• The jazz scene in Australia is diverse, with different communities largely centralised around the capital cities
  • The distance between most major cities has resulted in each localised jazz community developing a subtly different sound, aesthetic and set of priorities (a ‘glocal’ sound, to borrow a term from Stuart Nicholson). Local practices and circumstances mean the challenges and needs of each may be quite different.
  • Not only do the jazz communities in different cities have different needs, but also within each city there often exist multiple sub-sectors, with different audiences and players that don’t always overlap. These might be very loosely categorised as:
  • Trad jazz – including swing and early jazz styles, often comprising older players and audiences
  • Contemporary jazz – including all post-bop genres and the majority of creative music making under the broad jazz umbrella; some of these cross-pollinate with other genres including new classical music and various non-Western musics
  • Commercial jazz – including vocal jazz in a popular tradition, some funk/fusion styles, and music that prioritises commercial outcomes
  • The above points make it difficult to summarise the needs of a national jazz sector
  • The jazz sector in Australia consists of a number of different elements:
  • Performance
  • Recording
  • Composition
  • Education – primary, secondary and tertiary, and individual private instruction
  • Venues
  • Festivals
  • Delimitations
  • Most active jazz musicians manage a portfolio career and engage in performance, recording and composition, so we will combine these as our primary focus
  • For many, the portfolio career includes work outside of music
  • An adequate SWOT analysis of jazz education requires a separate document
  • Venues will be discussed insofar as they impact artist activities, but a thorough analysis of venues and the economics behind them is beyond the scope of this document.
  • Despite the financial difficulties there has been a surprising increase in the number of jazz festivals in the past 10 or so years. An analysis of the state of jazz festivals specifically is beyond the scope of this SWOT, but a list of current jazz festivals may be found below.
  • In summary, the following SWOT specifically focuses on the jazz sector from the perspective of a jazz musician within it and the types of activities they regularly engage with.

Basic Facts

Data about such things as musicians’ income is available from Australia Council commissioned research.

  • Primary advocacy and performance supporting organisations in each city
  • Melbourne Jazz Co-op
  • Sydney Improvised Music Association SIMA
  • Perth Jazz Society
  • Jazz SA
  • Primary jazz venues in each city
  • Perth: Ellington Jazz Club
  • Melbourne: JazzLab, Paris Cat, Uptown, Bird’s Basement
  • Sydney: Sound Lounge (SIMA), 505, Foundry 616
  • Brisbane: Brisbane Jazz Club, Doo-Bop Jazz Bar
  • Mount Gambier: Morrison’s Jazz Club
  • No dedicated venues in Adelaide, Canberra
  • In cities with smaller scenes there is often not the population to support dedicated jazz clubs and organisations. There are, however, key venues that support regular jazz in each of these cities, ranging from institutions such as MONA in Tasmania through to independent venues such as Smiths Alternative Bookshop in Canberra. A full list of these venues is beyond the scope of this document, but an online search for jazz in each city will show some of the activity occurring.
  • An analysis of jazz festivals is beyond the scope of the document, but a cursory list of current festivals and the years in which they were established reveals an appetite for them, if not always the funding to sustain them.
  • The Music in Australia Knowledge Base lists 43 jazz festivals, most of them held in regional communities.
  • These are among the larger festivals:
  • Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Bluesbr
  • Melbourne International Jazz Festival
  • Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival
  • Perth International Jazz Festival (est. 2013)
  • Brisbane International Jazz Festival (est. 2013)
  • Marysville Jazz and Blues Weekend (est. 2016)
  • Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival (est. 1997)



