Acclaimed Melbourne jazz composer and musician Adam Simmons returns to fortyfivedownstairs for four nights in August, with a rare opportunity to experience his The Usefulness of Art suite performed by a world-class 20-piece ensemble.
The concerts will be the first time The Usefulness of Art has been performed by the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble alongside an art installation by Filipino sculptor Diokno Pasilan and featuring costumes by Christine Crawshaw.
While The Usefulness of Art suite—with its sublime meditations on the qualities of acceptance, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith—is already known to fans of Simmons’ avant-garde trio, Origami, it has only once before been performed live by a larger ensemble, during its creative development process.
Expanding the work for the much larger ensemble builds on its contemplative nature and elevates it to an immersive and ecstatic listening experience through the musicians’ connection with audiences—something that drives Simmons’ approach to performance. Earlier this year Joseph Earp of Beat magazine wrote that “… for Simmons, art has a uniquely communal power. His pieces, though obscure, are never difficult, and his performances are always guided by the goal of audience unity.”
This will be the second of Simmons’ planned five-concert series throughout 2017-18 under the umbrella of The Usefulness of Art, a concept inspired by Auguste Rodin’s quote—“I call useful all that gives us happiness… art shows man his raison d’être.”
Says Simmons, “I strongly believe art is what helps us connect. In these times, 100 years or so since Rodin made similar observations, I believe this is what we need more of, and these performances are a result of coming to share Rodin’s perspective.”
He composed The Usefulness of Art in 2012, at a time when arts funding in Australia was being savaged across the board—in schools, TAFEs, universities and the public and private sectors—and public debate was characterised by a lack of empathy. His musical meditations on the unquantifiable qualities that art evokes make for powerful listening, and an experience that is more compelling and relevant than ever to audiences.
Musicians for this concert include Simmons on bass clarinet and leading the ensemble; on saxophones, Samuel Boon, Cara Taber, Gideon Brazil and Paul Simmons; trumpets, Gemma Horbury and Gavin Cornish; and trombones James Wilkinson and Bryn Hills. The redoubtable Howard Cairns—also a member of Origami—will play double bass, alongside Miranda Hill. On drums will be Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey, and percussion Nat Grant, Carmen Chan, Leah Scholes and Diokno Pasilan. David Brown will play guitar, and Pete Lawler (Weddings, Parties, Anything), space drums.
The first in The Usefulness of Art series, in March 2017, was Simmons’ remarkable Concerto for Piano and Toy Band featuring Michael Kieran Harvey. These concerts elicited rapturous praise from critics and audiences alike
, including from The Age Classical Reviewer, Clive O’Connell, who wrote, “At a time when really adventurous musical events are rare, this night was a breath of fresh air, leaving you elated with its accomplishment.”
Ian Parsons, The Sound Barrier, PBS 106.7FM, wrote: “Aside from his phenomenal talent, Adam is driven by three things: his unwavering belief in the vitalness of the arts for who we are as human beings; his indefatigable curiosity for exploring new things; and his passionate commitment to music as a means for bringing people together and building community… what Adam’s music does is gently but powerfully force everyone to think outside their own comfort zones and to find the new spaces that emerge when, as Adam describes it, opposite sides of the same coin are shared.”
An award-winning and world-renowned musician, Simmons redefines the term ‘multi-instrumentalist’, stretches the boundaries of modern composition, and infuses a sense of childlike wonder and playfulness into musical art forms better known for their gravitas. He has a deserved reputation as one of Australia’s most prolific and eclectic musical artists, appearing on festival stages and recordings with some of the world’s finest classical and jazz musicians, and is renowned for his inclusive and collaborative performances.
He was recently named as a co-artistic director for the 2017 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, and has just returned from major jazz festivals in Germany and the Netherlands, where he helped facilitate exciting new performance and networking opportunities for Australian musicians.
The Usefulness of Art concerts across 2017-18 will be recorded live, for release digitally and as a box set of CDs.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.
A Window On Our Raison D’Etre
—Roger Mitchell, Ausjazz.net
“With any offering inspired by Adam Simmons there is going to be more than merely music… this concert invited the audience to become deeply immersed in the work of creativity and, ultimately, to join in a shared experience.
“That unity and sense of community is what has lingered in my mind so long after this second concert in a series of five that will stretch into 2018. The sense of fun and joy was still evident among the ensemble members, although the set and costumes conveyed a darker mood. As collective voices joined Pete Lawler’s distinctive and arresting solo vocals at the culmination of this concert, drawing the audience into their harmonic spell, I felt that we were indeed united and there was much power and benefit in that.”
The Usefulness of Art (fortyfivedownstairs)
—Des Cowley, Australian Book Review—4.5 stars
“This performance was a triumph in every way. While the approach drew upon the pioneering work of Anthony Braxton’s Creative Music Orchestra, the resulting music – with titles such as ‘Empathy’, Compassion’, ‘Faith’ – evoked the spiritual music of John Coltrane, in particular his masterpiece A Love Supreme (1964). Like Coltrane’s work, this was music at the service of the human spirit. Adam Simmons has stated that the genesis of the suite derived, in part, from his reading of Auguste Rodin’s views on the usefulness of artists. At a time when funding support for art and artists is diminishing, The Usefulness of Art attempts to put forth an alternative scenario. If the composition asks the question of whether art plays a critical role in our culture, our personal lives, these musicians and this performance responded with a resounding affirmation.”
The Usefulness of Art
—Shane Murphy, Daily Review
“The beauty of Adam Simmons’ work is that it respects this (… that this sort of jazz is conscious art and deserves active listening)… (it) aims to draw its listeners in and rewards you for that participation. Simmons’ circular breathing and overblowing in the introduction was especially inspiring. Sounding like a cross between clarinet and didgeridoo, it set the tone for what was to come…a solid hour of music played with verve and passion, capped with a singalong to close. If the usefulness of art is to make one happy, then Simmons went a long way to doing so…”
Adam Simmons: The Usefulness of Art
—David Collins, Australian Arts Review
“The Usefulness of Art starts with a whisper from Adam’s bass clarinet… indeed, this whisper sparks, surging into something monstrous and beautiful. The musicians took it in turns to lead through this lovely piece of auditory spectacle.”
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Adam Simmons—100 word bio
Adam Simmons redefines the term ‘multi-instrumentalist’, stretching the boundaries of modern composition and infusing a sense of childlike wonder and playfulness into musical art forms better known for their gravitas.
An award-winning and world-renowned musician, he has a reputation as one of Australia’s most prolific and eclectic musical artists, appearing on festival stages and recordings with some of the world’s finest classical and jazz musicians.
He was recently named co-artistic director for the 2017 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival and participated in major European jazz festivals, where he helped facilitate new performance opportunities for Australian musicians.