Jeff Usher and I did our first gig together last week at Kaiyar, a beautiful Rochedale residence belonging to Alex and Nita. Horses graze on some 15 acres of land, hanging out with the geese, ducks and the two dogs Louie and Chocolate. Alex had previously told me that Kaiyar is the Aboriginal name for a bird indigenous to Australia, and he and Nita have hosted art exhibitions, several cooking classes, book launches, poets’ afternoons and heritage nights at their breathtaking home.
Our gig was entitled A Jazz Soirée at Kaiyar, the first in a series of Sunday afternoons with jazz.
Guests arrived and seated themselves around the piano, with glasses of wine or champagne, or alternatively tea or coffee.
Then they stopped talking, looked at us, and waited. Are you kidding me? I’m used to being in a hotel lobby, happily making my music and being ignored. These people were attentive and we had ourselves a real audience, surrounding us at a radius of about ten feet.
The first set included Mean To Me and Summertime. We did Lullaby of Birdland, and here Jeff tells a gorgeous story about when he met the legendary (and also blind) jazz pianist George Shearing, and how they both poked each other in the belly while attempting to shake hands. What a priceless memory to own!
Earlier, I had to find a place to set up my camera. Obviously it couldn’t obstruct the audience and ended up peeping out of a corner to the left of the piano. So it’s a rough-and-ready effort folks, but you get an idea of the afternoon, I hope.
Before we did Stardust, I waxed lyrical about the life of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, who resisted his musical inclinations long enough to take a law degree and join a law firm for a while. He eventually succumbed to his true love, writing sublime songs like Stardust, Georgia On My Mind and The Nearness of You. The development of Stardust is also a bit circuitous; Hoagy even starts the song with the word “And”, which I like to think reflects the whimsical nature of a musical genius.
Jeff and I took turns to solo on the piano. Jeff would play the pretty triplet phrasings of Bill Evans, or flesh out Bud Powell-style chromatic progressions, or run down the keys with an Oscar P flourish. He played Georgia On My Mind and his own composition Samba on the Rocks. Hear him play Nica’s Dream, and original compositions Kathleen and Jeffu in this interview with Jeff.
Here, he’s about to launch into a Thelonious Monk medley – Blue Monk, Pannonica and Think of One. But he chatted a bit before starting, and the camera battery died in the first Blue Monk improv! Never mind. It’s still enough to get a taste of Jeff’s jaunty take on his hero, Mr Thelonious Monk.
Recently, when I was driving Jeff home, we discussed how we are generally taught that major chords represent happiness and light, while minor chords sound sombre. But we know songs in major keys can evoke sadness, and vice versa. When it was my turn on the piano I played My Funny Valentine, a perfect example of this. Written by the peerless songwriting duo, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, the melody of My Funny Valentine is heartbreakingly melancholy, yet the lyrics soar with the joy of loving someone.
Alex and Nita kept everyone well-fed and topped-up with a selection of fine finger foods and drinks. Here’s Alex on the right looking after some guests. They look pretty happy!
As the afternoon went on, guests started walking around, chatting to each other. I encouraged it! The hotel lobby feel came back and I relaxed.
Here’s Moon River.
Jeff and I signed off with Cole Porter’s Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, and did Charlie Chaplin’s Smile as the encore. It was such an enjoyable gig, and the feedback was so warm! The lady on my right bought my book! She has a daughter who is a musician, playing in a band, and touring around Asia at the moment. So I did the obvious thing and asked, “Can we interview when she’s back?” I’d like that! And who’s the Lady In Red? The awesome Vera, whose has new patent red Doc Martens which I can’t wait to see! Aussie women – awesome!
Many, many thanks to Alex and Nita for booking us, and to the very generous and appreciative guests who came to Kaiyar that afternoon. Jeff and I had a blast!