Category Archives: Obituaries

Obituaries of musicians and jazz followers

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.
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.

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.

Vale Graham Coyle: piano master and gentle man

coyle cdGRAHAM FRANCIS COYLE was born in Melbourne on 10 August 1932. He died in Cabrini Hospital, Melbourne on Sunday 17 November 2013 at the age of 81.

In his long and musically fruitful career he played and recorded with almost every Australian traditional and mainstream jazz musician, and was valued widely not only for his masterly skills but also for his unfailing enthusiasm, good humour and generosity of spirit.

Graham’s funeral will be held on Monday 25 November at St Finbar’s Catholic Church, 86 Centre Road, Brighton East (near corner of Nepean Highway) at 10.30am. The service will be followed by a wake at The Local Taphouse, 184 Carlisle Street. A keyboard will be available for any pianists who may wish to offer a musical tribute for Graham.

His brief entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz by Bruce Johnson, possibly contributed by Graham himself, is very sparse and modest. I have augmented this from Bill Haesler’s entry on Graham from the Jazz in Australia website

Graham was classically trained on piano. In the late 1940s he played dances in his father’s trio and by 1950 had joined with Frank Traynor and Martin Finn to form the Black Bottom Stompers. He also played with Tony Newstead during this period.

He moved to Shepparton as a surveyor 1951-53 and played with the Goulburn Valley Jazz Band. It was here that he met and was inspired by pianist the late Rex Green, who was working there as a bank teller

On his return to Melbourne he joined Len Barnard’s Jazz Band (1953-55).

Len Barnard’s Jazz Band c.1955: Graham Coyle, Doc Willis, Bob Barnard, Len Barnard, Tich Bray, Ron Williamson and Peter Cleaver.
(from The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz)

He was a founder member of the Melbourne Jazz Club Band (1958-65), with Frank Traynor (1961-67), Max Collie (1958), Alan Lee (1959-61) and Kenn Jones (1958-63). To Canberra ACT (1969) and played with the Fortified Few, Mood Indigo, and as a soloist at the Press Club (1976-81). Returned to Melbourne (1980), joined the Storyville Jazzmen and went to the UK and Europe with Bob Barnard’s Jazz Band (1980). Worked with Kenn Jones Powerhouse group(1984) and Bev Sheehan’s Swing Shift (1985).

Graham left the Public Service in 1987, became a professional musician and worked long residencies with Khyatt’s Khortet, and Hotter Than Six (which became the Fireworks Jazz Band) and made annual trips with this band to the US, Europe and Japan. Here is Part 1 of Firework’s famous 12th Street Rag performance at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee 1998, with Graham on piano, Jo Stevenson and Tom Baker on saxophones, Simon Stribling on trumpet, Mark Elton on bass, Paul Finnerty on banjo, and Ian Smith on drums.

You can find Part 2 on YouTube.

In 1993 14 Melbourne jazz pianists got together for a marathon recording session as a fundraiser for the Victorian Jazz Musicians Benefit Fund. At the time a double audio cassette was released which contained 28 out of the total number recorded. In 2012 The Victorian Jazz Archive produced a double CD set containing 40 tracks, and it is no surprise that two of Graham Coyle’s contributions are first up on CD 1. Click on the CD cover to hear Graham’s version of the lovely Andy Razaf/Fats Waller tune, My Fate is in Your Hands.

Graham was a regular performer at the bimonthly Rostown Hotel piano lunches, which were started by his mentor and friend, Rex Green. Here Graham plays Oh Daddy Blues in September 2011. That’s Bob Whetstone appreciatively singing the lyrics in the background.

Graham played at every Bob Barnard Jazz Party, at the Leake’s Jazz Parties and freelanced widely throughout his career. There cannot be many Australian jazz musicians who have not played with Graham Coyle. They’ll have great memories of the music and friendship they shared.

coyle newstead

Graham playing with Tony Newstead at the U3A Hawthorn Jazz group party December 2007

Davey Rankin’s Melbourne Farewell Party

Dear Friends of Dear Departed Dave,
After a fabulous street party last Sunday in Lismore, the Rankin Family are now looking forward to holding Dave’s Melbourne Party on Sunday October 27th.

