Jazz music has a long history in Australia. Over the years jazz has held a high profile at local clubs, festivals and other music venues and a vast number of recordings have been produced by Australian jazz musicians, many of whom have gone on to gain a high profile in the international jazz arena.
Jazz is an American musical genre originated by African Americans but the style was rapidly and enthusiastically taken up by musicians all over the world, including Australia. Jazz and jazz-influenced syncopated dance music was being performed in Australia within a year of the emergence of jazz as a definable musical genre in the United States.
Until the 1950s the primary form of accompaniment at Australian public dances was jazz-based dance music, modeled on the leading white British and American jazz bands, and this style enjoyed wide popularity.
It was not until after World War II that Australian jazz scene began to diversify as local musicians were finally able to get access to recordings by leading African-American jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and bebop, cool jazz and free jazz exerting a strong influence on Australian musicians in the late 1950s and beyond.
Although jazz in Australia suffered a significant drop in popularity during the Sixties, as it did in most other countries, there was a marked resurgence of interest in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties as a new generation of musicians came to the fore.
As in the popular field, it is also important to acknowledge the role of New Zealand musicians on the Australian jazz scene - in the view of jazz historian Andrew Bisset, it is impossible to properly discuss the subject of Australian jazz without reference to New Zealand. Many of the leading "Australian" jazz playing musicians of the last 80 years have come from New Zealand, beginning with figures like reeds player Abe Romaine in the 1920s and later including renowned pianist-composers Mike Nock and Dave MacRae, and vocalist Ricky May.
Jazz precursors in Australia
White American and British 'black face' minstrels (musician/actors in make-up) brought imitations of slave plantation music (and dance) to Australia by the 1840s, featuring characteristics that later became associated with jazz, such as polyrhythmic 'breaks'. From the 1850s, full minstrel shows with minstrel 'orchestras', including locally formed troupes, toured the major capital cities and smaller, boom towns like Ballarat and Bendigo. Visits by American vaudeville troupes became much more common after the introduction of regular steamship services between America and Australia in the 1870s. Some genuine African-American minstrel troupes and jubilee singers (black chamber choirs) toured from the 1870s.
Ragtime reached Australia in the 1890s in the form of syncopated cakewalk march music and syncopated "coon-song" and many white and black ragtime artists of repute toured Australia, including the black ragtime vocalist, Ernest Hogan, and white artists Ben Harney (the self-proclaimed 'originator' of ragtime) and Gene Greene (the Emperor of Ragtime). Greene in particular taught many Australian artists how to 'rag' (improvise in ragtime style).
Early 20th century
Thanks to close Australian links with American theatrical entertainment circuits, and Tin Pan Alley marketing of American music to Australia via phonograph records, modern dance arrangements, piano rolls and visiting jazz acts, Australians developed a strong interest in jazz influenced dance music and its related forms. 'Jazz' or 'jass' (hot dance music) was well established by the mid-1920s. Jazz was recorded on piano-rolls in Australia before 1923 and disc recordings like "Red Hot Mamma" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" by Ray Tellier's San Francisco Orchestra were also being recorded by 1925.
Local exposure to current trends in American jazz in the Twenties was moderated by Australian popular taste, which favoured the polished white style of American jazz (dance) orchestra music, particularly the symphonic jazz style typified by Paul Whiteman. Public dancing entered a boom period from 1919 with the opening of numerous 'jazz palais' with some in the large cities being able to hold thousands of patrons. The Australian style of jazz dance music was further determined by the very limited range of jazz recordings imported into Australia at that time. Australian jazz veteran Graeme Bell has commented that, in the 1920s and 1930s, recordings by jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong were not available locally in Australia until several years after their release in the USA.
The biggest musical influence in the period 1923-1928 was a succession of visiting white American jazz (or dance) orchestras, mainly from the West Coast. Frank Ellis and his Californians, who arrived in 1923. Thousands of dance fans regularly flocked to see them at Sydney's largest dance hall, the Palais Royale (the Royal Hall of Industries at Moore Park, which still stands today). American bands and individual imported 'jazz specialists'continued to be imported by Australian theatrical entrepreneurs until the end of the 1920s. Australians could study the performance and presentation style of these bands first-hand and talented local musicians were soon offered places in some of them.
