Johnny Adams and the joy of music

John with Herman Schweiger (Photo: Ron Jobe)

John with Hermann Schweiger
(Photo: Ron Jobe)

JOHNNY Adams’s joy in making music glowed from his smile, and was evident from his body language when he was in full swing at the piano.

Born in Castlemaine, Victoria in October 1938, John studied classical piano there at St Gabriel’s College for 3 years. When he was about 15 he was impressed by Graeme Bell’s version of Black and White Rag, but it wasn’t until he moved to Melbourne in 1954 to work at the Commonwealth Bank that he really came into contact with jazz. One lunchtime when he was “fooling about” on the piano in the Bank’s auditorium, John Morey, a fellow bank employee, asked him if he would like to join a band that he was putting together. This comprised Lachie Thomson (clarinet), Graham Bennett (drums) and John Morey himself who played trumpet.

At this stage John knew nothing about playing jazz chords or the relationship of one chord to another. As far as jazz was concerned he was basically self-taught as are many jazz musicians, having picked things up from observing and listening to other musos and recordings. His first professional gig was in 1956 with John Morey’s group when they played for a party for one of the girls at work.

A stint with the Dave Rankin Band followed which led to other bookings including intermission piano at Nick Polites’ Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band gigs at the Glen Iris RSL in 1957-58.

The 1960s was an exciting period for John as his growing reputation brought him opportunities to play in a wide range of styles and with a variety of high quality musicians. These included appearances on Channel 7’s Cool Cats Show with modern players such as Ted Vining (drums), Barry Buckley (bass) Alan Lee (vibes) and Graham Lyall (tenor sax); Bob Barnard’s Band; the Driftwood Jazz Band; the Kenn Jones Powerhouse Band; the John Foster Quartet on Channel 9’s In Melbourne Tonight; and various Storyville groups put together by Allan Leake with whom he maintained a musical connection for almost 20 years.

Cathay Pacific Jazz Australia Band Steve Miller, Ian Smith, Rex Swann, John Adams, Dave Hetherington, Hermann Schwaiger (photo: Ron Jobe)

Cathay Pacific Jazz Australia Band
Steve Miller, Ian Smith, Rex Swann, John Adams, Dave Hetherington, Hermann Schwaiger
(photo: Ron Jobe)

In 1990 John accepted Rex Swann’s invitation to join the Cathay Pacific Jazz Australia Band, a group presenting an eclectic mix of material to suit a wide ranging audience whilst playing good jazz. The band made a number of very successful visits to Hong Kong, Thailand and South Korea. He also visited Thailand with Allan Leake’s Storyville Allstars and The Storyville Jazztet.

Trio and small group playing were also an important feature of John’s musical career, including backing singers such as Beverley Sheehan and Patsy O’Neill. Other bands with which John played were the 8-piece “little big” orchestra Mainstem, The Melbourne Jazz Ensemble, The Jazz Buffs, The Alex Hutchinson/Alan Lee Quintet, The Syncopators, Stevenson’s Rockets, plus various small groups too numerous to mention. More recently he had a regular gig with Johnsy’s Red Hill Bakery Boys on the Mornington Peninsula.

John at The Red Hill Bakery

John at The Red Hill Bakery

John was also a very regular participant in the long-running Jazz Piano Lunches at the Rosstown Hotel in Carnegie where local jazz pianists who were available turned up to play for the delight of diners. Amongst these were such names as Graham Coyle, Rex Green, Kim Harris and Neville Turner. Here John plays Our Love is Here to Stay with saxophonist Barrie Boyes in September 2011.

In 1993 fourteen of Melbourne’s top jazz pianists got together for a marathon recording session as a fund-raising event for The Victorian Jazz Musicians’ Benefit Fund. The pianists played tunes of their own choice. John was one of the participants of course and one of his three choices was Billy Strayhorn’s beautifulLotus Blossom. Strayhorn was a pianist in Duke Ellington’s band, and this tune was one of the Duke’s favourites. In 2012 The Australian Jazz Museum (formerly The Victorian Jazz Archive) issued the session on a 2 CD set (VJAZZ020). Click on the photo of John to hear him play Lotus Blossom from that CD.
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In a different jazz genre, John played with Barry Wratten’s Uptown Swing Band at the Victorian Jazz Club on St Patrick’s Day 2012 (exactly 3 years ago). Unfortunately you can only glimpse the top of his head and the occasional hand, but this is another example of his versatility. The lineup is Barry Wratten, clarinet; Ian Orr, trumpet; Les Fithall, trombone; Peter Baylor, guitar; John Adams, piano; Richard Mander, bass; Lynn Wallis, drums.

