jazz and improvised music


 

News
THREE-TIME GRAMMY AWARD WINNER
ONE OF THE GREATEST DRUMMERS ON THE PLANET
HERE IN SYDNEY THIS WEEK!

TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON HEADLINES THE 2017 SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S JAZZ FESTIVAL WITH TWO SHOWS - TOMORROW AND SATURDAY
Terri Lyne Carrington is one of the greatest drummers on the planet - male or female, jazz or otherwise.

It will be a rare honour to see this history-making jazz heavy play such an intimate club show.

FRIDAY 10 NOVEMBER, 8.30PM
 
Terri Lyne Carrington shares wisdom from her 40-year jazz career with The Sydney Morning Herald:
"Why is it that a person like Wayne Shorter can play one note and it just affects you so you laugh or cry? You can hear his whole soul in one note just because he's connected to humanity.”
Read the full Sydney Morning Herald interview here

Terri Lyne also spoke to Eric Myers from The Australian:
"...Accept a call to arms. In my 30+ year career, I should have had more female peers than I've had."

We have one of the greatest jazz drummers on the planet, Terri Lyne Carrington's newest album LOVE and SOUL to give away. She plays two nights headlining the Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival tomorrow and Saturday in two rarely bestowed intimate club gigs, 10 and 11 November.

TICKETS $50 General Admission or $66 Reserved (Seated) with Drinks or Dinner Package ($96/$84)

For your chance to win, just leave a comment below our Facebook post here. Bonus points if you tag someone who isn't coming to the show yet - but should be!
2017 DOWNBEAT INTERNATIONAL CRITICS' RISING STAR JEN SHYU - HERE IN SYDNEY THIS THURSDAY 9 NOVEMBER!
JEN SHYU (USA) PERFORMS WITH AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA'S VERONIQUE SERRET, SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC'S SIMON BARKER AND VIBRAPHONIST JAMES SHIPP (USA)

Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, ethnomusicologist, dancer and composer Jen Shyu has received rave reviews from the crowd at Wangaratta Jazz Festival for her new work Song of Silver Geese.

Jen is performing this wild, world jazz / ritual drama here in Sydney this Thursday 9 November for the Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival with violinist Veronique Serret, drummer Simon Barker and vibraphonist James Shipp.
 






A RITUAL DRAMA OF WILD, WORLD JAZZ TOLD THROUGH SONG, DANCE & MUSIC AMIDST A THOUSAND TEALIGHT CANDLES
In Song of Silver Geese, spirit helpers from folklore and mythology - wild woman warriors and rebel princesses - guide a small child who has been newly orphaned and is alone, waiting for help.

Jen sings in seven languages, including English, and the narrative is told through music, dance and song in a highly theatrical setting with 1,000 tealight candles.

Thursday 9 November, 8pm
TICKETS $44 / $40 / $20 here
 
GIVEAWAY! WIN JEN'S NEW ALBUM
SONG OF SILVER GEESE
 
We have a copy of Jen's new album Song of Silver Geese to give away! Created as a spiritual offering for two recently deceased friends, this grand narrative work centres around a newly orphaned child who is guided by helpers from the spiritworlds of Korean, East Timorese and Taiwanese folklore.

To enter, email admin   @   sima.org.au with your name and postal address and the subject line "thu9nov"

See her perform this work with violinist Veronique Serret, drummer Simon Barker and vibraphonist James Shipp this Thursday - more information here.
NYC TRUMPETER NADJE NOORDHUIS OPENS THE 2017 SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S JAZZ FESTIVAL, wednesday 8 november 
"ONE OF THE MOST UNFORGETTABLY LYRICAL VOICES IN MODERN MUSIC"

In Australia to judge the National Jazz Awards, Nadje Noordhuis is “one of the most compelling voices to emerge on her instrument in recent years” (All About Jazz). She opens the festival this Wednesday 8 November with her NYC duo project with James Shipp, vibraphonist, percussionist and synth player.

 





The night begins this Wednesday 8 November with Nadje and James' duo, followed by a lively set when they're joined onstage by the festival band.

