Farewell to 505: The curtains are closing on one of Australia’s most important jazz clubs | australian music
SSince its opening in 2007, the small Sydney jazz club 505 has become an institution. The kind of place where elite international musicians such as Chris Dave and Charlie Watts could “go” just to see what’s going on, and where a whole generation of musicians – including Ngaiire and Sirens Big Band – have made their way teeth, playing in front of an audience more likely to clap loudly or shout curses than give the expected polite finger snaps.
The venue has moved to three premises in its lifetime, but entering any one feels like entering an unusually spacious and well-decorated shared living room – paying homage, perhaps, to the way it has started as a weekly “board games and jazz” evening. in a Surry Hills rental. The furnishings are jumbled up – new, old, beloved – with humble staging and sound, and a piano that bears the signature of the musicians who breathed life into it. Perch on one of 505’s rickety stools and you’ll be so close to the performers you can see spit and wood shavings flying across the stage.
And on Friday night, the venue at 5 Eliza Street became the latest casualty of Sydney’s music scene, leaving as it entered: unceremonious, good company and world-class music.
As the skies above Newtown opened up, the Steve Barry Quartet performed the world-renowned swan song of space – the only Australian venue to feature on Downbeat magazine’s Top 100 Jazz Places list.
There was a surprisingly jubilant atmosphere at the start. “I think we’re all in a bit of denial,” says Clare Hawley, one of the housekeepers.
Barry’s group (Ben Lerner, Tim Geldens and Thomas Botting) oscillates between fragile and devastating rhythms, drawing indiscriminately on American and European jazz styles. They ended with Thelonious Monk’s aptly named track “Bye-Ya”, their erratic swing punctuating the end of an era.
The audience was uncharacteristically quiet during the performance – and when it was over they got up and walked out of the Edwardian ballroom as if in a daze.
The place started with a friendship. Sydney Fringe producer and director Kerrie Glasscock and bass virtuoso Cameron Undy met in 2005, and soon after moved into Hibernian House – the five-story graffiti-covered assortment of studios , galleries, event spaces and apartments that has spawned and nurtured a vibrant collection of the city’s creatives. This is where they would open the first version of 505, a center for adventurous music and avant-garde theater named after the address: 505/347 Elizabeth Street. A year later, they got married.
In 2010, the music program outgrew their living room and moved to a former Cleveland Street strip club where they held shows for ten years. Glasscock moved the theater program to 5 Eliza Street in 2015, after it also outgrew their original space, and dubbed it the Old 505 Theatre. After the Cleveland Street venue closed in 2019, the theater and music space were brought together under one roof.
Through it all, a consistent philosophy has guided the duo: if we want culture to evolve, artists need a safe place to take risks.
505 has played a central role in my creative life. There I learned that live music is most exciting when it is precarious, dangerous; where things look like they could fall apart at any moment.
I attended my first concert at 505 in December 2010: a Drip Hards album launch that would forever change my philosophy on creativity. I fondly remember arguing with my colleagues afterwards about whether the music was serious art or whether they had just pissed on it. I argued it was both, and that was a good thing.
It was the first of over 200 nights I spent at 505 on Cleveland Street, consuming rivers of Italian coffee and Polish beer, trying to find my place under the sickening beats of some of the most adventurous music I’ve ever had. never heard.
According to Glasscock, what sets 505 apart is the curation, not only of its performers, but also of its audience.
“When we started 505, it was all word of mouth, very deliberately,” she says. “We only wanted respectful people [to come]and over time this amazing community of like-minded people grew and they were really protecting the place.
This forged a community space where artists of all levels felt supported to try new materials. You were just as likely to find Sydney Conservatorium students looking for the sound in their heads as Katie Noonan, Wendy Matthews or Ian Moss starting their latest tour. It didn’t seem to matter who was on – I’ve never seen the place less than thrive.
For Glasscock and Undy, it all came down to prioritizing trust in artists and their ideas above all else.
“We started from the principle of giving artists a place to show their work, which is a very different starting point for a place of entertainment,” says Glasscock.
“We wanted people to come to us with an idea – and that doesn’t have to be a stand-alone thing…because you trust an idea rather than wanting to see a product.”
The combination of classic Australian talent, modern theater and new music may be another part of what made the 505 project unique. The couple have always favored new works that maintain a link with the past.
“We’ve always been big on that at 505,” Glasscock says. “We must honour, respect, [the past] – recognize why, how and who brought you where you are.
Although closing 505 was a “personal choice,” the venue has come under increasing financial pressure.
“I’m not convinced completely independent brick-and-mortar businesses will ever come back,” Glasscock says. “The real estate market is just ridiculous, I just don’t think it’s for our industry anymore.”
Room management had its challenges, but they say it was worth it. Undy fondly recalls the time he ate steak at the club with one of his heroes, bassist Pino Palladino, and the time Grammy-winning Melbourne band Hiatus Kaiyote stepped on the small stage of 505, just a few months before he became an international celebrity.
Glasscock beams with pride when she speaks of what 505 has accomplished for the theater community, “providing a space for experimental theater that would otherwise be impossible to stage.”
The loss to Australian culture is incalculable. Where will the ideas go?