I like to tell stories. My father and my friends such as Mike Nock and Nick Mcbride are always telling me to "write it down".
I am too lazy to write it all out so I decided to record them for you to listen to. If my wife can't get to sleep she can also listen to these.
I will add more as time goes on ...
The first story is my favorite. I have told it many times. The very day I moved to NY for the first time my apartment building caught on fire . Needless to say that I escaped to tell the tale. Here it is. It's in 2 parts as it's hard to talk constantly for 10 minutes straight (try it !).
FORMATION OF JAZZGROOVE / EARLY DAYS IN SYDNEY
I started playing music professionally around 1991.
I went study at the Sydney Conservatorium 1992-1993. Back then the music scene was in a state of flux (still is!). In the 60’s, 70's and 80's there was apparently more work around for musos. King's Cross had the embers of a live music scene still when I started playing. I used to play regularly at “Round Midnight” then, but it's now gone. There was also quite a few RSL clubs in Sydney that had regular bands playing every night or at least every weekend. I played at one club “South Sydney Leagues" one weekend. The bandleader had a book of about 700 songs. He would call them off “Rhinestone Cowboy ... Number 356". At the end of the gig the bandleader told me a story about how one of the regular musicians in the band had died and the other guys used to collect his cheque every week for years later and split the dough. With teachers at the Conservatorium and amongst many older musicians there was a strong ethic that "hussling" gigs was not very acceptable behaviour. Growing up in Sydney seeing independent rock at the Sandringham Hotel, The Hopetoun, and the Annandale gave me a different perspective.
The generation of talented Sydney jazz musicians who arrived before us (Lloyd Swanton, Dale Barlow, Andrew Gander, and Chris Abrahams etc) had "cut their teeth” playing music in Kings Cross. They where fortunate to have been able to study jazz at the newly opened Jazz course at the Conservatorium and up the road in Kings Cross there was plenty of late night bars to hang out in and play, in particular the "Paradise Room". I think by the early 90's it was gone, although I think I visited it then when it was briefly a “blues" club. It was a scary place I remember, not that different vibe wise from visiting one of the strip clubs in the vicinity.
Many musicians that I came into contact with at that time had been very successful or had been around it. There was a great deal more optimism amongst musicians. The 80's had seen a lot of Australian musicians start lucrative careers. I had the feeling that if you where talented and could play some music that people would enjoy it was possible to develop a following for it. In the 80's: Vince Jones , James Morrison , Kate Ceberano , Jackie Orsascky, The Necks , The Benders , Swoop , The Dynamic Hepnotics, Wa Wa Nee , Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons and many other bands had made a good name for themselves in Sydney and Australia. Those bands had Jazz musicians in them, many of whom I hung out with regularly.
I remember seeing “DIG" at Kinselas early on playing to about 30 people. I came back a year or so later and it was packed and people were going nuts. I managed to get my band “Banana" a few gigs there too and we built up a pretty large following also. I joined “Banana" through meeting my good friend Simon Ashton at a party. It was basically his high school friends, but slowly I brought in new musicians whom I had met in the Jazz scene like Cameron Undy and Peter Zografakis. Cameron's band “The Happy Tribe" (with Lisa Parrott and others) used to pack the Harbourside Brasserie (about 200 people). Lily Dior used to sing at the Brasserie every Saturday night with Jackie Orsascky to a full house of people dancing. Glen Wright and his family were supportive of me and my music and the scene generally.
Around this time the pubs started to bring in Poker Machines and residents were beginning to complain about live music in newly gentrified suburbs like Paddington. The bands had got louder and louder during the 80's (I think it was the sound person's fault more than the musos). What had been a band playing in the corner of a pub was now a full light show, huge PA and ridiculously loud music. Funnily enough I see the same thing happening now in NY. The residents in the East Village are closing down the venues by complaining about the "noise”. I guess Sydney was ahead of New York on some things contrary to popular belief. The people who ring the police about the noise I compare to someone who would visit the Metropolitan museum and destroy the art works.
I had worked in Bars and Record stores before becoming a musician and I was reasonably good at talking to strangers. In those days it was possible to ring up club owners on the phone or go and visit them and organise yourself a gig, even as a young upstart like myself. With “Banana" we where proactive, putting up posters wherever we could etc. The local Pizza shop owner still refers to me as “Banana”, from visiting him so many times them with posters to put up in his shop.
