INTRODUCTION - WHY JAZZ?
My father liked jazz. Despite the fact that I saw very little of him, I do recall the times when we lived as a family in Singapore, and more particularly, when I visited at Christmas holidays, that he loved the big bands - and Fats Waller, and.... that's about all I can recall. Oh yes, and Piano Red and Gene Vincent. I can remember that my favourite tune was The Harry Lime Theme, played by Anton Karras on the zither.
As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to be in the midst of a revolution in popular music. Johnnie Ray and Perry Como were on the way out - and coming in was Bill Haley and - Elvis. The days of rock ‘n roll had commenced. The beat was heavy, steady, repetitive, perhaps monotonous - you could dance to the music - or at least jump around to the beat. Was Bill Haley the first to record so-called rock ‘n roll? The press thought so - still do. But hang on - what was that I used to listen to and bop around in the sweltering humidity in Singapore - someone called Piano Red playing - Rockin' With Red. Now if that wasn't the ‘first' rock n' roll recording I dont know what is! Of course there was no ‘first', no spontaneous invention of a new form of music. It grew from other preceeding forms - of jazz, and blues, and gospel, and bland ballads - a pot pourri of sounds that more suddently than gradually became identified as rock n' roll. Invented by a white man of course, for the white man held the key to the recording studio. Bill Haley came on the scene - or was ushered into it - with Rock Around the Clock and See You Later Alligator.
Thank God for Elvis. He broke all the rules. His hair - look at those sideburns! Disgraceful said everyone over twenty. My Dad was over twenty! On one of the very few occassions that he returned to Melbourne on holiday, I returned from the barbers with just the smidgen of a sideburn - a quarter of an inch of fluff next to my ear. The standard style for little boys who should be seen and not heard was the basin cut - it was as if the barber put an enamel basin on your head and destroyed anything that could be seen. This was not going to happen to my father's son. He marched me back to the barbers - a different one thank God otherwise I would have been soooo embarrassed - and had the lot, the sideburns that is, neatly clippered off. That must have been the quickest shilling that barber ever earned. What particularly pissed me off was that here was my Dad, whom I loved dearly, but whom I rarely saw, and who was so out of touch with me as a fourteen year old teenager, telling me how I should look. How on earth would he have reacted to seeing me in a purple jumper with silver thread lining around the v-neck and cuffs, a tangerine shirt, normal slacks, and brown and white calf-leather shoes. What a scream! But thats the way it was.
I must say that Nan was much more understanding. It was she who bought me the jumper. It was she who dyed one of my white shirts a bright tangerine, and a green one. I asked her once what she thought of Elvis, and Paul Anka and Little Richard and others, to which she replied, "I don't really like the music but I can understand that you would". She was with it, my Nan. What a beautiful person she was.
Twelve months after the Elvis Sideburn Affair, I was in Singapore - my turn to visit. I took along a friend of mine Peter Hocking. We went to Princes Hill Central before we spilt after Form 2, he going to Scotch College and I to University High. Peter was learning the drums and later put me on to some excellent jazz - The Three Out Trio for example with Mike Nock, and the great pianist Bobby Timmons. We had not been in Singapore long when Dad said that he was taking us to see Jack Teagarden at the Memorial Hall. He was quite excited about it and looked to me for endorsement of his enthusiasm. I said, "who ?". Dad never put me down - he didn't encourage me much either but thats another matter - but he just looked at me with incredulity - perhaps a sadness in his eyes! "Jack Teagarden, the great jazz trombonist", he repeated, thinking no doubt, but fortunately not adding ‘you blithering idiot'. I had not, of course heard of the man - and how could I have possibly done so. My only exposure to the likes and dislikes of parents, my only opportunity for parental guidance such as it was, was six weeks each Christmas. How on earth was I expected to memorise Leonard Feather's Who's Who of jazz?
We went to the show. I loved it. Yet I was not really aware of the enormity of what I was seeing and hearing.This guy wasn't Buddy Holly and the Crickets. A jazz trombonist, with a drummer, a clarinet player, a pianist and a trumpeter. There must have been a bass player there also. It was the Jack Teagarden Sextet. I didn't know that Jack Teagaren was a living legend - in the world of jazz at least - one of the finest trombonists of the jazz era - and not a bad singer also.
I wish Dad were alive today. It is a wish I have every day. I would ask him, ‘okay Dad, name the musicians on the sextet'. I wonder if he could. Well damn it, I could, to this very day - well, two of them anyway - Max Kaminsky on trumpet, and Ronnie Greb on drums. I have never forgotten them. Of course, Kaminsky was as near to a legend as Teagarden, but I didn't know that at the time. I have often wondered who the other musicians were - and by a remarkable coincidence, this very day I received a copy of My Life in Jazz by Max Kaminsky. I went immediately to the index and looked up ‘singapore'. Did he meet my Dad? Did he have a great time in Singapore? Did he notice a curious kid (two kids in fact), in the first row to his left in the balcony? Damn, no mention of Singapore. So I looked up ‘greb'. Sure enough, it led me straight to the chapter on the Asian tour of December 1958 by the Jack Teagarden Sextet. And what did he have to say about Singapore, the concert that I was at; it must have been memorable to him. "And on to Singapore for three days, where we felt the audience had some idea of what we were playing, and then on to the Malay Peninsula for ten days". That's it? Well, at least he appreciated that we were jazz lovers. And now I know the names of the other musicians - Don Ewell on piano, Jerry Fuller on clarinet, and Stan Puls on bass.
The concert was not a turning point in my life. It would be dramatic to say so, but no. We played quite a bit of jazz during the weeks I was with my family, but like most teenagers, Peter and I were much too interested in other things - the sights and sounds and smells of Singapore, and a seven day genuine army patrol into the jungle of southern Malaya with the British Army, a relatively safe mission to collect arms from the villages after the communist scare had passed. There would be other times, and in a perfect world, I can imagine myself right now sitting down and listening, really listening quietly to some really good jazz with my father. It was not to be.
At the end of January 1959, I left Singapore, to return to Melbourne, to live with my wonderful grandparents and ‘to be educated'. In my suitcase was a parting gift from my father - a Capitol LP titled simply ‘Benny Goodman'. I passed through the mesh gates at Paya Lebar airport and walked toward the aircraft, turned, and waved to Dad at the gate. Next time I see you Dad, I thought, we'll listen to some good jazz. I was never to see him again. Two weeks later he was dead.
The shock didn't strike me so much at the time as I was used to not being with my father. It was only in later years when I needed advise, the sort of advice that only a father can give, did I miss him so much. And now, a half century since he died, I type this with tears in my eyes. I still miss him terribly. I look up from my computer and see Benny Goodman on the wall - the very album that Dad gave me, now nicely framed. Nearby is a portrait of my father as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAAF during the war.
Did my father encourage me to take an interest in jazz? Not consciously. I wish he had encouraged me to learn an instrument. He could play good boogie woogie piano, and his mother was a piano teacher. If only he had been there to encourage me to take up clarinet. I did, several years later, and can do a pretty good job of anything in Tune a Day for Clarinet Book One. Thats after more than forty-five years!
But I did take a greater interest in jazz, over and above rock ‘n roll, and the love is still there - not a passion mind you, but a great interest. Needless to say, my ‘favourite' is Benny Goodman - I have a large collection of his 78s and LPs. Of all the instruments, I enjoy clarinet and piano the most, and soon became familiar with the works of other great clarinetists of the bid band era and later: Artie Shaw, Edmund Hall, Woody Herman, Buddy de Franco - and on to Dave Jones of the Kenny Ball band, the brilliant Bob Kaper and Peter Schilperoot of the Dutch Swing College Band, and more recently Bob Wilber.