On a personal note, John played at a number of our birthday parties and at a special wedding. It was at my birthday party four and a half years ago that John told me that he had just been diagnosed with the cancer which finally overwhelmed him. During these final difficult years he continued to play beautiful piano and to smile his beutiful smile.

As a wonderful pianist Johnny Adams will be very sadly missed from the jazz scene. Equally as a joyful and gentlemanly presence. RIP John

John’s funeral will be held on Wednesday 18 March at St Christopher’s Church, 5 Doon Avenue, Syndal followed by a celebration and wake at The Whitehorse Club, 298 -336 Burwood Highway, East Burwood.

John Adams, piano master: Vale and Rest in Peace

Adams, JohnJOHN CHARLES ADAMS, “Johnny” to his very wide circle of family, friends and fans died on Monday 9 March 2015 at the age of 76. His death will greatly sadden the many who have grown used to having his piano brilliance constantly available, both those who have had the joy of listening to him and those who have played with him over the past fifty years. He will be missed not only for his music but for his unfailing good humour and generosity of spirit.

Our sympathies to Jo and family in their loss.

Clark Terry: jazz great dies at 94

clark terry 2Trumpeter Clark Terry, a true jazz legend who in his seven decades as a musician and bandleader collaborated with artists ranging from Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington to Charles Mingus and Count Basie, died on Saturday 21 February 2015 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, surrounded by his students, family and friends.

Clark Terry, who died aged 94, was one of the most accomplished all-round musicians in jazz. His faultless trumpet technique was allied to great melodic ingenuity. He had been a featured player in the bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones and was renowned for his good humour and even temper, qualities which served him well in his parallel careers of teacher and bandleader.

For nearly half a century, Clark’s greatest passion was helping to make young musicians’ dreams come true. He was a tremendous source of inspiration, of love, of respect, of decency, and of human rights. He was one of the first recruits to the United States Navy when black musicians were given the Rating of Musician in 1942. From being one of the few musicians who played as a featured soloist in both the Count Basie and the Duke Ellington Orchestras, to being the first black staff musician at NBC, Clark had multiple bands including big bands, youth bands and other ensembles. He was one of the most recorded jazz musicians in history on more than 900 albums.

Many obituaries have been published which give more details of Terry’s life. One such appeared in The Guardian of 26 February 2015. Click here to read it.

Clark Terry will be buried in the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY which is the final resting place of other musical greats as Miles Davis, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, W. C. Handy, Lionel Hampton and “King” Oliver.

Ballarat! Ballarat! Ballarat!: 70th Australian Jazz Convention

Street Parade Swan Hill 69th Australian Jazz Convention

Street Parade Swan Hilll
69th Australian Jazz Convention
(photo: Roger Beilby)

AS many will already have heard, the golden city of Ballarat will host the next Australian Jazz Convention – the 70th in an unbroken line from the first Convention of 1946.

The AJC Executive Task Force which ran the Swan Hill Convention so successfully will again be managing this Convention. Perhaps it get easier with practice, but hats off to them for their stamina!

To remind you, membership of the Task Force is:
Rod Andrew, Promotions
Ken Hill, Programming
Reg Packer, Treasurer
Chris Gildersleeve, Secretariat and Website
Lucia Packer, Volunteers and Merchandising
Don Anderson, Archive

The new website should be up and running by the end of January which will give you details of registration, venues, volunteering etc.  Until the website goes live, you can ask any questions or make any comments via the AJC Facebook page.

This is bound to be a splendid affair given Ballarat’s proximity to Melbourne, the strength and vitality of jazz in Ballarat, (fostered by the Ballarat Jazz Club) and the grand setting and stunning venues which this historic city can provide. I notice on Facebook that already the many Ballarat hotels, motels and other places of accommodation are advertising their wares. There is always a lot going on in Ballarat, so that if you’re considering being at the Convention, it’s not too early to be thinking about securing a good spot to stay.

Ian Coots suggests (quite apocryphally I suspect) that the Task Force is considering adopting the logo below!

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Clark Terry documentary: Oscar nomination

clark terry

THURSDAY December 18, 2014’s issue of The Melbourne Age had a story by jazz reviewer, Philippa Hawkes, about a documentary film on the great jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry. The film – KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON has been nominated for this year’s Oscar Documentary shortlist. It is directed by Australian drummer, Alan Hicks, who first met Terry 12 years ago in New York and became his student and a member of one of the Terry bands.

