Viktor Zappner: the Burnie jazz angel

Burnie, Tasmania

SOME weeks ago I was ruminating about how Burnie High School in Tasmania came to be included on the itineraries of two international jazz performers in recent months.

Burnie is a small seaport on the northwest coast of Tasmania, with a population of less than 20,000, and although charming, is not necessarily a destination which would immediately spring to mind when planning a musican’s tour of Australia.

Well all is now revealed – the “angel” (theatrical that is) behind it is jazz enthusiast Viktor Zappner.

Viktor Zappner

A clinical psychologist and jazz pianist, Viktor came to Tasmania with his wife and daughters in 1979 from Czechoslovakia.

Dismayed at the lack of jazz on Tasmania’s north-west coast, he set about rectifying that situation.  He helped found the Jazz Action Society North West Tasmania, and has been president for most of  its 28 years. Now in his 70s he remains Director of the annual Devonport Jazz festival.  He has also played jazz piano at hundreds of local and overseas gigs.

But one of Viktor’s enduring ambitions has been to encourage a love and appreciation of jazz in young people.    A chance meeting with the Burnie High School Association President, Ant Dry, led to a proposal to use the Burnie High School’s new Performing Arts Centre to showcase Tasmanian, national and international jazz musicians in a Jazz Goes To School series.

Two programs in the series have already been held, and a third is scheduled for 23 March. The first two involved young UK band, Dixie Ticklers, and the world famous stride/ragtime pianist and vocalist, Judy Carmichael with guitarist Sam Dunn.  The third will feature Australian-born, New York based reeds player, Adrian Cunningham backed by Nick Haywood, bass, Alf Jackson on drums, and Viktor Zappner on piano.

 As part of the deal, the musicians give workshops for local high school students which have been hugely successful.

Here are Judy Carmichael and Sam Dunn with their workshop participants on 23 February.

Viktor Zappner’s philosopy behind the Jazz Goes To School series is:
“Young people are hooked on pop and rock and I wanted to expose them to jazz, to build not only an audience but for those who play instruments to try this genre.”

Easy to think and say, but few people have managed to put thought into action so effectively as has Viktor Zappner in bringing world class jazz to the young people of Burnie. No wonder he won the Tasmanian Local Hero section of Australian of the Year in 2012!

2 responses to “Viktor Zappner: the Burnie jazz angel

  1. This is for Viktor, rather than Phil Langford (though hello Phil, long time no see). Viktor: I thought you might be interested to know of the following. I am editing a book on jazz and totalitariansim, and in this connection am reading in the field. In an essay by Yvetta Kajanová, in a collection called Jazz Behind the Iron Curtain, your work as a musician in Czechoslovakia is referred to. Let me know if you would like further information. Best, Bruce Johnson

  2. Good morning Viktor,
    Long time no see my friend. Pam Swanson (an olden friend) forwarded this article to me. I have nice memories of playing with you some years ago at that little restaurant in Burnie. I had planned on bringing Pam and Mal down to Tassie last year but poor health put a stop to it. Nice to see you are still carrying the Jazz Standard down there.
    Kind Regards,

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