When the Lights Went Out at Caulfield RSL: the end of Friday Night Jazz

John Morrison

"Doc" John Morrison

AFTER 17 years, or thereabouts,  that popular gig – Friday Night Jazz at Caulfield RSL in Melbourne, Australia – came to an end on 4 November 2011.  And to see the series out, a packed crowd danced, cavorted, sang and generally enjoyed themselves to the rousing music of “Doc” John Morrison’s Moonee Valley Jazz Band, augmented by a few “sit-ins”.

The regular lineup was John Morrison, leader on piano, Paul Ingle on trombone, Frank Stewart on reeds, Graham White on trumpet, “Slappin’ Simon” Vancam on bass (I love Simon’s style, but unfortunately didn’t get many shots of it this time), and Richard Opat on drums and washboard (as you’ll see later).

From the start, the atmosphere was fizzing like New Year’s Eve.   Here you will see many of the well known jazzers about town dancing to MARGIE.

Then Tony Feehan, “The Irishman”, fronted the band to sing that lovely ballad IF I HAD YOU.

Coincidentally, this morning I got a post from one of my favourite sites – “20’s Jazz” – with a link to another version of this song (which was new to me until I heard Tony sing it) this time by Cliff Edwards, (a.k.a. as “Ukulele Ike”). Edwards was a very popuar recording star in the 20s and 30s, but died penniless due to the demon drink etc.
Click here to listen.

There is a school of thought that says that jazz and dancing don’t mix. I’m not of that school, but when you’re trying to get a good video image, dancers can get in the way. So if there are too many gyrating bodies in the next clip, just shut your eyes and listen. Big Bob Whetstone joined the band with his trumpet-cornet (shorter than a trumpet but longer than a cornet) to produce this great rendition of TIN ROOF BLUES.

Next visiting musician to take the stand was Kay Younger with a good raunchy version of MOVE THE BODY OVER. Kay was singing with the Sammy Rimington band in the UK when she met future husband Frank Stewart in 1969. Frank was touring with the Yarra Yarra New Orleans Jazz Band, and before long Kay was singing with the Yarras!! Here Frank accompanies Kay on alto sax.

As promised earlier, drummer Richard Opat demonstrated his skill on the washboard – a very elegant washboard without the bells and whistles favoured by some boardists!

Another well known musician, Ian Smith, dropped in for a blow. Here he joins the Moonee Valley lads for MUSKRAT RAMBLE.


Then things really started to hot up with a three-horn front line, and an energetic drum solo from Richard Opat, not to mention an enthusiastic kazoo cameo from the audience:

The last hurrah, the final blow – and thanks to all the musicians who made it such a memorable night.

This has been a bit of an indulgence I know, but it was an historic occasion – the end of a long-standing venue for trad and mainstream jazz in Melbourne.  So here’s a record to remind us of the fun we had.  And a hope that a new venue will soon emerge to take its place!

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