Category Archives: Musicians

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.
IMG_6374
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.

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!

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.

Doyens of Australian jazz: the VJC honours elders of the tribe

Victorian Jazz Club LogoTHE Victorian Jazz Club will hold its inaugural “Tribute to the Doyens of Jazz” starting at 2pm on Sunday 27 July 2014 at the Clayton RSL, 163 Carinish Road, Clayton when the Club pays tribute to six venerable stars of the local jazz scene. Invitations were sent out to about 100 family and friends of the “doyens”. Now the VJC Committee is opening up the invitation to any VJC members who may wish to attend.

The title of “doyen” as defined by Websters Dictionary:

(doyen: the senior member of a body or group; a person considered to be knowledgeable or uniquely skilled as a result of long experience in some field of endeavor.)

certainly fits comfortably with this half dozen musicians who were beginning their musical careers around the time of Melbourne’s traditional jazz revival of the 1940s and 1950s – and some are still making music.

The group, which is expected to be only the first of many to be recognised in this way, comprises Wes Brown (drums); Tony Newstead (trumpet); Alf Hurst (trombone); Harry Price (trombone); Kenn Jones (reeds); and Fred Stephenson (string bass).

Wes Brown at the Maple Leaf Reunion, 2010

Wes Brown at the Maple Leaf Reunion, 2010 (photo: Ron Jobe)

Harry Price at te Maple Leaf Reunion 2010

Harry Price at the Maple Leaf Reunion 2010 (photo: Ron Jobe)

Tony Newstead and Fred Parkes, 1962

Tony Newstead and Fred Parkes, 1962. (from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

Alf Hurst with John Murray and John Withers.  (Ron Jobe photo)

Alf Hurst with John Murray and John Withers. (photo: Ron Jobe))

Fred Stephenson with the Merry Men (photo9: Ron Jobe)

Fred Stephenson with the Merry Men (photo: Ron Jobe)

Kenn Jones with Gavin Gow 1963. (from Norm Linehan’s Picture Book of Australian Jazz)

This is a completely FREE DAY provided by the VJC. The festivities will begin at 2.00pm with a “core band” put together by Ian Smith (trumpet) with Graeme Pender (clarinet), Bruce Kemp (trombone), John Cox (banjo), Allan Stott (tuba) and Ben Rushworth on drums, with “the doyens” sitting in.

No bookings are necessary, but my guess is that there will be a mighty crowd of musician colleagues, fans, family and friends so you might want to arrive early.

This is a marvellous opportunity to show these great musicians how much we have enjoyed their jazz over the years, and to remininisce about the wild and woolly days when there was jazz in every pub! Congratulations to the Victorian Jazz Club for this initiative.

At the other end of the age and experience scale, the VJC is subsidising the Under 25 Jazz Workshop Band to attend the Australian Jazz Convention in Swan Hill in December this year.

Victorian Jazz Workshop members with Brian Abrhams, drums tutor

2012 Victorian Jazz Workshop members with Brian Abrahams, drums tutor

The Syncopators at Stonnington: 30 year celebration

FROM 15- 25 May 2014 STONNINGTON JAZZ will be in its 7th, 8th or 9th year of presenting 100% Australian jazz (depending on which publicity you read). But whatever the time frame Stonnington Jazz has become a firmly established event on the jazz calendar with its broad program ranging from established to just starting out Australian jazz performers in all varieties of the genre, and in 8 different venues in the Malvern, Prahran, South Yarra areas.

The Syncopators

The Syncopators

Amongst many headliner events this year will be an absolute ripper: The Syncopators 30th year anniversary concert on Saturday 24 May at 8.00pm at the Malvern Town Hall, 1251 High Street, Malvern, with very special guests – the great Bob Barnard on trumpet and vocalist/violinist, Fem Belling.

barnard belling

One of Australia’s best, and best-loved traditional jazz bands, The Syncopators, will present this concert exclusively for Stonnington Jazz. Original frontline players Peter Gaudion (trumpet, vocals), Richard Miller (clarinet, saxophone, vocals) and Chris Ludowyk (trombone, vocals) will be joined for this milestone celebration by Steve Grant (piano), Peter Baylor (guitar, banjo), James Clark (bass, tuba) and Rod Gilbert (drums, vocals).