Wednesday 8 November, 8.30pm
TICKETS $40 / $36 / $25 here

GIVEAWAY! WIN NADJE AND JAMES' NEW ALBUM INDIGO
We have a copy of Nadje and James' new album Indigo to give away! "A unique and expansive project that combines intimate jazz duo interaction with celestial electronic textures."

To enter, email admin  @  sima.org.au with your name and postal address and the subject line "wed8nov"

They play this Wednesday - more information here.

AUSTRAlian jazz bell awards 2016
MONDAY 20 JUNE @ Bird's Basement


Tickets are now on sale for the 2016 Australian Jazz Bell Awards - the only awards in Australia to acknowledge excellence specifically for jazz performance, creativity and presentation.

The Australian Jazz Award winners and the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame recipient will be announced on Monday 20 June at Bird’s Basement. Limited spaces are available for members of the public to attend the jazz industry’s ‘night of nights’, which will feature performances from some of the winning artists.

Shortlisted artists include luminaries of jazz Kristin Berardi, Paul Grabowsky, Vince Jones, Barney McAll, Julien Wilson Quartet, well as upcoming artists Olivia Chindamo, Angela Davis, Niran Dasika and James McLean.

Celebrating its 14th year in 2016, the Awards recognise the exceptional talent of the Australian jazz community and are widely regarded as the Australian jazz industry’s most respected and highly anticipated awards.

The Bells, named in honour of one of the greats in Australian jazz – the late Graeme Bell, MBE AO – feature a prize pool of $40,000.  Each category title in this year’s Awards rewards the winner (or collective winners) with $5000 prize money.

The Australian Jazz Bell Awards event details
Date:         Monday June 20, 6.30pm for 7.00pm
Tickets:     $140 per person, includes 3 course meal  - Featuring performances from some winning artists
Bookings:    Birdsbasement.com
Venue:     Birds Basement – 11 Singers Lane, Melbourne
Dress code:      Business Attire

2016 Shortlisted artists and awards
Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album
•    Kristin Berardi – Where Or When
•    Vince Jones + Paul Grabowsky – Provenance
•    Olivia Chindamo – Keep An Eye On Spring

Best Instrumental Jazz Album
•    Barney McAll – Mooroolbark
•    Angela Davis – Lady Luck
•    Julien Wilson Quartet – This Narrow Isthmus

Best Produced Album
•    Barney McAll – Mooroolbark
•    Mike Nock/ Laurence Pike – Beginning And End of Knowing
•    Angela Davis – Lady Luck

Best Australian Jazz Song/Composition of the Year
•    Barney McAll – Nectar Spur (Mooroolbark)
•    Julien Wilson Quartet – Weeping Willow (This Narrow Isthmus)
•    Angela Davis – A thousand Feet from Bergen Street (Lady Luck)

Best Australian Small Jazz Band (Up to 6 members)
•    Barney McAll + A.S.I.O. (Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit) – Mooroolbark
•    Allan Browne Quintet – Ithaca Bound
•    Alister Spence Trio – Alister Spence Trio: Live

Best Australian Jazz Ensemble
•    Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra – 2015 Live Performance Compilation
•    Daniel Susnjar – The Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group
•    Mace Francis Orchestra – Music For Average Photography

Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year (Musicians up to and including 25 years of age)
•    Olivia Chindamo – Keep An Eye On Spring
•    James McLean – Counter Clockwork
•    Niran Dasika – Manticore (Phantom)

Visit www.bellawards.org for more information

Media inquiries: Prue Bassett Publicity
Prue Bassett: prue@netspace.net.au | 0419 559 040
Michaela Hall: Michaela.hall@bigpond.com | 0419 113 633




IN MEMORY OF BERNIE MCGANN
1937 - 2013



Bern Bernie Bernine

Bernie McGann was my closest friend since 1956 where we met at the Mocambo Coffee Lounge in Newtown. Much has been written about this time when Espresso coffee had become all the rage  The Mocambo had a machine and was owned by two friends of my sister's who loved Jazz.