Restrictions on touring American bands after 1928, resulting from the forced departure of the visiting African-American band Sonny Clay's Plantation Orchestra meant that Australian dance musician usually had to learn about jazz from recorded or written sources. These included imported recordings, dance arrangements, jazz on film (after 1929), patent 'how to jazz courses', individual visiting artists (most of whom were white) and literature such as Australian Dance Band News (1932-with subsequent title changes).
However, from the early 1930s, Australian dance musicians began to hear and absorb the work of black artists and leaders like Duke Ellington and Armstrong as well as English jazz influences. Notable swing bands of the 1930s included Jim Davidson & His New Palais Royal Orchestra, Frank Coughlan & His Trocadero Orchestra, Dudley Cantrell & His Grace Grenadiers, and numerous others and many were recorded.
Trombonist and bandleader Frank Coughlan (1904–1979) has been called "The Father of Australian Jazz". He had an illustrious career that lasted from the early 1920s to the 1970s. He was chosen to lead the famous jazz orchestra that was put together for the opening in 1936 of the Sydney Trocadero, which became the city's leading dance venue for the next 35 years, and Coughlan led the orchestra at "The Troc" until its closure in 1971.
Post-World War II jazz
After the end of World War II Australian jazz began to diverge into two major strands: dixieland or 'traditional jazz' (early jazz) and modern styles like progressive swing, boogie-woogie and bop as exemplified by the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
Graeme Bell was an important contributor to Melbourne's 1940s traditional jazz boom and in 1947 his band was a great success when they played at the World Youth Festival in Prague, Czechoslovakia, going on to tour Europe and finally basing themselves in England where they are said to have exerted a strong influence on the European traditional jazz revival of that era. On returning to Australia Graeme Bell's Jazz Band worked successfully on the local club circuit, as well as recording and touring extensively.
The Australian Jazz Quartet/Quintet was a contemporary Australian jazz group that did very well in the USA at that time. In the early 1950s pianist Bryce Rohde along with Errol Buddle (reeds) and Jack Brokensha (vibes and drums) moved from Australia to Windsor in Canada. An agent heard them play locally and asked if they would come across the border to back female vocalist Chris Connor at a nightclub in Detroit. This started the ball rolling, and in 1953, along with American saxophonist and bassist Dick Healey, they formed the Australian Jazz Quartet.
This extremely successful unit recorded ten albums and worked at most major US jazz venues. Sometimes a bass player and drummer would be hired to complement the group during recording sessions, and when they ultimately added a permanent bass player they renamed themselves the Australian Jazz Quintet (AJQ). American bassist Ed Gaston joined the AJQ while they were touring the USA in 1958 and he later married and settled down in Australia, becoming an important contributor to the local jazz scene in the ensuing years. Drummer Colin Bailey played with the AJQ from 1958-60.
The AJQ was highly rated in polls run by US jazz magazines such as Down Beat. They worked on the same bill as names like Miles Davis, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck and the Modern Jazz Quartet; backed singers Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae; and played at top venues such as Carnegie Hall and Birdland.
By the late 1950s, modern players were widely influenced by the more restrained cool or West Coast style but some were also influenced by the more aggressive and polyrhythmic 'hard bop' style. Leading modern jazz venues in the 1950s and 60s included Jazz Centre 44, The Embers and the Fat Black Pussycat in Melbourne and the Sky Lounge, El Rocco and the Mocambo in Sydney.
The El Rocco became a legend in Australian jazz history and in the 1980s a documentary movie Beyond The El Rocco was made about the club. Many of Sydney's top musicians worked there early in their careers including John Sangster, John Pochée, Don Burrows, George Golla, Alan Turnbull, Judy Bailey.
The Three Out Trio with Mike Nock (Piano), Freddy Logan (Bass), and Chris Karan (Drums) attracted some of the largest crowds at Sydney's El Rocco, a small cellar club situated in Kings Cross. Originally from New Zealand, Mike Nock came to Sydney in the late 1950s and almost immediately scored a regular spot at the El Rocco. Bassist Freddy Logan hailed from Holland and had already been very active in the Sydney jazz scene both as a player and a promoter of jazz, and in later years drummer Chris Karan would gain international recognition as a member of the Dudley Moore Trio.
The members of the Three Out Trio first got together as part of a group that Sydney alto saxophonist Frank Smith put together as the house band at "The Embers", a very successful jazz club in Melbourne that also featured top international jazz artists such as the Oscar Peterson Trio and Benny Carter. Before he left for Melbourne Frank Smith had made a big impression in Sydney, he worked with most of the top professional bands and could often be found playing at the El Rocco in its earlier years. A handful of Sydney jazz musicians including John Pochée, Barry Woods, Dave MacRae, Andy Brown and Bernie McGann also travelled south around that time, finding work in venues such as "The Fat Black Pussycat", another Melbourne jazz club that provided an outlet for those intent on playing uncompromising forms of jazz. The most successful group to appear at Sydney's Mocambo Restaurant in King St Newtown was the Mocambo Four, with Sid Edwards (Vibraphone), Tony Esterman (Piano), Winston Sterling (Bass) and Laurie Kennedy (Drums). The piano chair was also filled by Tony Curby or Bob Dunn over the band's stint of around 4 years during the early 1960s. This venue was very well attended, often people were lined up in the street waiting to get in and a lot of people would drop in to hear the band after a night out at a City cinema. In 1957, jazz producer Horst Liepolt set up a new venue in Melbourne, "Jazz Centre 44". For four to five nights a week, and Sunday afternoons, up to 200 people would gather in the upstairs room to hear Brian Brown, Stewie Speer, Alan Lee, Graeme Morgan, Keith Hounslow, the Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band and many other local jazz musicians, and Jazz Centre 44 remained a major venue for jazz in Melbourne for almost a decade.
Advent of Television
Television was an important source of work for jazz musicians in the early-mid-1960s; the GTV-9 house band, which provided music for programs like Graham Kennedy's In Melbourne Tonight employed many of best players on the Melbourne jazz/session scene. Melbourne musicians like Brian Brown, Bruce Clarke and Frank Smith also worked extensively on soundtracks and advertising music, and Clarke's Jingle Workshop studio in St Kilda, which produced much important music in these genres, was a significant focus, not merely for its commercial work, but also because it was the venue for regular Sunday jam sessions, many of which Clarke recorded.
Rock 'n' roll rapidly gained popularity in the youth music scene from the mid-1950s and pop and rock continued to dominate in the Sixties and beyond. Many leading jazz performers like Graeme Lyall, Stewie Speer and John Sangster worked with rock groups and absorbed important stylistic influences from the Motown, soul music and funk genres.
From the late 1960s, there was a revival to the 'big band' format, partly fuelled by the popularity of big band rock ensembles like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. The most notable local modern big band was the highly acclaimed but short-lived Daly Wilson Big Band, which enjoyed considerable popularity and which was the first Australian musical act to tour the Soviet Union. Another very popular band is Galapagos Duck, who exerted a huge influence on the Sydney jazz scene as part-owners of and regular performers at Sydney's longest-running jazz venue, The Basement, which opened in 1973. Serge Ermoll's Free Kata, the first free jazz ensemble to record and internationally release a series of albums including The New Language of Music on EMI and the Philips Records title Spontaneous Improvisations.
Jazz in the 1970s
A very significant development in 1973 was the inception of the jazz studies course at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the first jazz course to be offered by an Australian tertiary institution. The then Director of the Sydney Conservatorium, Rex Hobcroft, was approached by jazz musician Don Burrows about the idea of putting together a jazz studies course.
Ultimately US saxophonist and music educator Howie Smith was brought to Sydney on a grant from the Fulbright Program to set up the course. The grant was originally for 9 months but Howie Smith ended up staying for three years, and as well as his involvement with the Conservatorium he also became very active in the Sydney jazz scene, mostly with the group Jazz Co/op which also included local musicians Roger Frampton (piano), Jack Thorncraft (bass)and Phil Treloar (drums).