The Celebration will begin with a Street Band playing outside Luna Park at 10-00am. (This should leave time for those with Sunday gigs.)

A procession route will be decided before the day and you will be advised by email, Jane La Scala’s Jazz Ramble blog, the Australian Jazz Lovers Group on Facebook, and a Rankin File FaceBook page. This will enable those with limited walking situations to drive / be driven to the (yet to be chosen) beach spot. Once there we’ll share some magic moments from Dave’s adventures and there will be a couple of surprise guest artists. Pat Miller, as a friend and ex-Rank ‘n’ Banned’ member, has offered his services to organise the marching band. Contact Pat to join the list.

Finger food will be available. Not sure about flagons though… Hip flasks perchance!

Dave, David, Davey Rankin spent the last 30 years of his life up North, in Sydney, Brisbane and finally Lismore. Despite the years away his heart still remained in St Kilda and one of his final wishes was to have his ashes scattered on St Kilda Beach.

Please wear something appropriate for a Street Party, especially Coloured Umbrellas, suspenders if you dare and underwear as day wear perhaps. The Famous Gorilla Suit will be there amongst the black fishnet stockings and old bicycle seats.

Dave’s daughter Rachel is on her way to Melbourne with the Ashes and will later be joined on the day, by Merella, Boyd, Johnno, Allan, Tom, Helen and the family in St Kilda for this very special occasion.

If you know of anyone that doesn’t have email access please feel free to ring them and share these details.

Yours, for Dave’s daughter Merella Curtis and The Rankin Family.

Graeme Davies
34 Lyons Street Carnegie Vic. 3163
0418 587 687 – 10am to 8pm – 7 Days.
Merella’s email is

Davey Rankin funeral/celebrations

Davey, with Matt Mason on guitar, playing at the Gollan Hotel, Lismore
February 2011

Thank you to Pietro Fine for the following funeral notice and additional information:

Outlandish, inspirational entertainer, Davey Rankin passed away early on Sunday the 6th of October. Much loved by family and many in the community he’ll be greatly missed. Share a celebration of his life this Sunday 13 October, meet at Davey’s, cnr of Keen and Park Street Lismore 12 midday, with a 2pm Street Parade to Lismore City Bowling Club. There will also be a wake at a later date in Melbourne at the Balaclava Hotel.

I would also like to make it clear that musicians should expect to play on Sunday. Davey didn’t want anything sad, he wanted a New Orleans style parade followed by a big jam and party at his church i.e. Lismore City Bowlo.
Anyone coming who would like to contribute to the food can bring a plate. Contact me with any other offers of help.

We are going to set up some sort of Davey Rankin page so messages and stories can be shared on Sunday & into the future. In the meantime you might enjoy this link to stories from Graeme Davies & John Roberts:

This is what I can tell you about Davey’s passing:

He died early Sunday morning while on the phone to his eldest daughter Merella. Davey’s been going downhill over a couple of years with emphysema, but lately had a few falls and about one month ago was admitted to hospital where his condition stabilised but he wasn’t well enough to go home despite Merella coming up from Melbourne to look after him. So he went into care in a hospice. He then had a bad attack of shingles. On Tuesday he tried unsuccessfully to play his trombone and ended up falling again too, which was very depressing for him. In the end he actually went fairly swiftly, which is always the best.

Pietro Fine

Dave Rankin, 1936-2013

JAZZ TROMBONIST, Dave Rankin died in Lismore on Sunday 6 October 2013 at the age of 77.

Long-time playing-mate and close friend, Graeme Davies has allowed me to publish the following tribute to Dave, much of which appeared in the Victorian Jazz Archive’s magazine, VJAZZ, No. 51 August 2011.

I’VE GOT ONE FOR YA’! was David Rankin’s opening line since he first learned to dial a phone. It was usually a limerick, (he being a master limericist), or a joke of dubious origin.

A measure of Rankin’s limerick skills was apparent when a limerick challenge between him and American trumpeter Clark Terry ended in a toe-to-toe draw in 1974 at the 29th Jazz Convention in Croydon, Victoria .