They had a piano and a kit of drums with no cymbals. I had met David Levy at another jazz venue and together we started to go there and jam every weekend. Of a weekend people would go into the City to the pictures and stop off for an Espresso Coffee and hear a bit of jazz on their way home.

It became quite popular and soon many young musicians would come in to play. There would be a queue out the door sometimes. It was actually 2 shops with an arch in the middle. Bernie was one of these although I don't remember him ever getting in a queue. The first time we heard him we were struck by how well he had captured Paul Desmond's sound which was very popular at that time. But there was something special about Bernie McGann. We could hear it then and over the years it was always special. We listened to it go through various phases, always searching for something of his own.

We would go to the family home in Granville and jam there usually when the family were going away for the weekend. Lots of laughs and we got to know his wonderful family and listened to the band play at The Rechabite Hall 2 doors down which would cause great mirth from Bernie and I. I don't know if they were laughing when we played.  Funny, we never thought about it then.

Over the years he was always Bernie to me and his preference for Bern came as a complete surprise though we never discussed it. He and Addie his partner of 30 years had another name for me and I had one for him. This was mostly just in general use privately and stemmed from a period where the Quartet in the mid sixties made up silly names for each other. Their use was really a tribute to the time we had spent together.

Bernie was a very private man. He loved to laugh and was always a thorough gentleman. He was totally dedicated to Addie and the saxophone.

The amount of practice he did to achieve the tone and great individual sound he got was staggering. Always shaving down those thick reeds he used in a bid to find the perfect reed he was consumed by the quest for perfection. He had no ego. He knew who he was but never came across as anything but a man of great sincerity. Once in Canada I tried to read him an interview he had done for Cadence magazine. He held the reed up to the light and and looked at it with one eye. When I asked excitedly if he wanted me to read it to him he said "Ah no man, they'll say whatever they want to say."

I played in his bands over the years and he played in mine. We never questioned each other. Traveling with him to many parts of the world over the years was my extreme pride and pleasure. Sadly my health caused me to drop out of the quartet a couple of years back but we still did some less taxing performances with other players for a while in some day concerts I managed to organize. Australian Jazz will never be the same without Bern.
 
by John Pochee


Over the last thirty years of his career Bernie McGann received the support of SIMA in a variety of ways. Along with Mike Nock, John Pochee, Lloyd Swanton, Miroslav Bukovsky, Sandy Evans, Mark Simmonds, then later Andrew Robson, Phil Slater and Matt MacMahon among the most prominent, Bernie was considered a senior artist and his bands were an integral part of the core SIMA programme.

Also he received some administrative support for his various tours both within Australia and overseas. For his 75th Birthday SIMA organised a number of special performances in Sydney and actively pursued publicity for them. That effort culminated in two nights at the Sound Lounge with Bernie, leading a band that included Paul Grabowsky, Jonathan Zwartz and Tim Firth, in memorable performances both of which received standing ovations and one of which was recorded by ABC Jazz. Bernie was also included in SIMA's NSW Regional Touring Program and its Jazz: Cool for School educational series.

Bernie was, what used to be called, 'a player', that is, he wasn't good at seeking out gigs or creating work opportunities for himself. Self-management wasn't his forte. He could organise rehearsals and prepare a band, then he would arrive - he was never late - and play the saxophone. That's when the magic happened. We are all terribly sad that Bernie has gone as his playing, was just as inventive, just a original. But most of all, we miss his understated sense of humour and the inspiration of a live McGann performance.

Peter Rechneiwski

  
Valé Bernard Francis McGann
(born 22 June 1937, died 17 September 2013)

Bernie, or Bern, which he preferred, died from complications following open-heart surgery. He was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and it was only then that the underlying condition was found.

Bern/ie’s name is typical of the man. It only became apparent a few years ago that he had always preferred being called ‘Bern’, and even his beloved partner Addie usually called him ‘Bernie’. Bern, always laconic, hated fuss; he enjoyed a simple, quiet life, and spoke recently about how much he loved living in a caravan in Bundeena.

He was a lovely man who developed his gift for musicality with great dedication, and still practised daily until his admission to hospital. It was in music that he expressed himself with great intensity, rich ideas, powerful but nuanced emotions, through his very personal songbook and his own compositions.