I did not frequent the local Melbourne jazz scene. But I did go to quite a few great concerts. I just wish I had kept the programs so I could remember who all the musicians were. The highlight of course was seeing Benny Goodman at the old tin shed we called Festival Hall, in Melbourne. I can't remember the year but I was married to Carole at the time so must have been in the early 1970s. It was a bit disappointing. I guess the passion was not in the band. I can recall BG having harsh words with the drummer for some reason, confirming the well-known fact that he was hard task master. I thought it was uncalled for. Hey, here was my hero making an ass of himself. I knew from something that I had read that BG was into gardening; I bought an excellent book on Australia's best gardens and left it at his hotel, the Old Melbourne. I didn't leave my address, just a thankyou note.
One of the most memorable concerts, again at Festival Hall, was the Dutch Swing College Band. Again, I have no idea of the year. It was marvellous. I have over the years seen Thelonious Monk, Stephane Grapelli, Blossom Dearie, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, Milt Jackson, the reconstituted Glenn Miller Band under Warren Covington, and many others whose names will come to me suddently and then disappear just as fast.
I must mention my enthusiasm of many decades ago. My daughter Catherine was born in 1969, and within a few months we were in our brand new home in Gladstone Park, near what was then the new Tullamarine Airport for Melbourne. I soon became aware of how toddlers have a poor sense of navigation and mobility and tend to knock into, and over, furniture, including cabinets with turntables delicately mounted. I was not going to have my treasured LPs scratched by a needle and arm flying acrosss the groove, so, when my wife was out one weekend afternoon, I cut a rather large hole in our brand new lounge room floor - and sunk four galvanised iron poles into the ground, concreted them solid, and balanced the turntable on top of the poles. My wife went haywire when she saw what I had done, but my project was not completed. I then built a cabinet around the lot so that you could not see the poles, and whenever the cabinet was bumped by said wandering child, or enebriated adult as the case may have been, the turntable was completely isolated. The house is still there - I wonder if they have a turntable!
As the years pass by I have less of an opportunity to listen to jazz. Sure, I have it on in my study when I am writing or working on some project on the computer, but it is more or less background music. To really listen you have to have no interuptions and a silent household. You can't do that with kids. And in all my latter years I have only had one friend who was really ‘into' jazz. He was a dear, close friend whom I lost just recently, in 2007. I met Peter Diplock when I was working at Caterpillar back in 1965. He was some ten years older than me, and it was when I moved to Mount Macedon where he lived that I really got to know him. Peter loved good jazz, especially piano (a Bill Evans fan), and was very knowledgeable. We had many excellent evenings - just listening. We parted ways for a decade or so and then came back together for the occasional listening session, but that is now over. I find it hard to listen now, and I certainly have no one to talk jazz. I have another great friend, John Higginson, who played piano, vibes and drums, but we rarely see each other and when we do there is so much to catch up on that there is so little time to sit and listen. Wendy is extremely knowledgeable about music and the arts but jazz is not her field. Sam is too young to appreciate it. I try, sometimes not so subtly, to have him listen to some great piano or clarinet or drums - as he is learning all three, but the attention span of a nine-year old is somewhat short. Still, he can do a pretty reasonable job of Krupa's first few bars of Sing, Sing, Sing. Now if only I could join him on the clarinet solo. Unfortunately I sound like the last gasps of rooster being run over by a truck.
So, what to do with 500 LPs, maybe 50 EPs, and over 2200 78s? Does Sam need to be burdened with the collection. I hope he goes and gets a life for himself. But what if I sell the lot and he later takes a great interest in jazz? Will he regret my doing so? My collection was started when I inherited Dad's small record collection (he mainly had tape). Perhaps Sam would like to add to the collection in later life. But he is too young to decide such matters, and I dont want to burden Wendy with disposing of the collection when I go, so perhaps it is best to part with them. Hence this catalog. The trouble is, during the six months it has taken to catalog the records and books, I have had a surge of interest, and damn it, I don't want to part with them. Well, we said the same thing about dear Leanne when she had to go - I miss her but one must be realistic - and not too emotional. Leanne was our red Mercedes 450 SLC. I hate getting old.