Sydney Con International Jazz Festival Fills A Major Gap In The Jazz Calendar

  • Written by 
  • Thursday, 09 May 2019 15:39
Bill Frisell (left) and Billy Childs headline Sydney Con International Jazz Festival 2019. Bill Frisell (left) and Billy Childs headline Sydney Con International Jazz Festival 2019.

The Sydney Conservatorium Of Music opens its doors for a full day of top-tier performers from Australia and around the world for the third annual Sydney Con International Jazz Festival (SCIJF).


The festival was established in 2017 by renowned saxophonist and Artistic Director David Theak, who is also the head of the jazz studies programme at the Con. “Around this time of year in June there are a couple of other great jazz festivals in Australia, particularly the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and also the Brisbane [International] Jazz Festival,” David explains.

“Sydney has really lacked a comprehensive international jazz festival for a long time and when I took over the running of the jazz course we had a little bit of bequest money left to us. We were looking to do something dynamic and engaging for the public and the students, so we thought why not start a jazz festival?”

In a programming coup for David, this year he has secured headline performances from esteemed guitarist Bill Frisell and multi-Grammy Award winner Billy Childs leading their respective ensembles.

Billy Childs' appearance will be extra special for David as it marks the triumphant return of a Sydney Con alumnus now playing with Billy. “There's a nice tie-in here that [Billy] actually uses one of our ex-students, a bass player called Alex Boneham who moved to America a few years ago to take up a position at the Thelonious Monk Institute, which is the world's most prestigious jazz course,” he says.

“Alex is still living in LA, he's a big success over there and has been picked up by Billy Childs. So he's coming back to perform with this huge US act, but this is where he used to attend classes.”


To make the festival as comprehensive and accessible as possible, David says there is an emphasis on education and getting young musicians to work with established performers. “The festival is built on five pillars and the first one is having a great international headline act, which we try and get every year,” he says.

“Then the next tier is actually having Australian musicians collaborate with some of the international musicians that we bring to Sydney. Then we have leading national acts and local Sydney bands as well as the student component, which makes up abut a fifth of the programme.”

SCIJF also takes full advantage of the Conservatorium's superb acoustic characteristics, with all acts selected on the basis of acoustic performance philosophy. “It's 100 per cent acoustic our festival, so all of the bands perform without the assistance of a PA unless there's a vocalist,” David explains.

“Everything is as the musicians want it to sound, and that's made it easier for us in terms of production because we have a lot less things to think about. Also the audience enjoy the fact it's completely acoustic – it's not loud, and everything is as per how the musicians want themselves to be heard.”

Sydney Con International Jazz Festival takes place 2 June at Sydney Conservatorium Of Music.

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