Category Archives: clarinet

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.

David Gardner Quartet @ the Bentleigh Club: the Benny Goodman/ Artie Shaw Story

Goodman, Gardner, Shaw

THIS weekend not everyone is heading to Wangaratta for the Jazz and Blues Festival, or being involved in the Spring Racing Carnival knees up.  If you’re one of these, here’s a last minute suggestion for a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon with one of our best interpreters of the music  of the Shaw/Goodman swing era.

When Diana Allen moved to Point Lonsdale three years ago to ‘semi retire’, she envisaged occasionally bringing Melbourne bands to the Bellarine Peninsula, but had not considered doing the reverse and bringing Geelong bands to Melbourne! This is what she is doing this Sunday, 4 November at the Bentleigh Club, Yawla Street, Bentleigh.

The David Gardner quartet, led by virtuoso clarinetist David, will present a program of the sensational music which personifies the Swing Era. This is music which will remain fresh and exciting to listen to forever, but you seldom hear it played live anymore.

The other members of this superb Quartet are also all star players. They are John Shawcross on piano, Zac Barter on double bass and Daniel Zampatti on drums. David himself has performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, James Morrison, Don Burrows, members of the Glen Miller alumni band and with various international musicians visiting Australia. Amongst other venues, the Quartet has starred at the famous Spiegeltent.

David, like most jazz clarinetists, has been intrigued with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw ever since he began playing clarinet, and also the sensational music they made so famous such as Begin the Beguine, Frenesi, Stardust, Avalon, Sing Sing Sing, Running Wild, Body and Soul, Rose Room and Stealin’ Apples amongst others.

Incidentally David featured with Steve Sedergreen on the sound track for one of the Miss Fisher Mysteries playing “Rose Room”, arranged by composer Jonathan Dreyfus. Click on Phrynne to hear them.

Although there was always rivalry between Shaw and Goodman, they were both geniuses in their own distinct way. David Gardner has delved into their histories and come up with fascinating stories about both musicians. This will be an afternoon of very special music played by four great musicians.

They will begin playing a little earlier than usual on the 4th due to commitments later in the day, so guests are asked to arrive earlier than usual at 11.30 am for a midday start. The first hour will be devoted to the music of Artie Shaw followed by an hour for lunch at 1.00 pm, and the Benny Goodman story beginning at 2.00 pm.

Luncheon and Show on November 4th are $65 per head and can be paid for by direct bank transfer to the Jazz Australia account at CBA Hawthorn, BSB 063 138. Account number 1001 3193 or pay at the door. In either case, please ring Diana Allen on 5258 3936 to book your place.

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Eric Newton – the running clarinetist at the Riverwalk

Eric Newton at the Amora

Eric Newton at the Amora in January 2009
with Ian Smith and Peter Hooper

ENGLISH clarinetist, Eric Newton, regularly spends some time during our summer in Melbourne. While here, he can often be found sitting in with Ian Smith’s Riverwalk Trio at the Amora Riverwalk Hotel in Bridge Road, Richmond.

On Sunday 15 January you can catch Eric with “Smithy” at the Amora. During lunch (from 12.30-3.30) the Trio plays lovely relaxed jazz, and any tune you might request. Be sure to ask Eric to play “Burgundy Street Blues” which he does superbly without any of the bird trills so many musos love to add.

Eric began his musical career with the New Orleans style band, the Ceramic City Stompers in Burslem, Staffordshire in the 1950s at the age of 17. He is now a busker in Stoke-on-Trent.

Here’s a clip of Eric playing last year in Cadwaladers Ice Cream Cafe in Trentham, South Staffordshire.

As well as playing a beautiful clarinet, Eric is a seasoned marathon runner, having run the daunting 42 km distance at least 30 times, most of these playing his clarinet. The tune? WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN of course; and his Personal Best is expressed in terms of the number of times he repeats the tune during the run!

Come and hear the music, enjoy a leisurely lunch. We’ll see you there.
Phone: 9246 1200 for bookings.

John McCarthy: Farewell

Geoff Bull and John McCarthy

Geoff Bull and John McCarthy (photo by Ron Jobe)

Multi-instrumentalist John McCarthy (nicknamed ‘Darky’) died at his home in Sydney on Thursday 6 October  at the age of 81. So ends a musical career which spanned more than six decades, involved a wide range of styles, and evoked the admiration of fellow musicians and fans alike.

John was born in Sydney on 6 January 1930, and except for a brief stay in Melbourne in 1950 with Frank Johnson’s Fabulous Dixielanders, spent his musical career based in his home city. He began playing clarinet at the age of 15 in 1945, and during his musical life also mastered the soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax and flugelhorn.

