Bennett’s Lane has been a long-serving performance outlet for many Australian and international performers (including Prince) for the last 25 years, and has ultimately formed an institution for the jazz community in Melbourne. The doors of this iconic jazz venue have just closed for good. How will this affect the jazz audience in Melbourne? More importantly, how will this impact the jazz community of Melbourne? To answer both of those questions, lets look jump back to 2015.
Back in 2015, Bennett’s Lane announced that it would shut up shop after the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. But, to everyone’s surprised, the club re-opened in August, just 2 months after the conclusion of the Festival. Since then, the club has gone on to host the 2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, and provide a performance outlet for many musicians for a further 18 months. This re-opening confused many at first. The original owner of Bennett’s Lane, Michael Tortoni, sold the property to developers, and walked away. The developers, however, were hoping to implement their plans to build high rise apartments as soon as possible. But apparently, they experienced some lengthy delays in gaining the appropriate permits. This provided the perfect opportunity for the current manager, Megg Evans, to re-open the venue to continue business. Business continued as usual until Wednesday, February 8, as the venue officially closed its doors for good.
So why is this story important? The short answer is that the closure of the Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club will actually allow for 2 new jazz venues to open in the near future. The long answer is that Tortoni sold the property to the developers, and sold the “Bennett’s Lane” brand to the current owners of the Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club. The current owners have been refurbishing a new site on Flinders Lane (a property previously occupied by Monsoons nightclub), and will open a new ‘Bennett’s’ Jazz Club on Flinders Lane. The new venue will include a licensed jazz room, as well as a cafe, which will all be open 6 nights a week. No announcement has been made as to when the doors of the Flinders Lane venue will re-open, but they have already announced that they will host Armenian pianist, Tigran Hamasyan, on the 7th of June, 2017 (as part of the 2017 Melbourne International Jazz Festival).
Michael Tortoni has also been busy, as he is working to open a live jazz venue on Leslie St, Brunswick. Tortoni is continuing his position as the Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival; a festival which has continued to raise the bar in the quality of musicians that are brought to Melbourne each year (stay tuned for the line-up announcement!). Tortoni’s support of the jazz scene should be a credit to the quality of his soon-to-be-opened jazz venue.
So, while the venue, which Lonely Planet dubbed “the worlds best jazz club”, has just closed, it is safe to say that the jazz scene of Melbourne is about to experience a boost, as two venues are going to open in 2017. This will provide a further opportunity for musicians to perform, and will hopefully contribute to the growth of the jazz audience in Melbourne; which will consequently strengthen the jazz community even more. To the Melbournian Jazz Fans, get excited, because this majestic art-form is going nowhere.