There was always an endless supply of laughing material from David Laurence Rankin born in 1936 near Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria.  His mother, singer Frances, didn’t survive the birthing and father, pianist Bruce, passed young David into the care of his married sister, Anne Rankin’s family.  Young Rankin’s attitude to life was formed early, pushing him towards a career that would make people laugh, be happy and also jolt them out of their everyday routines.  This he achieved!  The name “Rankin” became synonymous with, not only great entertainment, but also outrageous stunts, in restaurants, on stage and in the streets of Melbourne when conservatism ruled the day . His penchant and skill with twisted lyrics is ably demonstrated in “If you see Kay’.

Dave Rankin, Don Bentley and Ian Cuthbertson, 1958
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

His foray into jazz was with drummer Spike Edwards Rhythm Ramblers circa 1956 followed by various bands including the famed Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band and eventually the Alan ‘Sny’ Chambers’ Bands which played hard, drank hard, partied hard and made the hit parade in 1963 with their version of Steptoe and Son.

Rankin and Sny were the perfect combination, nice people as the music reminds us.  Sny, an excellent trumpeter and vocalist was ably supported by David Robinson, clarinet, John Cavanagh banjo/vocals, Tom Arrowsmith, piano, with John ‘Gypsy’ Bennett, sousaphone, taking over from the prematurely lost Brian Carter, plus Don Boardman, drums and our hero on trombone, gags and stunts.  The band kept Melbourne Town  dancing and laughing from around 1958 up to 1966 during which time Dave was privileged to work with comedians Maurie Fields and Sid Heylen during Sunday closed-door nights at Elizabeth Street’s Hollyford Hotel where he refined his timing and comedy talents while playing their ‘straight man’.

At Alan Watson’s farm near Tilden, Vic. 1963
Paul Martin, Maurie Garbutt, Keith Atkins, Alan Watson, Campbell Burnap, Cliff Tierney, Dave Rankin
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

He then moved to Adelaide and played in several bands with Dick Frankel and other Adelaide luminaries including the very successful Abraham Lott Blues Band which featured regu­larly on Adelaide ‘s Channel 10 “Teen Time”.

Returning in the early 70s he formed the first Dave Rankin Band which played at Doug Mcintyre’s  (brother of pianist Willie)  Railway Hotel in Port Melbourne.  It included trumpeter Ian Orr, electric bassist/vocalist Tom Cowburn, with David Robinson clarinet, drummer Peter Clohesy and banjoist Pete McCormick, who were replaced, after the band moved to The Lemon Tree Hotel, by saxophonist Graeme Davies, pianist Ron Sedgeman and the remarkable drummer Glenn Bayliss to become the Rankin File.

The Lemon Tree Hotel, on the corner of Rathdowne and Grattan Streets, Carlton, was Melbourne’s first Saturday afternoon gig.  It was hugely popular leaving just enough room for number-one fans Harry and Susie to dance on the wine sodden carpet.  Rankin and Davies commenced most Rankin File gigs by giving a reading of the Women’s Weekly social pages, updating a captivated audience with the current antics of Toorak’s daughters , Prue, Tiffany, Jane and their beaux’ adventures in Portsea, South Yarra and Hayman Island. The dynamic duo also gave weekly translations of, as yet undiscovered, Lemon Tree chef lain ‘Huey’ Hewitson’s French menu, all resulting in tears, laughter and much muttering from the band waiting to play.  There was always a bit of interplay with Owen Yateman’s bands and Yatey’s drummer , lan Coots, who played the last eighteen months of the Lemon Tree and also Thursday nights at Bob Walton’s Dick Whittington Hotel. When Owen Yateman’s Big Fat Brarse took over the Lemon Tree gig in 1975 they seconded Graeme Davies and held the residency until 1980. When he left ‘The Tree’ Dave formed Rank ‘n’ Banned which featured Doug Dehn, trumpet , Pat Miller, tenor sax, Dick Cullen, banjo, plus bassist Derek Capewell and Alan Richards on drums.