He joined The Riverside Jazz Band in 1947 and later the Port Jackson Jazz Band, both of which were established by trombonist Jack Parkes to promote traditional jazz styles in postwar Sydney.  From 1958 he was also a member of the Ray Price Quartet.  Here’s a clip of John playing with the Ray Price Quartet (in this case Quintet) playing Sidney Bechet’s beautiful tune A Moi de Payer (The Payoff).


The musicians on the recording are Ray Price on guitar and banjo; Johnny McCarthy, clarinet; Joe Costelloe, trombone; Dick Hughes, piano; and Wally Wickham on string bass. This recording reached No. 6 on the local Hit Parade, and was also popular overseas.

He left both bands in 1962 and joined Dick Hughes’ Quartet; in the mid-sixties joined the Graeme Bell Band, and in the seventies, the Bob Barnard Band.

John McCarthy with Bell Band

Welcome home to the Graeme Bell Band
Hyde Park, Sydney 1948


The front line marchers are Ken Olsen (holding banner), John McCarthy, Frank (Sydney) Johnson, Jack Parkes, Roger Bell, Ade Monsbourgh, Don “Pixie” Roberts and Graeme Bell. (from Australian Jazzman by Graeme Bell.)

He worked extensively on a freelance basis: think of almost any Sydney band of standing and John McCarthy will have played with them.

One musician with whom he worked extensively was John Sangster. Click on the album cover (left) to hear Vale Theoden from John Sangster’s musical interpretation of Lord of the Rings. Originally recorded in 1974 by EMI it was reissued by Wave Records in 2002. (You’ll remember of course that King Theoden was a major character in Tolkien’s epic who died leading his people, the Rohirrim, against the Nazgul.) John McCarthy’s  “spare but intense clarinet is heard to great effect in this track.” (Bruce Johnson’s Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz).

Any true Bohemian or discerning follower of live music in Sydney from 1976 onward would have encountered The Roger Janes Band. As regular musicians at Balmain’s Unity Hall Hotel they were a fixture at one of the world’s longest running jazz residencies. The  CD – Crazy -captures vividly what was possibly their greatest line-up, each player a capable bandleader and gifted soloist in his own right.  Roger Janes-Trombone & Vocal; Tom Baker – Trumpet; Marty Mooney – Saxophone; John McCarthy – Clarinet; Gary Walford – Piano; Lynn Wallis – Drums; Ian Date – Guitar; Don Heap – Bass.   Click on the CD cover to hear a clip from Swinging the Blues.

In the late 1980s John played with Dave Dallwitz’s Sydney Big Band. Greg Englert recorded the following fabulous video of the Dallwitz Band playing on Bondi Beach in 1986. Greg is the lead trumpet in the middle between John Roberts and Cliff Reese. John McCarthy is on 1st tenor sax along with Trevor Rippingale, Paul Furniss and Tich Bray on clarinet.

A wake will be held for John McCarthy on Monday 17 October. Tony Buckley, Bob Barnard and many other musos who knew John and shared making music with him will be there to pay tribute to a fine musician and a lovely man.

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The Goodman Touch: Alex Hutchinson on clarinet

Alex Hutchinson - The Goodman TouchDRIVING to an appointment some weeks ago I was listening again to Alex Hutchinson’s truly beautiful  CD -THE GOODMAN TOUCH.
Alex has been playing clarinet (and saxophone) for about 50 years, and his mastery of the instrument is outstanding – elegant and fluent, even “slick” which Alex takes as a compliment!
The first track on this disk is that old Australian folk song “The Road to Gundagai”, composed (and sung many times) by Jack O’Hagan. It is not what you would call a jazz tune by any means, but Alex plays it beautifully in this idiom.
Last Sunday we were lunching with Alex at the Amora Riverwalk Hotel in Bridge Road, Richmond where Smithy’s Jazz Trio performs, and Alex stood in with the regular band for an improvised version of this tune.

With Alex are Peter Uppman on trumpet, Brian Davies on guitar and Mark Elton on bass.
Now listen to the recorded version. I love them both!

To find out more about Alex you can visit his website www.jazzlegend.com, or most days you can find him on the Facebook page, CLARINET JAZZ POINT.
His other CDs include “The Tassie Connection” and “Clarinet Love Affair”. Look out for a new one about to be released which was recorded with clarinet virtuoso Andy Firth a few months ago.
I believe most of Alex’s recordings are available on iTunes, but if you’re like me and prefer a CD in your hand (if only for the cover notes), contact Alex at his website and I’m sure he’ll let you have one if you smile and offer him money!