Two-minute interview: Alex Pertout, percussionist

Alex Pertout & Frenesi Afro/Latin Ensemble perform at the Jazzlab, Melbourne, on the evening of 22 May.
Alex Pertout & Frenesi Afro/Latin Ensemble perform at the Jazzlab, Melbourne, on the evening of 22 May.

He’s a multi-award-winning artist whose playing has graced iconic Australian number-one hits by Daniel Braithwaite and Powderfinger, and a founding member of the Australian Art Orchestra. He’s also a Senior Lecturer in Jazz & Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

As told to Sophie Duran.

Hi Alex. Can you tell us about your upcoming gig, Alex Pertout & Frenesi Afro/Latin Ensemble, on 22 May?

I’m taking the large ensemble – 12 musicians – that I direct in the Jazz and Improvisation program for an end-of-semester performance off campus. We’re going to play at the wonderful new club, The Jazzlab, which the former founder and owner of Bennetts Lane and Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival Michael Tortoni recently established.

It’s a beautiful club in the heart of the great artistic community of Brunswick, and it presents national and international jazz artists seven days a week. In my role as a performer, educator and mentor, my aim is to facilitate students’ connection to the professional world by organising performance opportunities – and this is a great one.

The ensemble consists of undergraduate Jazz and Improvisation students enrolled in years one to three. We have an ongoing weekly rehearsal and have been developing an original and standard Afro-Latin American jazz repertoire specifically arranged to showcase the group’s strong performance and improvisation skills.

I take an active role as an ensemble member and direct from within. The ensemble arrangements give ample space for each individual member to showcase their talents, arriving at a meaningful and rewarding music-making experience for all involved.

The ensemble at Jazzlab will include five percussionists that perform on Afro-Cuban instruments such as congas, bongos, timbales, guiro, maracas, claves and drum kit, bass, piano, organ, guitar, vibes, saxophone, violin and a lead vocalist.

You’re also working on an Indigenous music outreach and engagement program – can you tell us a little bit about that please?

In 2017 I joined the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the University of Melbourne, led by the Head of the Wilin Centre Associate Professor Richard Frankland.

My project looks at supporting Indigenous individuals by broadening and enriching their musical experience, assisting them in developing skills and encouraging a life-long engagement with music and music-making.

Through a rhythmic development program, my aim is to mentor, inspire and empower young creative Indigenous individuals.

I’d like to enable them with pathways into undergraduate music studies in music and, in particular, with us here in the Jazz and Improvisation program at the Melbourne Conservatorium.

I have consulted with leading practitioners such as Kutcha Edwards, Tom E Lewis, Richard Frankland, Ben Clarke, community member Gail Radford, and academics such as Adrian Holmes. I have also enlisted Michael Julian, a Jazz and Improvisation alumnus and current Wilin Centre staff member, in my quest to make this a successful program.

So far, we have conducted workshops at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music’s Southbank campus, as well as a weekly workshop at the Sunbury Community Health Centre.

We also have invitations to work with young individuals at Maysar, an invitation to present workshops for the Werribee community, and another, from my dear friend Tom E Lewis, who sadly passed away very recently, to present workshops for the community in Beswick, NT.

I will endeavour to continue this work in honour of, and to support the noble work of, individuals such as Tom.