  • High standard of performers
  • Several high quality educational institutions with staff who are often actively engaged in the broader sector. These include Qld Conservatorium, Sydney Conservatorium, Monash University, University of Melbourne Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, Melbourne Polytechnic, Elder Conservatorium, James Morrison Jazz Academy and West Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA).
  • Youth jazz orchestras in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane (organised by Queensland Youth Orchestra) increase the opportunities for young jazz players.
  • Young Women’s Jazz Workshops SIMA (Sydney)
  • Girls Do Jazz Workshops Uni Melb (Melbourne)
  • Smaller scenes within the larger scenes in each city make for tight-knit communities and the possibility of mentoring between established and emerging artists
  • Organisational support and advocacy in the larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne, through SIMA and the Melbourne Jazz Club (MJC)
  • Increase in festival activity reflects continued audience interest in various jazz forms (possibly reflecting population growth and thus audience sustainability)
  • The development of the Australian Jazz Real Book has created an excellent platform for the promotion of original jazz compositions by Australian artists. This resource has begun to shift the emphasis within jazz education in Australia to include Australian music, and not just the jazz standards of the American tradition
  • Relative isolation from global jazz activities has enabled the emergence of an arguably Australian jazz glocal sound
  • – although there is increasing movement of Australian jazz musicians towards touring in the USA, Europe and Asia, residencies in strong jazz cities such as New York and Berlin and releases of recordings in partnership with very high level foreign artists.
  • In addition, some Australian jazz musicians pursue interests in non-Western musical genres through study and through visits to and partnerships with musicians in other countries such as India, Korea and Japan.
  • There is a modest supply of recordings by Australian jazz artists, with some support from a number of small labels, and independent releases by the artists themselves.
  • The recordings are used for promotion.
  • The ABC has established ABC Jazz, a committed but very modestly supported digital broadcaster. Its programming focuses strongly on Australian jazz musicians
  • While there is no representation of jazz on commercial radio, a number of community radio stations have regular jazz programs
  • There is increasing touring of Australia by foreign jazz musicians.
  • Some high level competitions for professional jazz musicians lift the profile of jazz, add contour to an otherwise rather “flat” scene and help to add public stature for some of the best musicians. These include the Australian (“Bell”) Jazz Awards (Melbourne), Freedman Jazz Fellowship (Sydney) and the National Jazz Awards made at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.
  • The Australian Music Centre has a growing list of ‘jazz’ composers represented in its organisation. The AMC is a strong advocate and supporter of contemporary Australian artists.


  • Jazz has only niche appeal at present in Australia. (This is not how things have to be. In mid-2018, there was a sudden major increase in the young jazz audience in England.) The lack of sufficient audience limits the development of commercially viable venues and related audiences, and this is not much ameliorated by grant support from governments.
  • Jazz performers are often paid a percentage of the door takings instead of an agreed fee and these usually do not amount to a sustainable fee (though the economics of running a jazz club do not often allow any other model)
  • Classical music has a culture of commissioning composers for existing ensembles. Jazz composers are often writing for their own ensembles and do not have the financial resources to appropriately pay themselves for their compositional work.
  • Income streams that exist in contemporary popular music, such as synchronisation, are less common for jazz
  • The lack of capital results in an often ‘hand-to-mouth’ approach that is not conducive to long-term growth and sustainability
  • The lack of financial support and opportunity means most jazz artists rely on other income streams, either through teaching or unrelated work. This compromises the time available to invest in artistic practice, restricting the potential of the sector as a whole.
  • The distances between large cities and the small populations of the intervening towns impacts the economic viability and thus the practicality of touring
  • An important aspect of jazz is the large ensemble for which formal scores are written. Such ensembles are not financially viable in Australia and so depend upon voluntary commitments by musicians. In Europe but not in Australia, governments may provide for them as they do for symphony orchestras, sometimes through government radio stations.
  • The absence of financial support means constraint on the development of Australian composition for such ensembles.
  • The lack of a vigorous, committed jazz record label limits jazz promotion and throws much of the responsibility for record releases onto the artists.
  • Increasingly limited opportunities for concert and album reviews in newspapers etc.
  • Lack of national organisation for advocacy and coordination impacts in multiple ways, resulting in the following:
  • State based organisations are often in competition for funding
  • A lack of logistical support for national touring
  • A lack of strategic planning at a national level for both artist development and audience growth
  • A lack of standardised payment expectations for performance and recording, resulting in the exploitation and undervaluing of jazz musicians when compared with other genres and artforms
  • A lack of organised, funded state-based advocacy in cities outside of Melbourne and Sydney
  • Outside of ABC Jazz, jazz has a very small presence on Australian radio.