When The Basement opened its doors it became Sydney's major jazz club during the seventies, and its success encouraged many other venue owners to hire jazz groups. Jazz producer Horst Liepolt, who was booking bands for The Basement, became very active at that time and he set in motion a number of jazz venues and events, including The Manly Jazz Festival, Jazz at the Sydney Festival and his own series of jazz concerts titled "Music is an Open Sky". Horst Liepolt also set up the 44 record label (a subsidiary of Phonogram records) which recorded over 30 albums of local jazz. He also organised numerous successful concerts at many of Sydney's high profile entertainment venues including the Sydney Opera House and the Regent Theatre.
This major resurgence of Australian jazz took place mostly in Sydney, but it had some flow-on effects in the jazz scene throughout Australia. Many jazz musicians came to Sydney from other areas of Australia during this decade, either to perform at special concerts or in some cases to live permanently and pursue a career in music. There was also a more than usual interest for jazz in Melbourne during the 1970s. Jazz performances were included in the Moomba Festival and Melbourne jazz musicians such as Tony Gould, Brian Brown, Bob Sedergreen and Ted Vining benefited from the resurgence of interest in the music at that time.
A lot of top American jazz musicians performed in Sydney during the seventies, and major players such as Dave Liebman, John Scofield and Miroslav Vitous gave master classes and workshops while they were here.
Bob Barnard has become an icon of Australian jazz and has probably made more of an impression internationally than any other Australian jazz musician. In the year of 1974 the Bob Barnard Jazz Band was formed.
Some of the many working jazz groups in Sydney during the seventies were the Jazz Co/op, John Pochee's The Last Straw, The Don Burrows Quartet, the Galapagos Duck, The Judy Bailey Quartet, Kerrie Biddell and Compared to What, the Bob Barnard Jazz Band, Paul Furniss' Eclipse Alley Five, Col Nolan and the Soul Syndicate, the Peter Boothman / Sid Edwards quartet, Serge Ermoll and Free Kata, and Craig Benjamin's Out To Lunch.
The jazz scene in Sydney slowed down a little towards the start of the 1980s when The Basement pursued a more commercial music policy after extending their premises by adding a large upstairs area. Around that same time Horst Liepolt left Australia, going on to a successful career in jazz production in New York, and this left a major gap in the area of jazz promotion in Sydney. However traditional and mainstream bands continued to do well in the pub scene and contemporary jazz could still be found in venues such as The Paradise at Kings Cross, Jenny's in the inner city and Morgan's Feedwell at Glebe.
1980s and 1990s
Before the 1980s co-ordination of Jazz concerts was particularly lacking. The NSW Jazz Co-ordination program helped the establishment of the Sydney Improvised Music Association in Sydney quickly followed by the establishment of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative in 1982. Both sought and gained Federal Government Arts Council funding soon after establishment. Similar Jazz co-ordination programs were established in other states with Arts Council and State Government Funding.
Through the 1980s and 1990s jazz remained a small but vibrant sector of the Australian music industry. Despite its relative lack of visibility in the mass market, Australian jazz continued to develop to a high level of creativity and professionalism that, for the most part, has been inversely proportional to its low level of public and industry recognition and acceptance.
Players who were more influenced by traditional or cool jazz streams tended to dominate public attention and some moved successfully into academia. Multi-instrumentalist Don Burrows was for several decades a regular presence on television and radio, as well as being a prolific session musician. His quartets (usually with George Golla on guitar) played at many of the top international jazz festivals and he recorded prolifically in the 1970s and 80s. Although Burrows made no secret of his dislike for the bebop and free jazz strands, he became a senior teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and has exerted a strong influence on Australian jazz through his recordings, performances and teaching.
Burrows' protege, trumpeter James Morrison, who was heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, has carved out a very successful career playing a style not unlike that of Wynton Marsalis, that blended some modern elements (e.g. the crowd-pleasing high-register technical bravura of Dizzy Gillespie) with the accessible structures and melodies of 'trad' and 'cool' jazz.
