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

One response to “Vale Graham Coyle: piano master and gentle man

  1. A story about Graham Coyle who I once had the pleasure of meeting. I regret not knowing that he had passed away or I would have liked to remind him of this incident.
    Away back in the late 60s or early 70s I was a recent 10 pound Pom and living in Canberra. Our little family (me, wife and two little kids) were trying to rebuild our lives after moving half way around the world. I was working every hour I could. One job was moving furniture which I did for Grace Bros. I grew to dislike pianos! I was convinced people moved them just to show off and that the could afford one. Usually they were required to be moved up stairs or anywhere that it would be impossible.
    One day, we went to do a move and of course, there was a piano! I couldn’t help myself and said to the householder, in probably a sarky voice, “Can you play this thing?”
    He sat down and suddenly there was magic! Of, course, you’ve guessed it. It was Graham! I did apologise profusely but I have never forgotten him and carted around his “Naked Dance” for ages. Great jazz man!

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