He was a great musician and a special, if self-effacing, guy. We will miss him.

Tim Dunn, Rufus Records

One note was all it took. Bernie McGann's was one of the most instantly recognisable alto saxophone sounds of the last half century, alongside those of Ornette Coleman and Arthur Blythe. Sometimes it squeaked and rasped like the native birds, but it was also a sound of immeasurable beauty: a shrill cry of jubilation jumbled with despair, which might rush into a jaunty trill; a very human sound, disentangled from the concrete rationality of language. His was a magnificent achievement.

John Shand



Early days with Bernie...chess on the lawn in the sun at Rancliff, in Ocean St.  Walking to the El Rocco at  Bernie's furious and urgent pace....practicing in the basement....the 3 day and night party in Newtown with members of the Ray Charles band. The cold Melbourne winter and the laughs and the musical adventure remembered ...and much more.

Dave MacRae

haiku for bernie

planing in beat echo
the ideas suffuse, explode
        always ahead /behind

Allan Browne

Both on and off the bandstand Bernie McGann was a true individual. Playing with him I truly learned about the art of improvisation - every single tune was a journey. I have so many fond memories of sharing music, stories, good times and much laughter. It was wonderful to have had Bernie as a good friend and musical cohort.

Andrew Dickeson


I first heard Bernie in the late ‘70s, on a trip to Sydney. I had heard/read about this alto player with an incredibly original and powerful sound and approach, and that was undeniable the first time I heard him.
 
Since then, I heard him whenever I had the chance, whether in Melbourne or Sydney, or later on when I was organising festivals in Wangaratta, Melbourne, or Stonnington. And I enjoyed listening to his recorded work : the ‘60s album ‘Jazz Australia’, that I eventually tracked down in a 2nd-hand shop ; the great albums that Martin Davidson recorded on the Eminem label ; the great ‘Ugly Beauty’ for Matt Dickson’s Spiral Scratch label ; and the series of great albums that Tim Dunn released on Rufus Records.
 
On a personal level, Bernie was always a pleasure to work with, and to get to know : modest, no pretensions or demands, appreciative of the chance to play his music. He was an honest man with a laconic approach and a dry sense of humour. Musically, he was a player I always admired because he played honestly, from the heart. He always ‘went for it’, took chances, gave the music everything he had, and consistently produced moments that were completely surprising. You can’t ask for more than that, can you?
 
Adrian Jackson

Bernie was an inspiration on and off the bandstand. A stunningly creative and original musician as well as being a great man with a wicked sense of humour. I'm so fortunate to have been able to call one of my heroes a mate. I'll miss our car rides together where he enjoyed nothing more than chewing the fat about cricket and footy, his other great passions. The world is not the same without Bern

Brendan Clarke

The thing about Bernie, apart from the music, was that he was such a modest person, even when the spotlight was shining on him. AMC hosted the official presentation of his Don Banks Fellowship at our (then) shop in The Rocks back in 1998. It was a small-ish gathering, but it included a few dignitaries, officials from the Australia Council, along with a few of Bernie’s colleagues and other artists. I was struck by how laid-back he was, entirely self-effacing, not entirely comfortable being at the centre of attention, particularly with the formalities that take place on such occasions, but not showing it at all. He was just the same as he always was.

I have images in my memory of him performing, eyes closed, always completely absorbed in the music, it being merely a part of him and he of it, and he being a vehicle for it to soar over those amazing landscapes he created. I always imagined that he showed no fear in jumping off that creative cliff, and fly. What a musical legacy he has left us!

