Bernie McGann has flown the flag of creative jazz in Australia for nearly forty years. Long regarded as one of Australia’s most original musical talents and certainly the most original alto saxophonist in the country, he is now a national figure playing regularly in all capital cities as either a featured soloist or as leader of his own groups. McGann emerged on the wave of energetic modern jazz that swept Australia in the late 50’s and early 60’s. During that period he and his quartet reached beyond hard-bop, then the prevalent jazz form. That aggressive energy provided a springboard from which musicians world-wide leapt into unprecedented freedom and intensity of expression. McGann’s daring strikes at the edge of tonality, speech-like inflections, tonal colours and stark emotionalism marked him as a serious soloist; with his striking compositions he became a leading, accomplished jazz figure over the following decades.
The eccentric elements of McGann’s playing are highly individual expression reaching back to the folk roots of jazz. With the international release of McGann’s first two recordings as leader in 1987 came the accolades: no Australian-based jazz musician had received rave reviews in journals such as The Wire, Jazz Journal International, Cadence and Jazz Forum. Subsequent releases – "Ugly Beauty" (trio), "McGann x McGann" (quartet w/ trombonist James Greening), and "Playground" (quartet w/ saxophonist Sandy Evans) were all voted ARIA Jazz Record of the Year: international critical acclaim lead to release in North America in 1997 on Terra Nova. The spotlight was on McGann throughout 1997 as the trio became the first Australian jazz group invited to perform at the Chicago Jazz Festival and McGann received the Don Banks Music Award – the Australia Council’s most prestigious – for his contribution to music.
McGann freely and warmly acknowledges the vital contribution to his groups made by the creative musicianship of his associates, dynamic drummer John Pochee and supple, hard swinging bassist Lloyd Swanton.
"The find of the Festival was Sydney’s bop altoist Bernie McGann" (Kevin Whitehead, Vancouver 1993)
"In bop waters McGann led his trio in two memorable concerts of tough, authentic, post-bop with Sonny Rollins twist. Rollins’ own gig would benefit from McGann’s rhythm section" (CODA)
"I don’t know much about Australian jazz but I know that at least one great musician thrives down under .. Bernie McGann’s sound is exciting and physical, as heated as any post-Coltrane modernist" (John Corbett, DOWNBEAT)
"A genuinely individual bop stylist … his playing throughout ‘At Long Last’ compels respect" (Jerome Wilson, OPTIONS MAGAZINE)
"McGann is an original … a sound that also grabs attention" (Victor Schonfield, JAZZ JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL)
"One of the most gripping and distinctive LPs of 1980 post-bop jazz that I’ve heard" (Brian Davis, JAZZ FORUM)
"His playing is full of purely musical or abstract interest, bursting with energy and emotion, and luminous with melody" (Graham Lock, THE WIRE )
"One of the great originals of Australian jazz" (Gail Brennan, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD)