The acid jazz entrepreneur

TOM CARDY
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2013
Albare

BUSINESS AND PLEASURE: "I was not just a businessman or a musician, I was the two combined," says jazz guiarist Albare, who makes is Wellington debut this week.

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Outside of Australia, Albert Dadon, under his stage name Albare, is best known as a jazz guitarist and composer.

But in Melbourne, where he has lived since moving from France nearly 30 years ago, he's just as well-known for being a successful businessman and entrepreneur. Albare's businesses include property development and restaurant ownership. Born in Morocco to a Jewish Moroccan family, his profile in Australia also includes promoting business and cultural links with Israel and France.

The stereotype is that artists rarely make good business people and business people rarely make good artists. Albare knows that first hand. "In most instances they're right. They are opposite parts of the brain," he says.

"But in my case I have no idea what it is but it all works together."

It's the combination of jazz musician - he's also a professor of music at Monash University - and businessman that has meant Albare in recent years has significantly helped popularise jazz in his adopted homeland.

From 2000 until 2008 he went from being the chairman of the annual Melbourne International Jazz Festival to its director. Prior to Albare's involvement the festival was broke. Under him ticket sales and attendance increased from a paltry 3000 to 140,000. It has since continued to grow to more than 200,000.

"They called me because they knew I was a business musician. I was not just a businessman or a musician, I was the two combined," he says.

"People said 'why don't we ask Albare?' I came along and I was happy to be part of the resurrection. When I handed it over in 2008 it was a festival that was turning over A$3 million [NZ$3.74m] plus.

"We had 120 acts over a 10-day period that represented 400 to 500 musicians and big logistics [involving] 400 volunteers.

"For me it was a pleasure to actually transform and have a festival of a truly international stature."

People took notice of Albare's achievement. In 2008 he received the Order of Australia for service to the arts. There have also been spin-offs. Two of this year's jazz festival acts - Cassandra Wilson and Chucho Valdes - will also perform in the Wellington Jazz Festival on Cuba in June.

In 2003 Albare also founded and continues to chair the Australian Jazz Bell Awards, named after Australia jazz great Graeme Bell.

Albare says while there was some recognition of jazz in Australia's Aria Awards - its equivalent of the New Zealand Music Awards - it still needed its own to acknowledge the diversity of jazz. "Over the years it grew from being the recognition to having prize money. People who win get a cheque [for NZ$6200] and are happy about that."

Now in his mid-50s, Albare arrived in Australia when he was 27. He became immersed in the "acid jazz" scene, which became popular in the late 80s and early 90s, where jazz musicians worked with hip-hop and funk musicians or fused the music into their own compositions.

Albare says one reason he enjoyed acid jazz is that it broadened the audience for jazz and took it out of the doldrums. "There was a couple of DJs that were doing [recorded] loops for me and there were things that I thought were quite fun.

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"I found this little rapper called Little B and he was a tiny guy and he was really swinging and improvising. Whatever he said was crap, but he was so fun. And there was this Maori guy, tall guy, and his name was Fly T. I was mixing the rapping and mixing the groove. It was jazz because we were playing those harmonies and those melodies - and we were swinging. That movement peaked and once it peaked and everyone jumped on the bandwagon I went back to something else."

Since the jazz festival he's concentrated on albums, releasing three between 2009 and last year - bringing his total output to six. His last, Long Way, stayed in the top 50 in the United States jazz chart for 20 weeks. Albare credits the album's producer Matthias Winckelmann, of German record label Enja, for his success outside Australia. He's since recorded his seventh album in New York and it is likely to be released mid-year on the same label.

It couldn't be more of a contrast to Albare's first foray's into music. His family moved from Morocco to Israel when he was 5, and then to Lyon in France, when he was 10. By then he had started playing guitar but not jazz and that carried on into his teenage years in bands. "Rock was cooler than jazz. But around 15 or 16 we were playing jazz rock because the sounds were broader and were more fun. You could hear a new sound, so it evolved.

"But the sort of music my dad was always playing at home was jazz. He was crazy about Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra was always in the background or Nat King Cole. That sound was always familiar to me."

Albare still has to spend time on his businesses and teaching, but says he's spending more time on recording and touring - once of the reasons he is finally performing in Wellington for the first time this week. He's confident he can juggle his commitments and says it's the same as when he ran the festival - it's also a case of taking risks. "It was a time when I was prepared to put my career on hold. Why did I do that? I had this thing when I came to Melbourne in the early 80s that I was exchanging Paris for [a city] that was a little bit provincial. I was dreaming [then] of having the same sort of jazz festival in Melbourne as we have in Europe."

THE DETAILS

Albare plays Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall, on Wednesday, 8pm.

- The Dominion Post

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