  • Funding of a national jazz coordination body to build jazz touring, devise strategies for artistic and organisational advancement and promote such a vision to governments at all levels.
  • The Australian Jazz Real Book presents an opportunity for cultural change and the normalisation of performing works by other Australian jazz composers. Anecdotally, repertoire choice appears to typically revolve around original music by the performer and standards from the American tradition. Promoting this resource internationally has the potential to promote the sector as a whole.
  • Encouraging musical invention and innovation to further increase the dynamism of the sector and possibly create the conditions for the stronger emergence of the Australian jazz sound.
  • Further international advocacy of Australian jazz artists and recordings, promoting the idea of an Australian jazz ‘sound’.
  • There are several notable international jazz festivals in Australia. Opportunities might include partnering with other overseas ‘sister’ festivals and arranging artist exchange, promoting Australian artists internationally and international artists locally
  • Government funding for large jazz ensemble in each major city.
  • In a frequently changing economic and technological landscape the large institutionalised orchestras and opera companies are not positioned to adapt quickly. In contrast, the fragmented and often independent jazz sector is adaptable and can better respond to challenges. These elements make it more easily threatened, but also offer opportunities to adapt and grow in unforeseen directions.
  • Dedicated Australian jazz magazines such as Extempore (Miriam Zolin) and Jazzchord (Eric Myers) were fantastic resources and opportunities for reviews, interviews, promotion, advertising and the strengthening of the jazz community – it’d be fantastic to see funding put towards their continuation.
  • More jazz education in schools through programs such as Music Viva, which has not explored myriad opportunities to support jazz in schools.


  • Withdrawal of state and federal financial support is an ongoing threat, particularly in fluctuating political environments.
  • The performance of music is dependent on having appropriate spaces to perform it in. Smaller cities have the challenge of finding these spaces and then retaining them – the loss or reappropriation of performance spaces can result in a reduction in activity.
  • There are continuing difficulties in some cities with state and local regulations of licensed performing venues. For instance, new residences adjoining performance venues may seek to have them closed on the grounds that they create noise that interferes with the comfort of the new residents. Legal formulations have been invented and applied to manage such situations but they are not applied in all jurisdictions and there has been a serious loss of venues.


  • A well resourced, and well managed, national advocacy platform would contribute a much needed voice to national cultural dialogue
  • The ways in which jazz musicians engage in music making is often fundamentally different to the musical practices of classical music and contemporary popular music. Any strategy to build capacity in the jazz sector should be careful to address the needs and practices of the community, and address the challenges within it.
  • Subsidy to special jazz venues has proved to be a very efficient way to expand activity. They can build audiences, support serious jazz performances and innovation, facilitate interstate and international touring. By building jazz practice and audience, they pave the way for the creation of unsubsidised commercial venues.
  • FOR THE READER: This section could pull together an overview of what has preceded OR it could add a set of strategies for action. So for instance
  • What strengths could be brought to bear?
  • What weaknesses could be countered?
  • What opportunities should be prioritised to fit a coherent observation or plan?
  • Are there ways to counter threats or prepare defences against them?


Johannes Luebbers
The SWOT includes contributions from Andrea Keller, jazz musician and composer and Richard Letts, Director, The Music Trust
DATE PUBLISHED: October 10, 2018

He graduated from WAAPA, Perth, in 2006. Luebbers is a much awarded pianist and composer, whose works have been performed not only by his own jazz ensembles but also a number of Australian orchestras. He is a lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne and co-founder of music label Listen/Hear Collective.

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