Sydney Opera House as a Jazz Club


I made a fortuitous error on Tuesday night, misreading the start time for the Kamasi Washington Concert as 7pm not 9pm and arrived at the Sydney Opera House 2 hours early. It gave me time to think about the Opera House’s next life cycle. A living building is never finished. Work on the upper concourse near the entrance doors is still ongoing. And the ugly white circus tent marquee on the northern broadwalk has been taken down and renovations are underway for the convention centre. Peering through a door it’s possible to see that the always inconvenient kitchen, long and narrow, like the dining car of a train wrapped around the edge of the building, has been dismantled.


Anne Watson’s book The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House is in a lightweight format that makes it pleasantly easy to re-read. I see the performance spaces differently, more clearly, each time I visit after going back through her book. I’ve written about the moment between life cycles, 2011 through 2017, while the building’s infrastructure was adjusting to the evolving needs of the artforms that perform there. But this hasn’t happened in a vacuum and Anne Watson’s descriptions of the initial vagueness about how the building would be used, and how Peter Hall and his team laboured to not only make the building work, but to do so with quality designs that respected Utzon’s vision, is not only crucial, but fascinating. I’m re-reading a chapter at a time now, on many occasions taking her book with me to the Opera House.

In my book I’ve tried to give a sense of how artforms renew themselves within the continual renewal of the Opera House. I’ve placed particular emphasis on experimental works using new technologies, but at Kamasi Washington’s concert jazz’s own life cycle was in evidence. Much has been written about how the volume and electric intensity of this generation’s jazz performers has been sparked by hip-hop. But on Tuesday night I thought about the first generation of jazz musicians who brought electronic instruments and rock’n’roll into jazz and into concert halls on tours in Australia in the 1980s… Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, etc. … and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s brilliant concert in 2015, equal in intensity to Kamasi Washington’s.


My book Like a Living Thing: The evolution of the Sydney Opera House with illustrations by Reg Mombassa is available at



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