a lot of great people working on the marketing, so it’s been a real pleasure to see the festival grow over the last three years.”

In the third annual SCIJF, this year presented in association with the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA), International artists will be collaborating with Australian musicians, rarely-heard national ensembles of excellence, cutting-edge Sydney artists and dynamic artists of tomorrow mentored by our top jazz musicians. 

Nestled in the Royal Botanic Gardens on the spectacular Sydney Harbour, this year's festival will take advantage of world-class performance facilities of the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music. With the exception of vocal support, Theak has taken an “acoustic performance philosophy” by selecting artists who perform without amplification so audiences can enjoy the music as it was designed to be heard. "The beautiful acoustics of the Conservatorium’s concert halls respond superbly to acoustic instruments and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from last year's patrons," said Theak.

Whilst the format for this year’s iteration of the festival is slightly altered compared to previous outings, the music and education remain core tenants. In order to further these principles, the festival has committed to keeping prices at an affordable level, particularly for students explained Theak.

“We’ve tried to keep the pricing low so that people can come and essentially gorge themselves on jazz all day without leaving a huge hole in their back pocket. Festival passes are $50 for a student, which is quite incredible value for over 25 acts in one day.”

Also as part of this educational philosophy, the festival runs an array of ‘masterclasses’ to help both students and the wider public gain a better appreciation for the delights of jazz.

“We run four masterclasses in the morning, which lot’s of people attend in order to find out what it is the artist is trying to achieve and how they do it etc, which then makes the afternoon performances a lot more enjoyable.

“Jazz is one of those art forms which needs a bit of research and diligence to really enjoy. So we’re trying to help educate audiences and young students about the complexities of jazz and how artists use their techniques to create a performance.”

Looking ahead to this year’s festival program, which is incredibly diverse, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or this will be your first dive into the genre.

"For me, the big one I’m really excited for is the Bill Frisell Trio,” exclaimed Theak before continuing, “He’s a 10 time Grammy Award winning guitar player, he was also the Downbeat poll winner for almost 20 years. So he is one of my favourite artists.”

The festival also acts as an exciting opportunity for former students to return to where it all began, “I’m really excited about the Billy Childs Quartet. Billy is one of the world’s great jazz piano players, but he is using a bass player who used to be a student at the Sydney Conservatorium.”

Then finally there were three other acts which Mr Theak highly recommended.

“I’m looking forward to the Australian National Jazz Orchestra, which is returning to the festival for its second-ever performance.

"Also, there is a great bass player form Sydney, Hannah James and her trio, is something that I’m also really excited about.

"Finally, there is a band called Riffz2000 from Perth who performs live jazz improvisations and riffs over mashups of famous rock and roll guitar riffs. Who knows what’s going to happen there.”

Jun 2. Sydney Conservatorium Of Music, 1 Conservatorium Rd, Sydney. $20-$150+b.f. Tickets & Info:

Read J.A.M interview pieces by subscribing to J.A.M Zine over on Patreon.