Rank ‘N’ Banned at Australian Jazz Convention, Hobart 1977
Neil Lewis, Dick Cullen, Pat Miller, Alan Richards, Doug Dehn, Dave Rankin
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

In 1983 our boy got the wanderlust again and moved to Sydney where he did quite well until tighter liquor laws decimated the Sydney gig scene  An offer to join a band near Lismore took him further northward to the little town of lluka. He then joined The Grafton City Jazz Band which had Colin Jones, trumpet, Dave Croft, electric bass, Kevin Maling, drums, Geoff Gissane, piano, and the now re-branded ‘Davey’ Rankin, trombone and vocals. Davey eventually settled in Lismore, attending Lismore University to complete an Arts/ Music Associate Music Diploma, buy a house and create a highly successful singing telegram service.

Dave at the Australian Jazz Convention, Lismore 2005
(photo: Jaz Stutley)

I managed to spend four days at Dave’s house in Lismore this Jul y (2013). He was always talking about his next gig, ‘as soon I feel better’ was often said in conversation. He wanted to go over the road to his beloved ‘Bowlo’, The Lismore Bowling Club,  yet even that wasn’t possible with his energy levels.  Ex-Melbourne banjoist Brendan ‘Mookx’ Hanley was recently staying in Dave’s house and provided great assistance when our man had trouble breathing through the effects of his emphysema.

While I was with Dave, we had pies, lasagne, beer and a home-made celery soup, the only vegetable in the house . Dave loved his microwave and considered vegetables a hindrance to his well-being. When we said our goodbyes I knew it would be for the last time.

So, no more phone messages:  ‘I’ve got one for ya’ or ‘it’s only boring old Rankin calling’.
Boring? I think not.

Graeme Davies

In 2011 a 2 CD set of Dave’s recordings was produced – I’ve Got One For Ya. There are 29 tracks from the bands The Rank ‘n’ File / The Sny Chambers Bands and Rank ‘n’ Banned. Contact Graeme by email for information.

Marian McPartland: Grande dame of jazz piano dies at 95

Jazz pianist Marian McPartland died on 20 August 2013 at her home in Long Island, New York. She was 95 years old.

She was born Margaret Marian Turner in Slough, England, on March 20, 1918.   
Marian began playing piano by ear at the age of 3, and at 17 she entered the Guildhall School of Music in London. Against her parents’ strong objections, she left school in 1938 to go on tour with a four-piano vaudeville act, taking the stage name of Marian Page. “My mother said, ‘Oh, you’ll come to no good, you’ll marry a musician and live in an attic,’” she recalled in 1998. “Of course, that did happen.”

She began entertaining troops in Britain and in 1943 joined the USO, entertaining US soldiers near the European battlefront. In 1944 she met the U.S. jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland in Belgium. McPartland had been one of the Austin High School gang in Chicago in the 1920s which included Bud Freeman (tenor sax), Frank Teschemacher (clarinet), brother Dick McPartland (banjo/guitar), Jim Lanigan (bass, tuba and violin), Joe Sullivan (piano) and Dave Tough (drums). Marian and Jimmy married in Aachen, Germany in early 1946, and moved to Chicago soon after.

Marian worked for a while in her husband’s group, but he was a tradition-loving Dixieland musician and she was more interested in the new bebop sounds coming from New York, where she moved in 1950.

Marian McPartland, Bill Crow, Joe Morello

Encouraged by her husband, she formed a trio and found work at the Embers, a Manhattan nightclub, in 1950. Two years later, she began what was supposed to be a brief engagement at The Hickory House restaurant , 52nd Street, Manhattan which turned into an eight-year residency.

Here the Marian McPartland Trio plays at The Hickory House in 1954. Tickle Toe, is the tune. Bill Crow is on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Morello is probably best known as the drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

As a British white woman McPartland was an outsider in the American jazz scene.  She was one of only three women included in Art Kane’s iconic group portrait of jazz musicians on a Harlem street.   The photo -“A Great Day in Harlem” – was taken  on 12 August in the summer of 1958 by Art Kane for Esquire magazine.   Fifty seven of the leading jazz musicians then playing in New York City gathered at 10 o’clock in the morning (an unlikely time for jazz musicians!) at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues .  Marian McPartland is in the front row with the large black handbag next to her friend, pianist Mary Lou Williams. Thelonius Monk is next to Mary Lou, figuring he would be most noticeable in his light coloured jacket and near a couple of good looking women!

