Jazz by the Bay Dunsborough - Credit Tim Campbell

Most people who have chosen to call the Margaret River Region home have a song in their hearts, but a group of talented locals have gone a step further, forming a big bold band that celebrates the song of jazz.

Margaret River GP and saxophonist Louise Marsh brought a group of like-minded local singers and musos together in January 2018 for what was to be a one-off performance at a sunset concert in Cowaramup. They called themselves Songbirds of the Southwest and had such a great audience response and fun time performing together, they just kept going!

Fast forward 12 months and Songbirds of the Southwest are playing at Jazz by the Bay, and giggling at Perth’s premier jazz venue The Ellington where they recently had a sold out performance.

Jazz by the Bay Dunsborough - Credit Tim Campbell
The Songbirds are a rare breed, featuring six sassy vocalists and up to eight musos with a hot horn section. They perform works from their favourite jazz artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Astrid Gilberto, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, and Amy Winehouse.

How did Louise manage to get so many musos together in a relatively small region? “Margaret River and the region has some pretty amazing talent,” she said. “It’s great to be able to tap into it. A lot of us play together in different combos so most knew each other but it’s been great to welcome in some new talent too.”

Members of Songbirds of the Southwest range in age from 17 to 68 and even had an 80-year-old guest pianist recently!

“It can be a challenge getting everyone together for a rehearsal when they come from Denmark to Dunsborough but we all love the collaboration. I feel very privileged to be among them. I’d love us to go as far as we can.”

Jazz by the Bay Dunsborough

The Songbirds include both professional and weekend performers and, as well as a GP, also includes a dentist, an engineer, an electrician, teachers and mums.

The group’s core members are Louise Marsh (singing Peggy Lee and tenor sax), Andrea Frances (singing Astrid Gilberto), Janine Andrews (singing Ella Fitzgerald), Michelle Spriggs (singing Amy Winehouse), Tilly Kelleher (singing Nina Simone), Scott Wise (singing Louis Armstrong with Ella, and guitar), Viv Booker  (bass), Cleo Wiese (singing Adele), Gary Larkin (drums), Mike Wiese (clarinet, sax), Kevin Jones (trombone, flute), David Rastrick (trumpet), Kevin McDonald (guitar), and Sean Lillico (piano).

Surprisingly, Louise only took up the sax when she was in her early 20s. “It wasn’t a lifelong ambition, but as simple as the fact that my sister was learning the sax and I thought I could do it better! My dad was really into jazz when we were growing up and is a huge music lover so I grew up with the songs our band is now performing.”

The Songbirds will be returning to the line-up of the much anticipated Jazz by the Bay festival this year, on May 31 to June 3 2019 across Busselton, Dunsborough, and Margaret River.

This year’s festival will bring together world class musicians from Western Australia and the northern hemisphere, pairing live jazz, funk and soul with spectacular venues and the region’s best gourmet food and wine for four days. Expect a choice of more than 40 music, wine and gourmet food experiences.

Free local, national and international performances are programmed over the Saturday and Sunday of the festival in the heart of Dunsborough. The program will also feature free and ticketed events at surrounding venues.

Whether you’re into big bands, classic jazz, bebop, swing or scat – Jazz by the Bay has you covered.

Photos: Tim Campbell