Australian jazz musicians and jazz fans of long standing will remember Clark Terry with admiration and affection from his participation in the 1974 Australian Jazz Convention held at Dorset Gardens in Melbourne. I did a long post on Terry when his autobiography came out in 2012. Click on the image below to refresh you memory.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON will be screening at the Nova Theatre in Lygon Street, Carlton from 18 December. Being a documentary it may not hang about for long, so it would be good thinking to take time out from the festive rush to enjoy 86 minutes of jazz legend before it moves on.
Phone 9347 5331 or check online for session times.

The Marvellous Shaye Cohn: Happy Birthday

The marvellous Shaye Cohn

The marvellous Shaye Cohn


THE talented, beautiful Shaye Cohn of the New Orleans band, Tuba Skinny, has a birthday today 24 November, and I am sure all her myriad of fans world-wide wish her a very happy one!

Shaye’s musical heritage is impressive, and perhaps goes some way to explain her extraordinary talents as a musician (trumpet/cornet, piano, violin), arranger, composer, artist, and I suspect, quiet power which holds the band together.

Granddaughter of Al Cohn, saxophonist with Woody Herman etc. and Marilyn Moore, jazz singer, and daughter of Joe Cohn, guitarist etc., Shaye originally trained as a classical pianist. Where did she go wrong/right!

Here’s a sample of Shaye’s piano style – with Japanese band The New Orleans Naughties in 2010, playing “Lily of the Valley”.

Tuba Skinny have just wound up their latest tour of Australia with a 3 day stint at the Melbourne Festival. Number One member of the Australian Tuba Skinny Fan Club (if there was one) would have to be my good mate Bill Liddy, which he demonstrated by attending all 3 performances, standing in the front row each time, so close that he could read the tune list at Shaye’s feet. Nineteen songs each night with only two repeats.

Bill Liddy

Bill Liddy

He spent some time talking to members of the band – Shaye of course but also the incredible vocalist Erika Lewis, and Todd Burdick, the skinny tuba player whom he met on Princes Bridge last year as he and Shaye were walking to their gig at the Spiegeltent,Todd with his tuba over his shoulder!

When Shaye asked Bill which of the three shows he enjoyed the best, he was hard put to choose, bu did nominate their version of “Willie the Weeper” as the best he’d heard.

The Skinnies have just released their latest CD “Owl Call Blues”, a copy of which Bill bought for me, signed by Shaye. How good is that!! The title track is a joint composition by Shaye and Erika Lewis and is available via the Tuba Skinny Blogspot. Click here for details.

Ivan Huke

Ivan Huke

The British equivalent of Bill Liddy must be cornet player Ivan Huke from Nottingham.

Ivan has a blog called “Playing Traditional Jazz” which is very well worth following since it is written from the musician’s point of view rather than the devoted fan. He is a mad, fanatical devotee of Tuba Skinny and of Shaye Cohn in particular. Read what he said about Shaye recently. His comments on Owl Call Blues are also worth a look.

To close, here Tuba Skinny plays “Dallas Rag” at their usual stomping ground in Royal Street, New Orleans. Wait for the piano solo! Magical isn’t too big a word for it!
Happy happy birthday Shaye!

Moama Jazz Weekend

THE Echuca Moama Jazz Club folded its wings in February 2013 due to lack of local support and membership. But obviously there is still a jazz heart beating in the region.

moama rsk

The Moama RSL in Merool Lane, Moama is holding a jazz weekend on Saturday and Sunday, 29 and 30 November with three very well credentialed bands playing – Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble, Loose Goose, and the Peter Hooper Quartet.

Registration fee is a measly $25 for both days with sessions running from 12 noon to 11.00pm on Saturday and 11.00am to 2.00pm on Sunday. The venue is the very comfortable Moama RSL building with two separate locations operating.

The organisers are keeping things small in this first year, but if it is successful, plans are for a much more ambitious festival in coming years. This is a chance to support a new jazz venture, and have yourself “a good weekend” into the bargain. Contact the RSL for bookings and further details on 5482 6677.

Located on the banks of the Murray River, the twin towns of Echuca Moama are the closest point of the Murray to Melbourne – just a 2.5 – 3 hour drive. A very popular tourist magnet particularly famous for its iconic paddle steamers and other links to the historic past of the Riverina, there is plenty to entertain when not enjoying the jazz.

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Leigh Barker and The New Sheiks

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LEIGH Barker and his New Sheiks are busy as usual – check out some things they’re doing in November 2014.

JAZZ, TAP, SWING WITH THE MELBOURNE RHYTHM PROJECT

First are a couple of great concerts in the Morning Melody series on Monday 17 November 2014, 11.00am and 1:30pm at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road. All Tickets: $20. BOOK NOW By Phone: 1300 182 183 or on line.

