Each year, the Helpmann Academy and the University of Adelaide treat students and alumni of the Elder Conservatorium of Music with a visit from a leading jazz artist. This year, graduating musicians were mentored by three-time Grammy Award nominee Jazzmeia Horn, whose two-week stay culminated in A Night of Jazz at Elder Hall on Friday.
The concert is an annual awards event celebrating top graduating musicians from the Conservatorium, and this year’s instrumental winners kicked off the night with a lively rendition of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”. Between the broad ride sound of drummer Lewis Dimitropoulos and the vibraphone of multi-instrumentalist Solomon Young, this band has a solid sound.
Outstanding Vocalist Award winner Millie Curry took to the stage for a beautiful arrangement of “Dedicated To You”. Her voice transports audiences to a time gone by, and she made it look effortless. The solo by Outstanding Saxophonist Award winner Gwilym Davies was also sweet and tender.
Next up was an original song titled “Expectations”, from Grace Mensforth (Award for Voice) and trumpeter Daniel Isler (who scooped the top award of the night – the $7500 Helpmann Academy Langley Award for Jazz). The contemporary tune and arrangement offered an exciting snapshot of Adelaide’s up-and-coming jazz voices, with its fresh groove and open sound. Mensforth’s vocals here displayed the power behind her voice.
Throughout this set, drummer Lewis Dimitropoulos and bassist Daniel Courts held things together, laying down a strong foundation for the band to dance upon.
A snappy version of Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s “Blue Moon” closed out the concert’s first set. Young’s vibraphone solo was mesmerising to watch as he gently sang along with his improvisations.
One of the most enjoyable parts of A Night of Jazz is witnessing how much the young musicians love their craft and revel in the skill and musicianship of their peers. Even at this early stage in their music careers, they carry themselves as professionals.
At this point in the evening, Helpmann Academy CEO Jane MacFarlane announced the recipients of this year’s Jazz Awards, while Isler spoke about the importance of supporting the arts and investing in young artists. The trumpet player, who graduated from the Conservatorium in 2020, plans to use his award to help create a new album with his band Soylent Green.
Horn was a striking presence as she made her way to the stage for the second set, wearing an azure-blue kaftan and tall gold turban.
Head of Jazz and pianist Mark Ferguson, bassist Lyndon Gray and drummer Jackson Mack joined her for an arrangement of her original song “Tip”. The flexibility through Horn’s range is astonishing – she moves from the low depths of her voice to whistle tones with complete ease – and Ferguson, Gray and Mack produced a fantastic sound.
The emerging musicians joined Horn for later numbers, with the band switching out members to feature the various award winners, all of whom were impressive.
Horn’s original songs “Free Your Mind” and “When I Say” blend traditional swing, R& B, soul and contemporary jazz to create a unique and captivating mixture of sounds. Elements of spoken word give her artistic voice a chance to shine.
Pianists Marco Callisto and Ferguson created moments of absolute beauty in two other originals, “Green Eyes” and “Where We Are”, each featuring lush piano intros.
The night ended with a playful and joyful arrangement of Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You”. Horn and Curry shared the vocals with an enchanting exchange of the head. Davies’ sax solo stood out here – he has a real command over these changes.
Horn – who also performed an intimate Sunday afternoon concert at UKARIA Cultural Centre during her visit to Adelaide – shows what it means to play music for joy.
For the jazz graduates watching and working with her, she set an example for what music can look like outside the world of classes and grades enforced by study. A Night of Jazz was a fantastic send-off for the graduates as they hone their musical voices and begin to explore all the possibilities ahead of them.
Jazzmeia Horn performed with the Elder Conservatorium of Music Jazz Award winners on August 25 at Elder Hall.
The full list of 2023 Helpmann Academy Jazz Award winners:
Helpmann Academy Langley Award for Jazz 2023, supported by the K&S Langley Fund: Daniel Isler – Trumpet
Helpmann Academy Award for Voice 2023, supported by Dr Rob Lyons: Grace Mensforth – Voice
Helpmann Academy Top Honours Award, supported by David McKee AO & Pam McKee: Marco Callisto – Piano
Helpmann Academy Top Undergraduate Award, supported by the Lang Family Foundation: Lewis Dimitropoulos – Drums
Helpmann Academy Award for Outstanding Saxophonist, supported by JD & The Crabs: Gwilym Davies – Saxophonist and drummer
Helpmann Academy Award for Multi-Instrumentalist, supported by DankPods: Solomon Young – Piano, vibraphone, saxophones, bass guitar, Hammond organ and clarinet
Helpmann Academy Award for Outstanding Bassist, supported by DankPods: Daniel Courts – Double bass
Helpmann Academy Award for Outstanding Vocalist, supported by Dr Rob Lyons: Millie Curry – Voice
Tommy Norman Award, supported by Kim Norman & Family and the University of Adelaide: Edmund Black – Piano
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