Another important figure in Australian jazz education was Melbourne musician/composer Brian Brown. In his early career Brown had been a pioneer of the Australian hard bop stream, and (with close friend and longtime bandmate Stewie Speer) Brown's various groups were leading lights of Melbourne's legendary Jazz Centre 44 from the late 1950s. Through the '60s and '70s however, Brown's group sound and compositional ideas moved away from the 'classic' American modern jazz idiom, and he developed his own distinctive style that concentrated on interactive improvisation. Brown founded the jazz course at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1980 and headed it for the next 18 years, and through his weekly Workshop classes he influenced hundreds of young musicians with his ideas on group performance.
Multi-instrumental wind player Dale Barlow emerged in the late 1970s as one of the most promising new talents on the Australian scene, and after stints in the Young Northside Big Band and a formative period in the David Martin Quintet (with James Morrison), he moved to New York, where he was a member of two famed groups, the Cedar Walton Quartet and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Barlow has also toured and recorded with many other jazz greats including Sonny Stitt, Chet Baker, Gil Evans, Jackie McLean, Billy Cobham, Curtis Fuller, Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Lee Konitz, Sonny Stitt, Helen Merrill, Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Barron.In 1980 he performed at concerts in Adelaide and Sydney with the Bruce Cale Quartet with Roger Frampton (piano and saxes) Bruce Cale (bass) and Phil Treloar (drums). Two exceptional live concerts by this group have been recorded, The Bruce Cale Quartet Live (Adelaide concert) and On Fire - The Sydney Concert.
Guitarist Tony Barnard one of the new breed of musicians to emerge during the late 70s and early 80s, playing bebop, mainstream and original material. Before he reached the age of 20, Barnard had recorded with Don Burrows and John Sangster, toured extensively, performed at the Sydney Opera house and played with overseas stars and just about everybody in the Sydney jazz scene, holding down up to four residencies a week, including the Basement, the Old Rocks push, and Tides Wine bar in Bondi. He formed the band Interplay, Australia's first five guitar ensemble performing big band repertoire to critical acclaim. His extremely popular "All Hat Jazz Band" packing the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain for some 6 years. In the late 90s moving to the UK, touring Europe and performing with stars like, Keely Smith, Rufus Reid, Curtis Stigers and Kevin Spacey, also joining the much lauded and famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra where he has been resident guitarist for 8 years. Barnard’s double album The Australian Suite, was received with praise by critics and listeners alike.
Many "second generation" bebop-influenced performers like New Zealand born pianist Mike Nock, bassist Lloyd Swanton, saxophonist Dale Barlow, pianist Chris Abrahams, saxophonist Sandy Evans, pianist and Roger Frampton (who died in 2000) rose to prominence in this period, alongside their older contemporaries, led by Bernie McGann and John Pochee, whose long-running group The Last Straw (founded in 1974) has carried the torch for this stream of jazz for many years.
New Zealand-born pianist-composer Dave McRae established himself as a performer of note in Australia in the 1960s before moving overseas, where he branched out into a diverse range of activities including a stint as the keyboard player in the British 1970s progressive rock group Matching Mole and collaborating with Bill Oddie of The Goodies on music for their TV series.
The trio of Tony Buck (drums), and the aforementioned Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Chris Abrahams (piano), known together as The Necks since forming in 1987 (see 1987 in music), have been particularly notable for hypnotic hour-long jazz, ambient and otherwise widely influenced spontaneous compositions, gaining widespread attention both in Australia and internationally. Their album Drive-By, which consists of a single 60-minute track, was named Jazz Album of the Year in the 2004 ARIA Awards.
2000 and later
During the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a noticeable trend back towards jazz by many popular performers who had been associated with the rock genre. Most notable amongst these were Kate Ceberano, Dannielle Gaha and The Whitlams who all released traditional jazz or jazz-influenced albums within a very short space of time.
Compared to the latter years of the 1900s jazz lost some of its impetus in Australia in the first decade of the twenty first century. However it is still very visible in a number of venues including Melbourne's Bennett's Lane Jazz Club and concerts in Sydney staged by groups such as Sydney Improvised Music Association, Venue 505, The Jazzgroove Association, and The Jazz Action Society. The Melbourne Jazz Co-operative since 2007 has run three jazz concerts a week in Melbourne, the most active jazz presenter organisation in Australia.
