Conceived by a group of locals in 1989 as a way to attract visitors and raise the profile of the town, the first Wangaratta Festival of Jazz (as it was then known) was staged in 1990, with attendances at around 2500.
Since then – with blues added to the program in 1994 – it has grown to become an internationally renowned event, attracting around 25,000 visitors, and more than 200 jazz and blues artists from the USA, the UK, Europe and Australia.
With a diverse, eclectic mix of jazz greats and rising stars, each year the program showcases jazz and blues of all styles, including original, contemporary, traditional, mainstream, experimental and improvised. A central feature remains the National Jazz Awards; a competition designed to encourage and promote young musicians.
The Festival has won numerous tourism and sponsorship awards, and is recognised internationally as the foremost jazz and blues event in Australia.
Since 1990, the Festival has featured the who’s who of Australian jazz: greats like Don Burrows, Graeme Bell, Bernie McGann, Bob Barnard, Paul Grabowsky, Allan Browne, Mike Nock, Ted Vining, Bob Sedergreen, James Morrison, Tom Baker, Geoff Bull, Dale Barlow, Joe Chindamo, Mark Simmonds, Ade Monsbourgh, Brian Brown, Tony Gould, Roger Frampton, Serge Ermoll, Keith Hounslow, John Sangster, Erroll Buddle, Judy Bailey, Mark Isaacs, David Tolley, Judy Jacques and Vince Jones; and bands like the Australian Art Orchestra, Ten Part Invention, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Clarion Fracture Zone, the Red Onions, the Port Jackson Jazz Band, the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band, the Syncopators, The Necks, Tibetan Dixie, Band Of Five Names, The catholics, The Hoodangers and Vada.
Opportunities at Wangaratta have boosted the profiles of such artists as pianists Barney McAll and Mark Fitzgibbon, saxophonists Julien Wilson, Jamie Oehlers, Elliott Dalgleish, Andrew Robson and Sandy Evans, singers Michelle Nicolle, Kristin Berardi and Elana Stone, guitarists James Muller and Steve Magnusson and trumpeters Scott Tinkler and Phil Slater.
Not forgetting Ian Chaplin, Tim O’Dwyer, Anita Wardell, bucketrider, Adam Simmons, Peter Knight, Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo, Artisans Workshop, Pateras-Baxter-Brown, Ren Walters, Ted Nettelbeck, Doug De Vries, David Ades, Guy Strazzullo, Barry Wratten, Jo Stevenson, Jonathan Zwartz, Jex Saarelaht, Stu Hunter, Johannes Luebbers, Alison Wedding, Nichaud Fitzgibbon, Briana Cowlishaw, Ben Hauptmann, Marc Hannaford….the list could go on.
The Blues Program has been headlined by such names from the USA as Billy Boy Arnold, Jody Williams, Charlie Musselwhite, Jon Cleary, Johnnie Johnson, Corey Harris, Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart, Bob Margolin, Mem Shannon and The Membership, Little Charlie and The Nightcats, Duke Robillard, Old Gray Mule, Robert ‘Wolfman’ Belfour, Jimmy D. Lane, Deborah Coleman, Debbie Davies, Charlie Parr and Hamilton Loomis and UK soul/blues star James Hunter.
And of course, the Blues Stage has featured outstanding Australian blues talents like The Backsliders, Chris Wilson, Geoff Achison, Dutch Tilders, Fiona Boyes, Harper, The Mighty Reapers, Bridie King, Ray Beadle, Russell Morris, Blue Heat, Ian Collard, Jeff Lang, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel, Ash Grunwald, Hat Fitz, Lil’ Fi, Andrea Marr, Lloyd Spiegel, The Foreday Riders, The Bondi Cigars and Dallas Frasca.
Festival Month: held on the weekend of the Melbourne Cup