John Davis, The Australian Music Center


FURTHER READING, LISTENING  AND TRIBUTES:


The Music Show - ABC Radio National

Paul Grabowsky pays tribute to the man he describes as "one of the greatest of all jazz musicians, either here or anywhere"

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/musicshow/berni-mcgann-tribute/4965950

Into the Music - ABC Radio National

Broadcaster Cathy Peters reflects on Bernie's life.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/intothemusic/vale-bernie-mcgann/4968990

 ABC Radio - 18 September 2013 

Ashley Hall reports on Bernie's life and legacy. 

 http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2013/s3851734.htm

The Sydney Morning Herald - 19 September 2013 

Vale Bernie McGann, king of jazz by John Shand

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/vale-bernie-mcgann-king-of-jazz-20130918-2tzn5.html

The Australian - 19 September 2013

Jazz musicians lament the loss of a cherished elder statesman by Ashleigh Hall

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/jazz-musicians-lament-the-loss-of-a-cherished-elder-statesman/story-e6frg8n6-1226722308225

The Australian - 23 September 2013

Original and inventive giant of the alto sax by John McBeath 

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/original-and-inventive-giant-of-the-alto-sax/story-e6frg8n6-1226724669503

Australian Jazz.net - 19 September 2013

Bern McGann: a singular man by John Clare  

http://australianjazz.net/2013/09/bern-mcgann-asingular-man-by-john-clare/


 


In memorium - ken james
1944 – 2012




In memory of Ken James

 
Many of one's friends are now younger than ever - or to put it another way, one has far more young friends than those near one's age, as contemporaries die or somehow disappear from view. Young as many of my friends have become, most of them have heard - or heard of - Ken James. Some have told me they have been listening to him with The Last Straw on iTube. As a musician he was an exemplar of sound practice and theory. As a stylist and creative improvisor an inspiration. For those of us who knew him well he seems to be still here. It was not until I began writing these recollections that I fully realised he was gone.
 Ken James had been a part of, or had led, many of the bands that have influenced the way Sydney jazz, in its many manifestations, sounds today. Until 2010 he could have been heard playing here in Sydney in Ten Part Invention, in which some of the most inspiring musicians and composers of Australian jazz have mingled. These come straight off the top of the head: John Pochee (the leader), James Greening, Sandy Evans, Steve Elphick, Bob Bertles, Bernie McGann, Roger Frampton, Warwick Alder, Miroslav Bukovsky,  Andrew Robson, Hugh Fraser, Paul McNamara. All but three of these were, like Ken, founding members twenty five years ago. In 2010, however, Ken and his partner, the singer Cheryl Kelly, moved to Hamilton in Victoria, where Cheryl was born. They moved into their home on Anzac Day.

Ken had not retired. He continued to write charts for Sydney club performers, as he had done throughout his playing life, and became involved with local music projects, including Trax big Band, the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra, the Ken James Quartet and many other groups which he played in or rehearsed, including a voice/saxophone duo with his partner. Lisa McDonald, music director of  the Good Shepherd College, appointed Ken as a flute, clarinet, saxophone, drum and jazz piano teacher. Ken also joined in the activities of the school band - Good Shepherds - playing whatever instrument was required. He also taught individual musicians in the area. Ken was admired and embraced wholeheartedly by everyone. 

The deaths of certain jazz musicians have become the stuff of legend. For instance, I believe that Stan Getz fell and died - or died and fell - on stage while playing Out Of Nowhere. Ken James's death was perhaps less dramatic and poetic. Or was it? It was certainly as resonant. In the circumstances of Ken's death elements are present which must remind us of a life of enthusiasm, perseverence, courage, and perhaps even heroism. Certainly a life in which enthusiasm was sustained in spite of  much that would have disheartened many.

In April 2012, Ken - who had been asthmatic most of his life as well as suffering bouts of pneumonia and other pulmonary trouble - died of a massive heart attack following a period of  intense activity, which entailed among other things driving at least six times between Hamilton and Ballarat where he was musical director for Sebaclear Big Band, which he was rehearsing at the time for an upcoming concert. At one point the stress of driving had forced him to conduct sitting in front of the band on a chair, and during one leg of the journey he had felt a definite warning, but said nothing. He fulfilled all his musical committments during this time, including teaching. Warnings from the chest area were not new. While working alone at home on Wednesday April 17, Ken experienced the begining of a heart attack around 3pm and called an ambulence which took him to hospital in Hamilton, where he was admitted to Intensive Care. Cheryl spent two hours at his bedside. he was conscious and in good spirits, managing a few jokes. Back at home Cheryl learned that Ken had been flown to Geelong Hospital, where he lost consciousness. Cheryl drove there and spent the nextweek at his bedside, but Ken did not recover consciousness. He died of a massive heart attack and his damaged lungs were bleeding. This was Wednesday, April 25 (Anzac day) 2012. The death certificate recorded multi organ failure, elevated myocardial infarction - 7 days Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ken had been no stranger to hospitals. After one recovery, doctors were astounded to learn that he had played saxophones and flute. He had been doing so on 20% lung capacity. Those who heard him regularly were astonished too. At the same time, one doctor said that it was probably playing that had kept him alive.

