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Des Cowley

Des Cowley

Des Cowley is former Principal Librarian at State Library Victoria, and author of The World of the Book, published by Melbourne University Press in 2007. He regularly publishes on music for Australian Book Review, Rhythms, Dingo, and other journals.

The Usefulness of Art (fortyfivedownstairs)

ABR Arts 28 August 2017
It seemed apt that Adam Simmons chose to perform his large-scale suite The Usefulness of Art in a space generally devoted to art and theatre, rather than in one of Melbourne’s jazz clubs. Incorporating visual design by Christine Crawshaw and Diokno Pasilan – wooden chairs hung from the ceiling amidst billowing clouds, recalling both a Duchamp readymade and a Magritte still life – the concert ... (read more)

2017 Melbourne International Jazz Festival

ABR Arts 19 June 2017
Marking its twentieth anniversary, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) had much to celebrate in 2017. I can vividly recall the first Festival in 1998, a weekend-long event attended by what seemed like a handful of us, moving in unison between city venues. Even then, it proved a memorable experience, highlighted by three astonishing performances by Brad Mehldau, an up-and-coming pianis ... (read more)

Jazz Greats Weekend at Monash

ABR Arts 29 March 2017
That Monash University has become a national leader in jazz studies is far from surprising when we consider the calibre of its teaching staff: pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky, saxophonist Rob Burke, trumpeter Paul Williamson, and trombonist Jordon Murray, among others. Students have had the opportunity to perform and record with visiting international artists such as Dave Douglas, Enrico Rava, ... (read more)

2016 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

ABR Arts 08 November 2016
Ahead of this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, Artistic Director Adrian Jackson acknowledged that while he had not intended to develop any specific theme for this year’s program, one had unwittingly emerged: the significant contribution of female musicians to jazz in this country. Thankfully, this was anything but a rallying cry for affirmative action: the composers and instrument ... (read more)

Des Cowley reviews 'Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason interviews' edited by Toby Gleason

November 2016, no. 386 25 October 2016
It is a testament to Ralph J. Gleason’s standing in the jazz community, at the time these interviews were made, that a composer of the stature of Duke Ellington would consider him a conversational equal. Says Ellington: ‘I feel like I’m on the same level with you because you have proven that you are a great listener.’ While far from a household name these days, Gleason’s contributions to ... (read more)

2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival

ABR Arts 15 June 2016
In his introduction to the opening night concert of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF), Michael Tortoni, the artistic director, noted that some 43,000 patrons were expected to attend over 120 concerts during this year's program. That is a lot of devotees to a musical form often marginalised, or perceived as difficult. Certainly, it is a sure sign of endorsement not just for contempor ... (read more)

2015 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

ABR Arts 09 November 2015
This year's Wangaratta Festival delivered two outstanding performances of extended works composed for large ensembles: Dave Douglas's suite Fabliaux and Lloyd Swanton's Ambon, inspired by his uncle's experiences as a prisoner of war from 1942–45. American trumpeter Dave Douglas has been a leading figure in jazz since the early 1990s, when he first rose to prominence as a member of John Zorn's M ... (read more)

Des Cowley reviews 'Life'

October 2015, no. 375 10 September 2015
It is tempting to draw parallels between Anton Corbijn’s Life and the director’s own personal history, in particular his series of striking 1979 black-and-white photographs of UK band Joy Division. The Dutch photographer, upon hearing the band’s first album, Unknown Pleasures, was convinced something great was in the offing, and set out for England intent on capturing the band with his camer ... (read more)

2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival (part two)

ABR Arts 12 June 2015
Wednesday, 3 June It is a clear sign of a strong festival program when you find yourself wracked with indecision about what to see. Fact is, on this night, I was spoilt for choice. On offer was the première of Paul Grabowsky’s multi-part suite Nyilipidgi, performed by the Monash Art Ensemble, the Australian Art Orchestra, and the Young Wagilak Group from South East Arnhem Land. Previous colla ... (read more)

2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival (part one)

ABR Arts 04 June 2015
Thursday, 28 May It was certainly a canny move to snare Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea for the opening night concert of the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Few people interested in music, let alone jazz, would be unfamiliar with these names. Now in their mid-seventies – though both looking sprightly for their age – they have, between them, clocked up more than a century of music- ... (read more)
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