As well as enjoying playing funky music I had a passion for acoustic jazz. I have always enjoyed popular music and jazz equally. Probably to my detriment I still enjoy writing songs and singing as much as playing jazz with my friends. I still see myself primarily as a pianist - the keyboards are added bonus and good when there is no piano.
I had grown up listening to Herbie Hancock's "Thrust”, in fact it was probably my main reason to decide to play music, so I didn’t have a problem playing a Fender Rhodes piano. That being said, at the time it was pretty difficult for me to find a gig with a piano available.
SIMA presented jazz in Sydney at the time at the Strawberry Hills Hotel. It was a great hang; I have the fondest memories of hearing music there. For the first time there I was blown away by Mark Simmonds , Mike Nock , Roger Frampton ( one gig with Dale Barlow and the Engine Room was an amazing night I still think about ) , Elliot Dalgleish , Cameron Undy etc.
SIMA had a piano and occasionally gave us arrogant young turks a go. SIMA presented a lot of guys/girls who had being playing Jazz in Sydney since the 1950's like John Pochee, Dave Levy, and Judy Bailey etc. With limited government funding they didn't have the ability to support the younger generation of players. At the time it was disappointing, but I can see in retrospect that those of us who had been playing for a few years needed to pay our dues to guys who had been playing for over 30. I remember complaining about to Mike Nock during a piano lesson at the con about the lack of opportunities to play. I was well aware that my heroes (like Herbie) had been fortunate enough to play every night in their early twenties. I knew that one gig every year at SIMA wasn't going to do much for my abilities as a jazz pianist. Mike was a bit more proactive than some of his contemporaries in one sense, I guess due in part to having lived in America for over 20 years. His motto was always “get your sh#t out there” He told me to go and visit Chris Richards who owned the Basement and to try and get myself a gig. DIG was packing them in on Sundays at Kinselas and the Basement was closed at the time on a Sunday. I believed that if it was promoted properly it was possible to get young people into serious jazz, especially if the band was young. I had wanted it to be like “The Hopetoun" for jazz (a pub in Sydney with Indy rock bands and a few bands a night).
Somehow I talked Chris into it and we started a regular Sunday called “The Posse Presents”. We presented other musos like Pete Zog and Blaine Whittaker who compared themselves to the “young lions" of post Wynton Marsalis American Jazz. In retrospect it wasn't a great deal financially for us. We were getting paid less than $50 each for the musos. Some of the older generation of musicians thought that we where lowering pay rates for musicians and didn’t like it. A rumour filtered down to me (not sure if it was true) that SIMA was pissed off and that anyone who played at the Basement wouldn't work again for SIMA. I remember one young Saxophonist whose playing I loved refusing to play gigs with us. It lasted for about a year and by the end we had 200 people coming through the door. It felt to me a lot like how Jazzgroove feels these days (except with a great piano on stage). In the end the Basement pulled the plug on us, I never really knew why, it was a great shame. Around 1994 Cathy Harley managed to talk Kawai into giving us a piano which we put in a room above a cafe in Surry Hills and started to promote jazz. Some of us ( I guess notably myself , Cathy , Sonic Fiction (Daryl Pratt and Scott Tinkler ) managed to get pretty good houses in the small room which only seated say 75 people tops. It was BYO and intimate. I had a pretty open minded approach and pretty much gave everyone a gig. I really wanted everyone to " get a go " After a year I was pretty worn out by doing everything , booking bands , putting up posters , and doing the publicity . .In those days you had to fax each newspaper and radio station separately. Some younger musicians, took the thing for granted a bit, and just called up whoever was available on the day of the gig and had a "jam”. I had hoped that people would present their own original music (or original sounding cover versions) with passion. The place closed eventually after a couple of years or so of Jazz, it’s now a Japanese restaurant. Around this time, Lisa Parrott started to organise a jam session/gig at the Harbourside Brasserie. Lisa shared my belief that pianist Adam Ponting was a genius. SIMA left the Strawberry Hills and was Venueless, occasionally presenting music at the Harbourside Brasserie. The piano at the Brasserie had seen better days and was impossible to tune (once you tuned it would slip pretty far out after a song or 2). I remember one night during this period seeing Roger Frampton play a whole solo on the worst note he could find on the instrument , with ten part invention backing that awful note up. Eventually the Brasserie sadly closed too, a place that had given me my first real gig. Around this time a few of us joined the committee at SIMA. I remember Adam Armstrong and me bringing up our grievances at one meeting. I was pretty much in tears as I went in to bat for Adam Ponting and Jan Rutherford lamenting their ability and the lack of opportunities for them. Unlike myself, Jan (may she rest in peace) and Adam are not the "hussling" type. Jan had brought me to tears with her version of "Infant Eyes" (a crafty choice!) in the finals of the Wangaratta Jazz Piano Competition which she won (I thought Adam Ponting won the heats ... but Jan definitely won the finals in my humble opinion). I drove Jan and others down to the contest from Sydney. It was the first time I saw a blind person take a toke on a " bong " ( not me , I tried dope once or twice and wished I hadn't , it made me nuts .... Still am!). With Jan navigating (blind and very stoned) I remember we got hopelessly lost and at one point we realised we were on the highway heading towards Sydney somehow instead of towards Wangaratta. We decided that a map might help. With much hilarity (including Jan's) we organised for Jan to purchase a map for us at a service station near Goulburn. The fat lady at the service station with the moustache couldn't understand why a blind person would need a map.