Ken James was sometimes called Cranky Ken by those who had shared accomodation with him over the years. To those of us who had not he was funny Ken, happy Ken. Small things made him cranky, apparently, such as being woken too early by flatmates. We never heard him complain about lack of recognition or ill-health - or anything that would have made most of us cranky. If Cranky Ken was the worst anyone ever called you, you would have done well! As with most high level artists, Ken was greatly appreciated by many of his peers, and pehaps underestimated by some. If you were to compliment him - as I was moved to on many occasions - on a particularly fine solo, he would thank you with a deep and tangible warmth, and he would be as pleased as any up and coming performer recieving early acknowledgement. Then would come the jokes, to turn attention away from himself.

Now that I am fully aware that Ken has gone, two attributes suddenly intensify the absence. Ken was a great listener and he was a keen observer of people. If you had some funny stories to tell, affectionately or otherwise, about someone you both knew, Ken was your man. His eyes and teeth became positively ravenous in his bony and curiously pleasing face (was he actually handsome? You would have to ask a woman). Then he would tip his face up at the ceiling and laugh, and your story would soon be embellished by Ken's own sharp supplementary observations. Where are you, Ken? I have a few I'd like to get off my chest.

Before discussing Ken's playing - particularly on tenor and soprano saxophones - it's worth giving a brief indication of the range of his musical activities. The association and deep friendship between Ken and drummer John Pochee began in the early 1970s when they were both recruited by pianist and composer Judy Bailey for The Judy Bailey Quartet - which comprised Judy, Pochee, Ken, bassist Col Brown and, on occasion, vocalist Linda Keene. The band was quite early in absorbing rock and exotic world music and using them in its own way. A distinctive feature was the use of Keene's voice both in songs and in wordless lines that were very much part of certain arrangements. Their two albums are One Moment (Eureka) and Colours ( Phillips. Colours was re-issued two years ago). The band performed regularly in Sydney toured extensively in Australia and also performed in South East Asia for Musica Viva.

As well as club playing and arranging, for which his musicianship and experience ensured he was in demand, Ken played or led a range of  jazz groups, including, notably, The Ken James Reunion Band with trumpeter Keith Stirling, Pochee, pianist Dave Levy, bassist Ron Philpott and sometimes guitarist Peter Boothman. Part of a Jazz Action Society performance by this superb band was videoed by Ken's friend, drummer Barry Woods. At the time of writing Cheryl said she hoped to make copies available for sale and she also recommended to me an eponymous album by bassist Steve Hunter's band Nine Lives: Steve Hunter - Nine Lives (ABC). Ken apparently plays sublimely here on tenor and soprano, and can be heard on flute. Having heard him play with one of Steve Hunter's bands I do not doubt this for a moment and  Steve Hunter also said that Ken played beautifully on this disc, which is still available through the ABC. In 1999 Ken was recruited by American drummer Bobby Previte for his Miles Davis inspired project centred on the electric funk/rock/fusion period. This was presented by SIMA at The Basement in Sydney with a different band in Melbourne performing for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. With the Sydney band Ken played soprano, representing in his own way the role played by Wayne Shorter on that instrument and Previte was full of praise for Ken's combination of authenticity, depth and originality.

