By Luke Voogt
A jazz band that grew from a chance meeting in the Netherlands and a St Kilda birthday bash is heading to Geelong next Friday.
Alinta and the Jazz Emperors are set to kick off Geelong Arts Centre’s live-streaming series this month with a mix of their originals and big band classics.
“I love the freedom of jazz – of where a song can go with improvisation,” said the band’s namesake frontwoman Alinta Chidzey.
“We’ll rearrange some songs to have a bit of a groove to make them current.
“Others we’ll strip right back, because sometimes the original doesn’t need to be tampered with.”
The music theatre veteran will sing alongside some of the “best musicians in Australia” including her Dutch expat husband and saxophonist Remco Keijzer.
She fell in love with him in Amsterdam while backpacking through Europe in 2005, she said.
Keijzer had already travelled to New York and across Europe in big bands playing the saxophone, an instrument he began learning at age eight.
He had just played a concert when he “stumbled” into Chidzey at “2.30pm on Sunday in Dam Square” outside the Dutch Royal Palace.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is an interesting woman’,” Keijzer said.
“‘Someone young who is interested in jazz, this might be my lucky day’ – which is what it turned out be.”
The couple went “long-distance”, then Chidzey moved to the Netherlands for a local production of Dirty Dancing, before Keijzer followed her back to Australia.
About five years ago, after years of people telling them they should start a band, a friend asked them to play at his St Kilda craft beer venue for his birthday.
“I got three of my friends that I was playing with and everyone was like, ‘this is great’,” Keijzer said.
“We ended up playing there every Friday night on and off.”
Fast-forward another five years, Chidzey had been starring as black-haired Velma Kelly alongside Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Casey Donovan in an Australian production of Chicago, before COVID-19 hit.
“It’s nice to play such strong, well-written women in a musical,” she said.
Keijzer had been on the show’s band while playing with world-famous Canadian crooner Michael Bublé.
“He’s a very funny guy,” he said.
“He’s one of the boys. But you just can’t take him to a restaurant, because everyone will harass him!
“A lot of my old friends from New York were in that band too.”
While Chidzey said COVID-19 had been “tough on our industry”, the couple had used the time to work on other artistic projects.
“It forces you to take a break and look at things that are important.”
Their two cats had loved the extra attention too, she said.
But while live concerts are postponed for now, Chidzey has had no shortage of online gigs, including a Bert Baccarat show, Rhonda Burchmore’s Mother’s Day special and Kate Cebrano’s Friday sessions.
“I actually got bombarded with live-stream concerts the moment [COVID-19] happened.”
Although adjusting to the lack of audience had been difficult, she admitted.
“It’s the one reason why I feel we perform – having an audience and an energy in the room,” she said.
“It’s quite surreal – especially when you’re chatting or making a joke. But I trust my instincts and I prepare well.
“The beauty of live-streaming is it can reach a bigger audience internationally, and people who might not normally go to a live concert could be inspired to go once COVID is over.”