Anyway I digress. The next year (1995 or so) at the SIMA committee meeting we organised a large group of young musicians to hopefully stack it in our favour. I think they got wind of our “coup” and dismissed all of our nominations on a legal technicality, although SIMA's recollection may be different. By this stage I had pretty much had it with getting involved in politics, promoting things etc ... I decided the best thing to do was to just practice, and promote my own gigs. At this point I should note how grateful I am to SIMA and the older musicians in Sydney who have supported me and the scene in general for so many years. I guess around this time I really started to think of moving to New York with its seemingly endless supply of clubs and opportunity as a viable option.
Sometime late 1995 or early 1996 (I think!) Tim Hopkins asked to me to meet him for a coffee at the Coluzzi Bar. He had wanted to start some sort of organisation. He had wanted it to be an exclusive kind of thing (with him in every band!) functioning as a cooperative. Phil Slater had a similar sort of idea at the time. I didn’t really want to get involved initially. When a bunch of other guys ( Nick McBride , Stu Hunter , Matt McMahon , Simon Barker , Phil Slater, Carl Dewhurst etc ) also were keen , I became more inclined to help , especially if It could be something that any serious young jazz musician could be involved in . My father was an accountant, and with my background of previously having set up and promoted the Posse Presents and Cafe De Lane as non-profit associations, the other guys really wanted me to help them out. I was prepared to help, in my mind on the basis that I would delegate most of the work. I didn’t want to be booking bands or putting up posters for other people again. I had hoped that we could start a "door deal” type of gig (which I am sad to see has changed ... I think it is unfair to those who have worked hard at it for longer ...), a record label. It was my idea (as far as I know) to start with a compilation CD and regular gigs with more than one band a night. I also helped set up the printing of small good looking flyers which had helped get young people into the music. Things need to look and feel “cool" if the crowd is going to be in their early twenties. I remember at the time one of the members of the “Paradise Club" crew who had been involved in setting up the KEYS music association told me “that will never work”...“cooperatives don't work”. I myself had pretty low expectations of the whole thing ... but the other guys had so much energy for it that I was happy to help. I talked to Glen Wright at the Brasserie and he organised our first gig for us. It was a benefit concert ... there was a bunch of bands including the “Mothership Orchestra" which I put together. The original “Mothership Orchestra" was a lot of fun with 2 bass players (Undy and Richard Ottmar), 2 drummers I think? , 2 guitarists (Dewhurst and Muller?), 3 keyboard players (myself, McMahon, and Stu Hunter) and horns Phil Slater and?...We played our own original music and a tribute to Miles Davis 70's electric period, which helped get in the punters. The photo above (attached) is of one of our first meetings (at Bill and Toni's in East Sydney) where the guys voted me (somewhat reluctantly) as the first president. After a year or so I passed the reins on to Nick McBride. Nick and Murray Jackson and then many musicians afterwards put an enormous effort in to make the thing the success it is now. Happily Jazzgroove and SIMA are now separate entities living in a peaceful coexistence for the benefit of all. Many of SIMA's crowd pulling acts like Phil Slater and James Muller built up their audience performing at Jazzgroove. It is really nice I think that for younger musicians, especially those studying at the Con, have a place to play and a sense of having a place to belong. Unfortunately at this point there isn’t really anywhere for them to go. Hopefully the next generation can figure out a stepping stone past playing at Jazzgroove, to give them more incentive to take their music (and Australian Jazz) further.