Apart from the long stint with Ten Part Invention, Ken's  tenure with Pochee's band The Last Straw was probably the most influential project with which he was associated. This band comprised Ken, John, alto saxophonist Bernie McGann, bassist Jack Thorncraft (later Lloyd Swanton) and pianist Tony Esterman (Dave Levy had played in the original line-up). This band was formed, fortuitously enough, just as the Basement opened in Sydney in 1974 and the Conservatorium of New South Wales began its jazz course.The Straw often played on Monday or Tuesday night at The Basement (the non-commercial end of the week as some knew it), presenting original compositions (often by McGann) and works by Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner and Gerry Mulligan. They excelled at hard driving bop, surging Afro Latin feels and free interludes. The latter were approached in a very different way to other free projects of the time. After at least two disastrous attempts, thwarted successively by rain penetrating the recording van parked in Reiby Place outside the Basement and an emergency rush to the hospital by Ken James, the band produced an eponymous album (some years later),The Last Straw (Spiral Scratch, now through Rufus) which is essential to any collection of Australian jazz.

It was in The Last Straw that Ken and Bernie McGann were heard most often in juxtaposition. The contrast was wonderfully effective although McGann's perhaps more immediately striking originality tended to overshadow Ken for some. Ironically, it was McGann who had been rejected by many in the past. I had a few arguments with people who seemed not to hear Ken's superbly integrated and distinctive distillations of a range of influences from Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson through to Lester Young. Listening to Ten Part one night, art critic Terrence Maloon and I fancied we even detected elements of Warne Marsh in there. "So elegant and beautifully constructed," said Maloon. "There is something to be said for graciousness." Maloon did not know Ken, but graciousness also applies to the man behind the music. Sandy Evans has more to say about this further on, but I will add that Ken's beautifully modulated tenor tone could be deployed with both subtlety and power. Where McGann might leap in with raw and startling energy, Ken tended to build from thoughtful elegance to dancing speed and bluesy power. He ran oiled on the beat and manipulated the time with an effect that was both intellectually intriguing and joyfully propulsive. Ken's was not a ballooning, vibrato-laden sound, bending and slithering and breathy with machismo of the old school - though he could do all that if required. It was a modern jazz sound, beautifully centred, compact, defined. But it was also a big sound, as Joe Henderson's was a big sound, ammenable when Ken was moved to fulminate, to radical extensions and bluesy, funky colouration. Listening to the James and McGann solos onThe Last Straw I scarcely hear a run or scale that is not part of a melodic phrase, often a long one. The blending of the two saxophones is also superb.

Following a tour of Russia at the time of Glasnost/Perestroika by The Engine Room - Roger Frampton, John Pochee, Steve Elphick - and the first jazz band from the west to tour Russia in many decades, Ken, with the The Last Straw spent three weeks touring Russia in 1990. With Ten Part, Ken toured Indonesia in 1994, China in the late 1990s, North America in 2004 playing at Iowa University, the Chicago Festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival and clubs, as well festivals in New Zealand.

From Peter Reniewski:
The passing of Ken James was a great shock for those of us who had been enriched by his music and, in my case, who had been fortunate to have known him as a friend for over thirty years. Ken contributed much more to Australian music than can be discovered via a quick trawl through a list Australian jazz recordings. His presence in such important groups as the Judy Bailey Quartet, the Last Straw, Ten Part Invention and Steve Hunter's Nine Lives and his own Reunion Band (which never released a recording) ensured that he played a vital role in mapping the direction taken by one strand of Sydney (especially) and Australian jazz. He was a character on the scene and was loved and respected by so many. What follows is not a standard obituary. It contains several voices which speak in their own tone. John Clare, who was an admirer of Ken's playing since the 70s and who introduced many people to it via his reviews, previews and features on the bands in which Ken played, has contributed the major part of the text, followed by Sandy Evans, Cheryl Kelly and John Pochee. For myself, I just want to say that Ken's music, which gave me so much pleasure and spurred about jazz in general, will never leave me.    

From Sandy Evans:

'I feel so privileged to have had so many great experiences with Ken. I always loved hearing his beautiful sound in Ten Part Invention. He was one of the first players I played with who really understood the beauty of the depth of tone that could come out of the saxophone. He could tap into that expressive, vocal power In the way that someone like Wayne Shorter could. Combine that with a great sense of melody and groove and you have the wonderfully unique and joyous player that was Ken.