In 2010 jazz music continues to be a valid and visible form of expression in Australia. Although jazz is virtually ignored by mainstream media there is considerable coverage in alternative media outlets such as community radio, and the ABC Dig Jazz digital radio station now plays jazz 24 hours a day non-stop, with a considerable amount of local content.
The standard of musicianship amongst younger players entering the scene continues to be high, and in recent years there has been a trend towards contemporary groups playing primarily original material, rather than standards and jazz standards.
A non-college style of jazz has also evolved with a harder"street edge" style.The Conglomerate, The Bamboos, Damage, Cookin' on Three Burners, John McAlls Black Money are examples of this.
There are also a number of jazz festivals that continue to be staged including the Melbourne Jazz Festival, Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, Wagga Wagga Jazz Festival, the Jazzgroove Summer Festival in Sydney and the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.
One should also not forget the likes of Andrew Atwill, born in Australia & now residing in New Zealand. Bass player extraordinaire, arranger & composer & having played with many of the greats in both Aus & NZ as well as in Europe. His last 2 albums have taken the jazz world by storm because of their innovation & finesse. Russell Garcia had this to say about Atwill's album entitled "3 sides of the same coin"...."A landmark in composition, performance & arranging & a must for any jazz music collector." (Steve Martin on Andy Atwill).
Australian Jazz Convention
Begun in 1946, the Australian Jazz Convention is the longest running annual jazz event in the world. The Convention archives are housed in the Victorian Jazz Archive, which maintains a collection of Australian and overseas jazz materials.
The 68th Australian Jazz Convention will be held in Goulburn, NSW, from 26 to 31 December 2013. Full details of the 68th Australian Jazz Convention can be found at www.2013jazzconvention.org.au.
A history of the longest continuous jazz musician's convention can be found at www.australianjazzconvention.org.au.
Australian jazz singers, musicians and ensembles
- Adrian Klumpes
- Alan Turnbull
- Adam Barnard
- Barney McAll
- Bernie McGann
- Tony Barnard
- Bob Bertles
- Bob Sedergreen
- Dale Barlow
- Dannielle Gaha aka Dannielle DeAndrea
- Dave Panichi
- David White
- Don Burrows
- Emma Pask
- Eugene Ball
- George Golla
- Graeme Bell
- Graeme Lyall
- Ian Cooper
- Jacki Cooper
- James Morrison
- John McAll
- John Morrison
- John Pochee
- John Sangster
- Miroslav Bukovsky
- Nick Haywood
- Paul Furniss
- Peter Boothman
- Pippa Wilson
- Roger Frampton
- Shannon Barnett
- Steve Russell
- Tom Vincent (pianist)
- Vince Jones
- Mark Isaacs, JAZZ CO-ORDINATION: R.I.P., Music Council of Australia. Accessed 16 November 2008
- John Shand, "Hard bopper kept changing key" (Brian Brown obituary), Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February 2013. (Retrieved 14 February 2013)
- Jessica Nicholas, Sweet music for jazz co-op, The Age, 29 January 2008. Accessed 16 November 2008
- Bisset, Andrew (1979) Black Roots White Flowers - A History of Jazz in Australia, Golden Press Pty Ltd ISBN 0-85558-680-X
- Clare, John (1995), Bodgie Dada and the Cult of the Cool, University of NSW Press ISBN 0-86840-103-X.
- Johnson, Bruce (1987), The Oxford Companion To Australian Jazz, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-554791-8
- Whiteoak, John (1999) Playing Ad Lib: Improvisatory Music in Australia: 1836-70, Currency Press ISBN 0-86819-543-X
- Jazz Australia
- Australian Jazz- Music Tracks
- Victorian Jazz Archive
- The Sydney Jazz Club
- Jazz & Beyond Sydney's Jazz Magazine
- A Story of Jazz in Sydney - by Peter Boothman
- National Film and Sound Archive The Australian Jazz Archive & National Register of Australian Jazz Interviews
- Jazzgroove in Sydney promotes young jazz musicians