Jazz and Dance in Brisbane – a resurgence in Brisbane’s jazz history

The connection between dance and music has always been inseparable.  The history of jazz music is no different with early jazz infused with infectious rhythms and melodies designed for people to dance to. Some may argue that this connection between music and dance in jazz was at its peak during the period of the Great Depression and early post-World War II era.  Recently, swing dancing in Brisbane has been going through a revival period with dance troupes Corner Pocket Swing and Empire Swing holding jazz classes in Brisbane several nights per week.  In parallel to this, there has been a resurgence of jazz groups performing the music of hot jazz in the Brisbane jazz scene including groups such as Caxton Street Jazz Band, Steamboat and hot jazz outfit Rhythm Society Dance Orchestra led by musical director and sousaphonist Cameron Mieklejohn.

Billo Smith and his Orchestra at the Trocadero

Billo Smith and his Orchestra at the Trocadero

Many may not realise but Brisbane has a strong history in swing dancing.  Social dancing was a popular leisure activity for young people across the city in the early part of the 20th century with a number of venues including the Trocadero Dansant, Cloudland, Ritz and Belle Vue Hotel developing a reputation as some of the finest dance halls in the country.  According to Mieklejohn, Billo Smith and his Trocadero Orchestra was one of the finest ensembles performing in Brisbane at the time.  Billo Smith’s Orchestra would perform at the famed venue, the Trocadero Dansant which was located on Melbourne Street in South Bank. The band would perform six nights per week at the venue, gaining a reputation over a fifteen year period as one of the finest jazz orchestras in Australia at the time.  Billo Smith and his Orchestra would entertain the growing number of young Americans and local youth with their ability to perform “modern and old-time tunes as well as the very hottest of swing music”.

As homage to this monumental time of jazz history in Brisbane, the Rhythm Society Dance Orchestra and the Corner Pocket Swing Dance Troupe will be performing a special one night only concert at Queensland Multicultural Centre in Kangaroo Point called Go To Town – A Night at the Trocadero.  The performance will be a celebration of Brisbane’s history through the dance and music of the 20s, 30s and 40s featuring vintage stock arrangements as performed by Billo Smith and his Orchestra plus interpretations of other charts that would have been performed during this era.

Rhtyhm Society Dance Orchestra performing at JMI Live

Rhtyhm Society Dance Orchestra performing at JMI Live

The Rhythm Society Dance Orchestra is made up of some of Brisbane’s finest jazz musicians including several instrumentalists from Jazz Music Institute (JMI). JMI’s Head of School Danny Quigley is stationed as first trumpet in the group which also features Paula Girvan on piano, JMI’s course coordinator. Current JMI faculty and several graduates from JMI’s music courses in Brisbane also feature in the ensemble.

The ensemble was formed by Cameron Mieklejohn who plays sousaphone and bass as well as transcribes all the music performed by the group.  Mieklejohn formed the group in 2014 to provide the burgeoning swing dancing community of Brisbane with a live ensemble that performed the music of the 20s, 30s and 40s as true as possible.  Mieklejohn has been inspired by the infamous Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks who have been performing at the Iguana in midtown Manhattan for many years.  The Nighthawks are perhaps best known as the ensemble that performed on hit TV show Boardwalk Empire.  Mieklejohn has an insatiable appetite for hot jazz and swing music and through his connection with JMI, has been able to see his ensemble come to fruition using some of the hottest up and coming jazz musicians in Brisbane.

It’s no wonder that Mieklejohn has chosen to use graduates from JMI’s Bachelor course as some of his musicians, as the degree program starts its focus in the music of New Orleans and hot jazz.  In addition to this, students of JMI perform weekly at the Jubilee Hotel performing trad and hot jazz repertoire.  This is something unique to this town as JMI is the only provider of jazz classes in Brisbane delivered through a higher education program that studies and performs the music of the 20s and 30s.

14457475_1795151497365428_9131260034934904667_nTickets to the show Go To Town – A Night at the Trocadero are available for sale here with concession prices $31 and full price at $39.  The performance will be held on Saturday 19th November at 8pm at the Queensland Multicultural Centre – 102 Main Street Kangaroo Point.  If you are looking to get some jazz classes in Brisbane, visit the JMI website for information regarding jazz courses, classes and lessons.

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