This year, the prestigious Downbeat magazine’s Great Jazz Venue guide names only five Australian venues in its international awards, but the good news is three of these places are in Sydney: Foundry 616, Sound Lounge and Venue 505. So is jazz thriving? Let’s be honest here, Sydney’s live music scene has taken a massive hit since the lockout laws and through ongoing construction in the city, but somehow, the tenacity and resourcefulness of those in the jazz scene means that there are places to do some serious listening. Take heart that jazz lovers are a resilient lot, so the syncopated beat goes on.
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Where to hear jazz in Sydney
Artist-run Venue 505 has been operating from its Cleveland Street base since 2011. Cameron Undy and Kerri Glasscock are passionately committed to providing a home for the Sydney arts community. The vibe is relaxed and down-home, with live music six nights a week and free entry most evenings. You can catch some of the best local and international artists in this room. Snacks and boozy are kept simple; pizza, pasta and a great whisky and cocktail selection and reasonable prices.
Foundry 616 is an intimate room near Central. Think traditional jazz venue/restaurant that has a bar area if you just want to watch the band and have a drink. Since September 2013 the venue has been presenting Australian and international artists. The venue also supports the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, run by Peter Rechniewski, former artistic director and co-founder of the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA).
This venue is part of the Seymour Centre and turns into a jazz room when Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA) runs its winter and summer series here. The room itself has a bit of a function room vibe, however that doesn’t matter when the room is full of eager listeners. SIMA, which has been in operation for over 30 years, delivers the goods in terms of quality music and musicians playing contemporary jazz.
Featuring live music seven nights a week and across two floors, this Marrickville venue hosts all genres of music and whilst it’s not always jazz, there’s regulars such as Sonic Mayhem Orchestra and renowned virtuoso of the electric bass, Steve Hunter. The rooms have a plush, quirky feel to them, the vibe is welcoming and cosy and there’s an eclectic grown-up vibe. Expect to pay a modest cover charge.
There was a well kept jazz secret called Colbourne Avenue in Glebe – a labour of love, where everyone volunteered their time so that the musicians could keep the door money. Sadly it closed, but due to popular audience demand the vibe lives on in the Annandale Creative Arts Centre. It’s BYO, and you’ll see well known, interstate, international and emerging musos play – but it very much depends on when you drop by. A place for serious listeners, Johnston Street Jazz is where you want to be on a Thursday night.
Jazz isn’t always on the menu, but it's worth keeping an eye on this venue with its funky décor and friendly vibe. Music is more along the world music/jazz lines. These days most of the action takes place in the Django Bar.
Upcoming jazz events in Sydney
If you’re partial to an evening of smooth jazz or wild scat cat abandon, then this huge jazz festival will be right up your alley. It exclusively stars jazz musicians who identify as female and will be taking place in bars and clubs across Sydney for its ninth year, this November. The Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival program will unite the world of jazz, with artists from Australia, Brazil, Armenia, the US and Canada. Exciting acts on the line-up include bold New York saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, who’s performed beside huge acts such as Stevie Wonder, Macy Gray and Alicia Keys. She’s collaborating with ten-piece women’s jazz ensemble Pharos for the festival (Nov 13). Singer-songwriter Anna Setton will be modernising Brazil’s romantic jazz sounds with a nylon string guitar and breezy vocals (Nov 3), while Canadian sax composer Chelsea McBride performers her bustling, bombastic creations alongside the Divergence Jazz Orchestra (Nov 12). Experience the intersection of jazz with Armenia folk music when classically trained jazz pianist Zela Margossian performs on November 15, and explore all the free, family-friendly festival events happening at the Joynton Avenue Creative Centre in Zetland – featuring ARIA-Award winner Justine Clarke – on November 16. You can find all these jazz masters and more at Bondi Pavilion, Pier One, Foundry 616, Venue 505, the Newsagency and Studios 301 from November 2-17.