So Long, Bennetts Lane

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On a atmospherically quiet and rainy Monday night, Bennetts Lane, Melbourne beating jazz heart played its final fadeout. No doubt a lot of the dedicated crowd were exhausted (amongst other things) from the marathon finale on the Sunday before, “Death of a Jazz club.” Not nabbing tickets for this in time, I returned for the final free entry jazz night from 10pm on the Monday, 15 June 2015.

Monday is a subdued affair, organised originally to give the venues mainstay, Allen Browne his final Monday night slot that he has been playing for over a decade. In a tragic twist of events which seem better suited to the television series Treme than real life, Brown passed away on Saturday 13th June. Never saying his final goodbye, the final night remained as a tribute to one of Melbourne’s great jazz talents.

There is a mix of the old guard of jazz lovers mixed in plucky new, young enthusiasts present and hugs and bittersweet smiles all round. Short but beautiful speeches were payed tribute to the venue as well as Browne. One of Bennetts Lane’s longest running staff members quoted Browne, who preached the importance of living in the now. “This room” she says, “is the room of the now.”

This feeling resonated throughout the evening where music was played intermittently throughout the midnight hours. Perhaps it was the blue light and the oozing iconic-ness of Bennetts that made me feel the greats that had played here before. Sporadically and nervously, young jazz up-and-comers took the stage to play where legends like Herbie Hancock, Kenny Kirkland, Renee Geyer, Chick Corea and Prince have stood.

A visiting American pianist from The Glenn Miller Orchestra begins the music after the speeches, showing the mythic reach of the venue that was once called “the world’s best jazz venue” by The Lonely Planet. A talented pianist and his ridiculously talented drummer held the stage for a contemporary free jazz session, joined by various vocalists only the way. An emotional female duet of “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones, matched the mood as I rugged up and said my final goodbyes.

I was deflated by the muted tone of the evening. From the first time I entered this jazz haven, Bennetts was a temple of music appreciation and the real life materialisation of the smoky jazz clubs that a girl from country New South Wales and many others, had only heard and dreamt about. Every time you entered through its tiny hallway, it felt as though you are part of music history in the making. And on its final night it seemed that energy was already ebbing away.

Although it can be hard to say goodbye to emotion ladened institutions such as this, in Melbourne there is always a new venue ready to take its place in history. Owner Michael Tortoni is moving his vision up and out to a new jazz venue planned for Brunswick, another big addition to this already thriving suburban music scene. The Marriner Group, also, has bought The Bennetts Lane moniker and plans to open a new jazz venue in Flinders Lane.

Jazz venues like the genre itself are ever changing and evolving while still tipping their hats to the past. In this spirit and using the words of Tortoni himself, I want to say this:

“Bennetts Lane, thank you and we’ll see you around.”

Stay Classy, Rosa 

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