Their hair is grey, but their music retains all the colours of the jazz palette. Each February they descend on Hall’s Gap for the annual Grampians Jazz Festival. The talented musicians come from around Australia, mostly Victoria and South Australia, for three days of non-stop music in the heart of the rugged Grampians range.
In venues scattered throughout the village, they explore a wide variety of jazz styles. The best masters of clarinet, trombone, trumpet and keyboard pop up repeatedly, pressed into service by various bands. Others play a couple of sets, then enjoy listening or jamming in caravan parks.
Bands whose members live far apart find creative ways of gathering for rehearsals between festivals. One group hires a house boat and rehearses while floating up a river. No worries about irritated spouses or neighbours, and they can play as early or as late as they want.
Robin and his twin brother, David, joined the parade of musicians and fancy-dress spouses that kicked off festivities at the 26th annual festival. If their mouths hadn’t been busy with the mouthpieces of a trombone and a trumpet, they would have been grinning ear to ear the whole time.
There were a few younger musicians, including a lively Melbourne band called Shirazz who put a new spin on traditional jazz. With a repertoire of familiar, original, and popular pieces (including an Amy Winehouse song), the polished and very professional group won the only standing ovation of the weekend. I looked around the audience of grey heads and wondered where their fans would come from when my generation dies out.
But mostly, I just looked around and smiled at the open, delighted faces. In my youth, I figured old people’s pleasures faded along with their years. Now I know better, and a festival like this one gives me hope for the years still left to us.