In 1994 Jean Bach made a documentary about the occasion which is totally fascinating. Click on the picture below to link to the film.  The musicians were of course an unruly bunch, difficult to herd together, especially since many of them hadn’t seen each other for some time. Count Basie is sitting on the kerb where a group of local kids soon joined him. One of them kept stealing his hat!  Marian, as one of the few remaining alive from the original group,is one of the commentators on the film.

For a list of the musicians in the photo go to Wikipedia at

Marian McPartland became an unexpected jazz star. She forged a distinctive style, made scores of albums and composed music and sogs that were recorded by superstars, including Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan

But perhaps her greatest contribution to jazz came later in life, through her illuminating interviews and impromptu performances with musicians on her long-running NPR radio programme, Piano Jazz. She was 61 when the first episode went to air  in 1978. By the time she stepped down in 2011 she had won a Peabody Award for broadcasting and a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement. She also helped a generation learn about jazz through her searching interviews, conducted in her dulcet-toned, sometimes irreverent voice. “Marian McPartland has done more for jazz pianists than anyone in the entire world,” the jazz impresario George Wein said in 1991.

Click on the picture below to listen to a Piano Jazz program recorded with Ray Charles in 1991.

The McPartlands’ marriage ended in the early 1970s but they remained close friends and continued to work together occasionally.  In the 1980s,  Marian and Jimmy decided that “our divorce was a failure,” and they moved back in together on Long Island. They had no children. In 1991 they were remarried 46 years after their first wedding. Two weeks later, Jimmy died.

Marian McPartland was without question one of the finest jazz pianists of her generation, and years from now her records will be making that fact perfectly clear to youngsters who’ve never heard of “Piano Jazz,” or radio.

The bare-bones accompaniment of bass and drums was always her preferred format, but she also appeared in concert with symphony orchestras, and in 1996 she recorded an album of her own compositions, Silent Pool, on which she was accompanied by a string orchestra.

And she continued playing almost to the end. Unlike some jazz musicians of her generation, McPartland never became set in her ways; her playing grew denser and more complex with time, and even late in life she was experimenting with new harmonic ideas.

Max Collie: his long and brilliant career

TWO Saturdays ago I was listening to John Smythe presenting the Victorian Jazz Club’s fine radio program, Jazz on a Saturday and was delighted to hear a track from Max Collie’s Rhythm Aces recorded at the Trafalgar Hotel, Chelsea (London that is) sometime around 1973.

So it was especially poignant to have news a few days later from Ron Knight in WA, and Diana Allen that Max has had a serious stroke and is in a very poor state requiring 24 hour care.

You can find out more details from the following website which is organising to sell the remaining stock of Collie CDs and DVDs as one way of helping to support Max and his family.
Appeal for Max Collie

Although Max has lived and worked overseas since 1962, he will be remembered by those of an age to have played with him or listened to him during his early jazz days in Melbourne where he was born on 21 February 1931.   He led the Jazz Bandits (1948-1950) and the Jazz Kings (1950-1962) which included some well known names in the Australian jazz firmament as you can see from the illustration below from The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz by Bruce Johnson.

Max Collie’s Jazz Kings 1958
Graham Coyle, Lou Silbereisen, Roger Bell, Stewie Speer, Pixie Roberts, Max Collie

He had planned to take his band overseas in 1962 but arrangements fell through at the last minute. Providentially the Nick Polites’ Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band which was touring England and other places was losing its trombone player Kevin Shannon who was returning to Australia, so Max accepted the invitation to take his place. He arrived England in April 1962.

When the Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band left England in 1964, Max stayed behind, becoming a member of the London City Stompers. In 1966, he became the group’s leader and they were renamed Rhythm Aces. For the next 46 years the Max Collie Rhythm Aces have played all over the world, made many recordings and developed a following spanning almost as many decades as they have.

Here’s a sample of them playing in 1973. Swinging London has certainly changed their “look” since the days of the Jazz Kings in staid Melbourne!

In 1975 they won the first World Championship of Jazz in the US. Here’s a video: the camera work is shocking, but audio is OK.

Obviously over the years the personnel has changed, but the jazz style hasn’t. Here’s a video of the band playing at the Mülheim Jazz Club, Germany in February 2010. That’s Baby Jools on drums.