I got a group email from multi-instrumentalist John Stefulj about an upcoming gig with Dan Bolton, a singer songwriter pianist based in New York. I thought I would give it a miss since I was looking forward to curling up with a book at the end of the week. The next day I got the e-mail again but now he had added, “Joanna please come to this.”
So I went.
After my last lesson, I popped the GPS on and headed to Kangaroo Point where the Brisbane Jazz Club (BJC) is. On the way I passed the most awesome view of the city and pulled over to take a picture.
Five minutes later I was at the club. BJC is on the waterfront, such a cool location. Since I was on my own I knew where I wanted to sit: up near the front, on the right side where there’s a long ledge just wide enough to put drinks, and with bar stools lined up.
The place was packed, the bar at the back was busy, and waiters in black shirts were zipping in and out serving food.
The BJC decor is red and black, with that quintessentially jazz club feel: a dark, plush coziness.
Posters above the bar show the billing at clubs around 52nd Street in the 50s. Names like Count Basie, Miles, Bird, Coltrane, The Duke.
Here’s a view of the stage from where I was sitting.
Beyond the stage, the Brisbane skyline reflected on the water, regularly agitated by the ferry service. I sipped my wine, was relaxed and feeling just great!
Dan Bolton has a great storytelling voice, which is perfect because he’s all about The Great American Songbook. He admires Cole Porter and the Gershwins, and other songwriters who can essentially tell the same story a million beautiful and original ways. Now Dan is doing the same thing, writing modern-day jazz standards.
But there’s a twist. Dan spoke, and I thought: Whoa! He’s an Aussie!
Brisbane is Dan’s hometown and he said there were people in this audience from his high school, his university, friends and family. I tried to imagine what an incredibly special night this must be for him, to be living and working in NYC and being here now to share all that with his friends and family.
I mean, come on! He’s an Australian guy who loves jazz standards, and he’s working in New York City? The home of the Broadway musical? It’s got to be the pointiest of pointy ends there is.
The music started and Dan brought The Big Apple to us, singing about his life there. He performed all original music.
“I only write original songs,” he quipped.
He sang about being a jazz musician in a song called Jammin’ To Another Tune. It had that harmonic minor thing which sounds Middle Eastern and then swings in the middle eight, a bit like Caravan or Night in Tunisia.
Dan talked about where he lived in Manhattan on 106th and Amsterdam Ave, which is the Upper West Side. He said it’s where the coffee shop in the show Seinfeld is. Then he sang a blues number called Nothin’, and said it definitely had nothing to do with Seinfeld!
The Deli Downstairs was a song Dan wrote a few months ago. He said when he writes a song, he writes the music first, and the lyrics later. He said the song had a real New York feel about it, and he was thinking about all sorts of New York things to write about. Then he remembered when his dad visited, and was struck by how you could get something good to eat 24/7 in NYC, and so he wrote about that!
The Deli Downstairs was upbeat with a driving walking acoustic bass line from Helen Svoboda and Lachlan Hawkins kept it light and tight on the drums.
Dan sang about getting older, long distance relationships, and other things which are timeless and universally understood.
John played his flute with flurries of brilliance. His sax solos could be nervy, visceral; his tenor bluesy, ballsy, laid back in that Dexter Gordon way.
Dan said he measures his own standard of living by what he is doing rather than by what he owns, and he’s very happy. He said he thinks most musicians think that way. Then he sang a song called It’s Not Important, about how chasing money for its own sake is not getting the point about life.
Helen switched to electric bass halfway through the set, although she was back with the acoustic to wrap up the first set with a lovely up-tempo jazz waltz called You’ve Been Sent To Me.
At the end of the first set John came straight up to me:
HE’S GOOD ISN’T HE,” he said, right into my face.
I nodded and smiled.
“He’s really good,” he muttered to himself and walked on.
Singer/songwriter/pianist Dan Bolton is a man who’s been around the world and back. He’s got a lot of songs to write and perform, and the world will be a richer place for it.
I’m glad I got to hear him, in this special place, Brisbane.