An Interview with Dr Mace Francis – Perth International Jazz Festival and beyond

Mace left Geelong nearly 15 years ago to begin his studies at the WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). Since then he’s made himself right at home in Perth, becoming a staple of the west coast jazz scene and picking up some impressive nods along the way (2007 Most Out-Standing Individual Contribution to Jazz in WA” by the Perth Jazz Society and a finalist in the 2010 MCA Freedman Fellowship to name a few).

His big band, Mace Francis Orchestra, has toured Australia 4 times, recorded 6 albums and received the 2015 APRA AMCOS Art Music Award for Jazz Work of the Year for their 2015 album ‘Music For Average Photography’. He’s also artistic director for  WA Youth Jazz Orchestra (WAYJO) and somehow he managed to get a PHD in amongst all this too. You can read more about Mace and his work here.

Perhaps his most impressive accolade however is his French Bulldog named Duke – in honour of the one and only Duke Ellington of course.

Simone managed to catch him right in the lead up to the Perth International Jazz Festival this weekend, of which he’s festival director.

The Festival 

  • Can you tell us a little bit about the festival and its origins? 

The festival was started by Graham Wood in 2013. There had been different International Jazz festivals in WA, the Fremantle International Jazz Festival, The Bunbury International Jazz Festival and York Jazz Festival. He saw that there was a want and need for an International Jazz Festival in this great city because of the audience that had been build with WAAPA, WAYJO and the Ellington Jazz Club. Perth deserved an International Jazz Festival so he started one. Graham passed away in 2017 and I was approached by the board to see if I wanted to take this on. I agreed and here we are. I changed the time of year from late May to early November to take advantage of Perth’s great spring weather and align with Wangaratta Jazz Festival and the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival on the east coast.

  • How are you feeling for the festival this year? 

I am feeling the usual amounts of excitement, stress, proudness and terror as I was last year, however this year I have a great team with me, some experience from last year and many lessons learnt… so in a better place. Each day the feeling is different, especially just after 7am when I check on the previous days ticket sales.

  • This will be the seventh year the festival has been running, what do you attribute that success to? 

I think it is because of the passionate jazz audience in Perth who we love very much.

  • Can you talk to us about the artists you’ve got performing this year?

This year we have artists from the USA, Canada, Japan, Brazil (via Austria), Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. I am very conscious to deliver a varied and diverse program that has something for everyone. We have everything from Veronica Swift how is an amazing jazz be bop jazz vocalist to a free jazz Japanese quartet… almost every other style is covered in between these two extremes of this wonderful genre of music.

  • How would you describe the Perth jazz scene?

The scene here is very strong. Every year WAAPA and WAYJO pump out great young musicians and always have new venues opening up. The younger generation are really motivated putting bands together, recording, finding spaces to perform and it keeps us old folk motivated to keep finding new ways of presenting our music. I am really excited to see lots of larger ensembles being formed and new music being written – this will keep this art form moving forward.

  • What would you suggest to those who want to get into the jazz genre but don’t know where to start?

I suggest coming to the jazz festival! Haha! …but seriously, a great place to start is the free community stages where we has lots of amazing local bands. There other free events over the weekend including artist In Conversation, to hear from the artists themselves. These are always really interesting and inspirational. If you like what you hear on the free stage during the day, then come and try something from the ticketed program. Each concert is ticked separately, with concerts starting at $25 up to $45.

Quick fire round 

  • What are you listening to at the moment?

Right now I am listening to the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, which is one of my favourite big bands from the late 1950s to early 1960s

  • Can you tell us a musical guilty pleasure? 

I still love listening to the hip hop that I used to listen to a high school – Public Enemy, Ice T and Ice Cube etc

  • You can take one album to a deserted island for 3 weeks, what is it?

Sinatra and Basie

  • Who is your biggest musical influence? 

Bob Brookmeyer

  • You can perform one gig with any artist, who is it and what are you playing?

Playing trombone in the Basie Band in the late in 1950s

  • Tell us what you’ve got coming up in the next 12 months that we can keep an eye out for.  

2020 Perth International Jazz Festival! I am putting together the 2020 WAYJO annual program at the moment which I am excited about because we will be working with lots of great Australian artists. 2020 is my 20th year living in Perth and will be the 15th birthday of my own big band, the Mace Francis Orchestra (MFO) I plan to do a new recording with them and present a series of gigs with new music throughout the year. Also I have started a new quartet called Spatula which I have some collaborative recording and performances planned. I hope to write more music in 2020, which is exciting!  

The Perth International Jazz Festival kicks off this Friday the 8th through to Sunday the 10th with events at The Bird, The Ellington Jazz Club and the State Theatre Centre.

Buy tickets to the Perth International Jazz Festival here.

Simone Grogan

Simone is a full-time journalism and public relations student at Curtin University in Perth and volunteer at her local indie cinema. Originally from the UK, she enjoys consuming as much music, film, news and art as physically possible. Loves discussing anything topical over a bottle of pet nat and a vegan kway teow. Firmly believes that there is a lord of the rings quote for every occasion.

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