The setup will be cabaret format with tables of 10, unallocated seating. Bookings can be made singly or in groups but first in – best dressed for the choicest tables. Nibbles will be provided and there is a bar facility.

Click here to buy tickets or call 03 8290 7000. $30/$22 concession.

The Syncopators have played all the major jazz festivals around Australia, made numerous tours of Europe, released over 20 albums (including a Bell Award winner) and won countless fans with their entertaining combination of traditional jazz classics, swing staples, early R&B and some in-the-idiom originals.

See a preview of The Syncopators in performance playing here in Dortmund, Germany in 2010

The rest of the two weeks Stonnington Jazz program includes many other treats which may catch your fancy. Click here for the complete program.

Chris Tanner in Town: a few opportunities to see him

CHRIS Tanner is back in town, visiting from his now-home in Denmark, and fortunately he has a few gigs lined up during January where fans can catch up with him.

Sunday 5 January: Virus with Chris Tanner, Pinnacle Hotel, 251 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. 4.00 pm-7.00 pm

Thursday 9 January: Hoodangers with Chris Tanner, Pinnacle Hotel, 251 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. 8.00 pm-11.00 pm

Friday 10 January: Hoodangers with Chris Tanner, Bar Open, 317 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. 9.00 pm-11.30 pm. 9415 9601.

Sunday 12 January:Four Scoops with Chris Tanner, Pinnacle Hotel, 251 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. 4.00 pm-7.00 pm

Sunday 19 January:Allan Browne’s New Rascals featuring Chris Tanner,  Ballarat Jazz Club, Ballarat Golf Club, 1800 Sturt Street, Ballarat. Meals from 12 noon. Music 1.00pm-4.00pm. Bookings 0439 700 219.

Saturday 25 January: Chris Tanner & Virus, Victorian Jazz Club, Clayton RSL, 163 Carinish Rd, Clayton. 8.00 pm – 11.00 pm. Entry VJC members $13, Non members $18. Bookings: 9583 5247. Bistro bookings 9544 1035.

Here’s Chris playing with the Oz band, Ragstretch, at the Copenhagen Harbour Jazz Festival in July 2013. (Ingelstam from Sweden is the only ring-in.)
Chris Tanner, clarinet; Shannon Barnett, trombone; Björn Ingelstam, trumpet; Craig Fermanis, guitar; Sam Anning, bass; and Rajiv Jayweera, drums.

Age Entertainment critic, Jessica Nicholas, wrote about Chris and Virus playing at The Laundry in Johnston Street, Fitzroy in 2002. Not much has changed since then:

How does Tanner do it?…..of course, there’s the music itself, interpreted with such enthusiasm that it’s almost impossible to remain immobile while listening. Tanner’s whole body exudes his passionate commitment to classic jazz, his clarinet swooping through the air as it pounces on a melodic line; his voice growling playfully as he gives the lyrics a swaggering, percussive momentum.

And how about that Shannon Barnett. Go girl!

By the way, I note that Jessica Nicholas has reviewed a few jazz gigs recently in The Age. Keep it coming.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon replaces Fem Belling @ The Commune December 12

John Montesante of JMQ, whose regular Thursday residency at The Commune, 2 Parliament Place, City has many devoted followers advises:

Regretfully we had to change artist this Thursday, December 12 2013.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon

FEM BELLING had a big opportunity come up and we are delighted
that NICHAUD FITZGIBBON has stepped in to bring you
another wonderful evening of very fine Jazz – with delicious meals and drinks available throughout the gig. And one
of Australia’s finest singers, of course.

Music starts at 6.00pm. Phone 9654 5477 for bookings.

(We shall make sure Fem is in the first program as soon as she returns from her round-the-world tour).