What Is The Australian Jazz Convention?


Whilst serving in the RAAF in 1944, musician Ade Monsbourgh wrote to his friend C. Ian Turner with the idea of running a ‘jazz convention’ after the war.  This event would include musicians from other States.   In 1946 a group of local jazz musicians and aficionados organised the first Australian Jazz Convention in Melbourne. This had attendance from both Victoria and interstate.  The convention has been held annually since then between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day at different venues, in every State, and also in the Australian Capital Territory.


The Australian Jazz Convention is organised on a non-profit basis by volunteer committees, and the musicians actually pay to attend and perform for and with their peers.  Professional, semi-professional or amateur musicians, both advanced players and beginners, combine their talents to produce the music they love.  It would be true to say that many of Australia’s better-known jazz musicians began to make their reputations at conventions.  Quite a number now are internationally recognised.


The Australian Jazz Convention is the longest running annual jazz event in the world, and is organised as a convention for the musicians rather than a festival for the general public. All musicians and jazz music fans (usually members from various jazz clubs/societies) are registered upon payment of a prescribed fee – musician’s fee being only a nominal amount.  Jazz devotees register as delegates to the convention, paying a much higher fee which covers the estimated costs involved in running the convention.


The success and popularity of the Australian Jazz Convention has led to jazz festivals being organised in many places around the country by local jazz-oriented groups.  This has widened the audience for the music, but has created among some recently-arrived Convention delegates commercial expectations which are not compatible with the Convention ethos of informality and egalitarianism.


One of the aims of the Jazz Convention is to encourage and promote jazz in Australia; however this does not mean that conventions are serious affairs.  On the contrary, they are happy occasions where many hundreds of people from all over Australia meet to exchange ideas and views, to hear and judge other musicians’ performances, to make new friends and renew old acquaintances.


At the convention people can take in at whatever level of appreciation they please, a feast of virile musical performance by musicians who play for the sheer enjoyment of playing music of lasting value.  This music ignores passing ‘fads’, makes few (if any) concessions to commercial demands, and yet continues as a vital art form.


January 2008


Adapted from the files of the 50th Australian Jazz Convention (Melbourne 1995), with contributions provided by Herb Jennings and Peter Grey (Melbourne 2004), and Don Anderson (Melbourne 2008) Note: Don Anderson the Archivist for the Australian Jazz Convention.