20 October 2008

In our own words

John Sharpe launched his third book on Australian jazz, today, at the Australian Jazz Archive, located at the National Film and Sound Archive. John’s second book was that valuable tome which documents jazz in Canberra, “Cool Capital: The Canberra Jazz Scene, 1925-2005” which he published in 2006. This new book is “I wanted to be a jazz musician”. It’s a collection of oral histories and pictures of a number of interesting and renowned Australian jazz players: Mike Nock, Sandy Evans, David Jones, Kevin Hunt, Joe Chindamo, Miroslav Bukovsky and the like. The book is divided into two sections: interview transcripts and themed chapters on interests outside music (that’s of particular interest to me), the Rock & Roll experience, and [career] highlights. Accompanying pics are taken from the AJA archive, but interestingly, also from private collections. I was particularly taken by a pic of Mike Nock chatting with Chick Corea and Dave Holland in Chick’s NY apartment, presumably sometime in the 60s or 70s. Also a posed portrait of Joe Chindamo with Kevin Rudd and Hillary Clinton, apparently taken when he was on overseas tour (as was Rudd, I expect; nothing new under the sun). Another that caught everyones’ attention was a posed band photo from the Mona Vale Public School in 1972, with John Morrison on tuba and James Morrison on French horn. Haven’t they come a long way? The pic of Bob Bertles playing with the Wild One, Johnny O’Keefe, set the scene for the involvement of jazz players with rock & roll, and I guess any other musical form that pays. Another fascinating book on Australian jazz which crosses the popular and academic divide. Thanks again to John Sharpe.

The book was formally launched by Bruce Johnson. Bruce was instrumental in setting up the AJA and authored the definitive “Oxford companion to Australian Jazz” (1987) as well as several other learned works. Bruce surprised me with some comments on the importance of Australian jazz in the world context. Apparently, a European encyclopaedia has recently claimed Australia is second only to the US in its importance in international jazz history. Along similar lines, Bruce claimed that jazz is the major Australian cultural export (perhaps only matched by film from the 70s). More facts: Australia held the first ever jazz festival in Sydney, and the Australian Jazz festival is the oldest continuous surviving jazz festival in the world. Impressive.

The whole show was introduced by Matthew Davies, Senior Curator of Recorded Sound at the NFSA. Here’s some news on the AJA. The Australian Jazz Archive now holds over 12,500 items. The cataloguing’s not up to date, but how’s that different from any other cultural institution? And this is just the first amongst equals of jazz archives in Australia, so our jazz history is in good hands.

  • Bruce Johnson at Glasgow University
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