Titled Jazz, Tap, Swing with the Melbourne Rhythm Project this is an innovative collaboration between swing dancers, tap dancers and jazz and swing musicians. Presenting a program of uniquely choreographed dances set to classic jazz, swing and blues tunes, award-winning jazz ensemble, Leigh Barker and The New Sheiks, will be joined on stage by tap dancers and lindy hop and swing dancers to whip up a storm of jazz, rhythm and swing from the 1920s through to the 1940s. Featured will be award winning vocalist and violinist Heather Stewart.

Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart

NEW ALBUM LAUNCH: ‘FLOW LIKE WINE’

Second is a new album launch on Saturday November 15th at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, CBD. $25/20, doors at 8:30pm. Bookings or 9663 2856.

Leigh Barker and his six-piece group, for the last five years touring under the moniker ‘The New Sheiks’ but now equally well known as the musical half of the innovative dance company the ‘Melbourne Rhythm Project’, continue to build on their reputation as one of the most engaging, entertaining and hard-swinging groups currently performing in the Australian Jazz Scene.


Saturday November 15th will see the launch of Barker’s seventh full length release: a CD and digital album titled ‘Flow Like Wine’. Drawn from several studio sources and live sessions during the band’s 2012 and 2013 touring schedule, the album features guest appearances by triple Bell Award winning saxophonist Julien Wilson, piano genius Steve Grant and to top it all off was mastered in New York by the great Rob ‘Wacko’ Hunter, full time sound engineer for all of Branford Marsalis’ various projects. Combined with the regular members Heather Stewart on violin and vocals, Eamon McNelis trumpet, Matt Boden piano, Don Stewart trombone and Sam Young on the drums, this may just be Barker’s most cohesive release to date, says Jason Downes from whose blog I devised, copied, stole! this post. (Thank you Jason)

Clarinet legend Acker Bilk dies at 85

ACKER_BILKPhotograph: Allstar/Cinetext

The celebrated and much loved jazz clarinettist Acker Bilk died on 2 November 2014 aged 85.

The following tribute appeared in The Guardian

Bilk was perhaps best known for his 1961 song Stranger on the Shore and was one of the most important figures in the revival of traditional jazz in the middle of the last century.

“He was vastly important to the jazz movement, he could play the clarinet like nobody else, he had a special tone and vibrato – other musicians would tell you that,” his manager, Pamela Sutton, said.

Sutton, who worked with Bilk for 45 years, said: “His life was music and performing. He only gave it up because his age caught up with him and he couldn’t perform any more.”

Bilk’s last performance was in August 2013 at the Brecon jazz festival in Wales.

Sutton said: “He was a charming person to be with and he was famous worldwide, especially in Australia.

“He was a brilliant musician. He had a great sense of humour in every way. He just loved life.”

She said that he died around 2pm with his wife Jean by his side. “I am very happy that so many people have called [since news of his death broke]. As he was 85, age had just caught up with him. He was in some pain from different things that were going wrong.”

He also leaves two children, Peter and Jenny.

Bilk, who was made an MBE in the New Year Honours List of 2001, had previously overcome throat cancer.

Poet Ian McMillan tweeted: “Goodbye Acker Bilk, creator of one of the great earworms. That shore was strange, but memorable.”

He was born Bernard Stanley Bilk and raised in Somerset, and soon took the name Acker – a local expression meaning “friend” or “mate”.

Bilk’s uniform of garish waistcoat and bowler hat set the tone for onstage outfits for anyone performing in that genre.

He was 18 when he took up the clarinet while in the Royal Engineers during his National Service. Posted to Egypt, he found himself with plenty of spare time in the desert and borrowed a marching clarinet, learning by copying recordings.

Wombats again!!

wombat funWHOOPEE!! After trying to retire at the end of their Elsternwick Hotel residency, the Wombat Jazz Band was inveigled into a final fling at the Rosstown Hotel some weeks ago.

This venture was so successful with an almost full house of 90 fans, that the Rosstown has managed to lure the Wombats out of their burrow for another daytime appearance.

So on this coming Sunday, 19 October, you have another chance to hear this legendary band playing their own special brand of mainly Australian jazz music.

The lineup on this occasion will be the usuals – Bill Kerr, Judy Taylor, Ken Collins, Jacqui O’Neill and Tony Orr – except that Simon VanCam who played with the band for years will be on bass instead of Smithy who is otherwise engaged on Sundays.

Music starts at 2pm and runs until 5pm. The door charge is $10 unless you choose, as many do, to lunch downstairs in the Bistro, in which case the discounted cover charge is $5 on presentation of your lunch receipt.

Bookings are essential on 9571 1033. The Rosstown Hotel is on the corner of Dandenong and Koornang Roads, Carnegie, just a stone’s throw from the Carnegie Station.

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