Queer Jazz on Pride Night with Jessie Gordon & Adrian Galante

Pride season is upon us! And with just a few days until the ever-growing pride parade on Saturday 30th November (which is a party in itself), the queers and allies of Perth are on the lookout for how to extend festivities into the night.

If you’re looking for a fresh, entertaining, and interesting affair, Queer Jazz at the Ellington Jazz Club might be for you. Perth based musicians Jessie Gordon and Adrian Galante will be taking their audience on a gay jaunt through a number of queer jazz singers, composers, and lyricists.

Unbeknownst to many in majority culture, some of the best known jazz and blues standards have been influenced by queer individuals. I spoke to Jessie about her ideas behind creating the show, and the visibility of queer musicians through history.

Why were you interested in putting on this show?

I’ve been on tour for five months and it seemed as though I was inadvertently chasing Pride festivals around the world. I was in Madrid (in Chueca, the gay neighbourhood) in late June the week before Pride, looking at all the flags strung fluttering and fabulous around the streets. Then in early July I went to London for a friend’s wedding and saw the pride colours everywhere, and two weeks later I wound up in Berlin, one of the most queer friendly cities in the world, just in time for their CSD parade, which interestingly, seemed much less important to my queer friends than in other cities. I’d argue it’s because Berlin is so inclusive in day-to-day life, and is also such a party town, that another party celebrating queerness just seems like a normal Tuesday night.

Being around such celebrated and visible queerness for nearly a month got me thinking about queerness in the rest of my life, particularly in performative and musical spaces. And I realised that there’s not a lot of awareness about the people who have had a huge role to play in the history of jazz who also identified as gay, lesbian, bi, queer, or whatever label they were comfortable with at the time (or, when they had the freedom: no label at all).

Are queer musicians more visible now in jazz?

Yes and no, I think musicians are less likely to be persecuted for their sexuality, but the jazz communities around the world are wildly different. Jazz folks in San Francisco have different beliefs and attitudes compared to jazz folks in the south of Spain. And historically, the jazz community (if such a monolith can be said to exist) has been wildly unaccepting of queerness, especially towards men. I’ve been to Europe to tour every year for the last 5 years, and I still encounter a pretty heavily testosteroned bro-attitude around the world that’s not very inclusive of women or queer folks, let alone queer women, or queer folks of colour. There’s work to do.

Were queer musicians able to be out at the time they were creating this music?

There were pockets of time, or at least one, where queerness was more accepted. And even then, it was limited in its scope. In Harlem in the 1920s and 30s there was a spate of lesbian and bisexual black women performing the blues. And an abundance of queer folks in general getting out and partying in a visible way. It’s documented that after WWI with the economy booming, freedom was celebrated widely in a loosening of moral codes. Jazz and blues became the soundtrack to a liberated generation for whom Prohibition was largely a formality and a good time meant heading to a club with a fairly high chance of seeing someone queer onstage.

What can the audience expect at your show on Saturday?

Some of the bawdiest and wittiest blues and jazz in town, really. The early 20s female-dominated blues was vey risqué and highly suggestive. And the lyrics from Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart are some of the most intricate and hilarious rhymes in the American songbook. So it’s a combination of rough and raucous blues, sad and mellow torch songs, and upbeat jazzy swing tunes!

Queer Jazz is on at The Ellington Jazz Club, 191 Beaufort St, Perth from 10.30pm this Saturday 30th November 2019. Tickets are available at ellingtonjazz.com.au

Claire Alexander

Images:- Catty Rogalski, Catberry Studios