I'm eternally grateful to Ken for the way he looked after us all when we went to Taiwan and China without our fearless leader Mr Pochee. Althoug we didn't know it, Roger [Frampton] had his brain tumour at that time and wasn't well. Bernie McGann's partner, who travelled with us, was also experiencingh panic attacks and thinking she was going to die. Through all of this Ken remained the voice of reason, making sutre we got to gigs on time, knew what we were playing and had a damn good time playing it. He was a huge help to John and me both, many times in the years after that.I was thinking this morning that I can't remember him ever saying a bad word about anybody. Of course he had that briliant sense of humour with which he could convey all kinds of irony. But he never did that in a malicious way. He was a thoroughly good human being. I'll always remember him as a comedy double act with John on Ten Part tours. I don't think I've ever laughed quite so much as when the two of them would get going with their impromptu stand-up comedy routines in a hotel room after a gig. If somebody had a camera back then and posted some of these routines on U Tube today they would get millions of hits!

From Cheryl Kelly:

KJ or Kenny J was born in Sydney in 1944. His parents were Jack Henry and Jean Emma James (nee Kenny). Jean's brother Jim Kenny was president of the ACTU before Bob Hawke. Ken has an elder brother Frank who lives today with his partner Marie. Ken is also survived by a niece, Karen, and nephews Lloyd and Phillip.

From what I can gather, Ken had a normal Sydney childhood and went to Maroubra Junction Primary and South Sydney Junior Tech. He was at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1965. His education was interrupted on a regular basis by bouts of asthma. I think he worked as a store person before becoming a full time muso in his early 20s. His father played the violin and saxophone semi-professionally and was a tailor, working in Oxford Street, Sydney. [John Pochee has reminded me that Ken was always neatly dressed- JC]. He died when Ken was in his teens. his mother became the breadwinner, working as a school cleaner. She eventually married again (surname Turner) and became stepmother to Linda and Geoff.  Ken married a local girl, Elizabeth Helen, in 1965 when he was 21. They were divorced in the 70s and there were no children.

Ken had a happy disposition for the most part and loved to laugh. He was a good and loyal friend but he had a solitary nature. He was a gentle soul, animals loved him and, in turn, he had a great love of cats. He was also   loved Australia, cricket and all sports, playing golf and tennis and enjoying going to the gym. He was reading the autobiography of cricket umpire Dickie Bird and Gwyneth Barnes's book about Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe before he died. He was also heavily into a book called Arranging For Large Jazz Ensemble by Dick Lowell and Ken Pullig. Ken loved Sydney Harbour and the beaches at Coogee and Maroubra and often talked about going fishing with his father. He also loved cars.

Ken started singing in the choir in the Anglican church [presumably St John] at Maroubra, and was a soloist until his voice broke. His first instrument was violin, but he longed to play the saxophone, like his father. in 1953, at nine years of age, he passed Violin, Second Grade, with a mark of 92 out of a hundred.the examiner's comment: "An outstandingly itelligent and musical child. Very well prepared."

Ken lived in the Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney [pretty much where the two merged at Coogee and Maroubra, living at one stage at the top of Torrington Road in a house once occupied by the notorious lady of crime, Tilly Devine - JC]. He was in Perth 1978/9 with his own Jazz and Funk Group, for the WA Festival, and made tapes for ABC Perth, amongst other West Coast activities. He toured and taught in Fiji in the early 80s. His Revival band did opening sets for several visiting American bands, including Eddie Daniels/Mike Nock and Herb Ellis/Ray Brown/Monty Alexander. Ken toured with Dionne Warwick, Marlene Dietrich, Al Martino, Dick Emery, Pat Boone, Harry Secombe, Natalie Cole and The Supremes. Amongst many other activities Ken played at the Mount Pritchard Community Club in Sydney for nearly 20 years with Ross Connors. This club band won the Mo Award year after year. Ken was deeply loved by all his music contemporaries and friends for his easygoing nature, hi all round knowledge, his great stage presence and his astounding ability to build extraordinary solos. Ken's influences were many but in my opinion Miles Davis was the seminal influence. Among the saxophone players, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Lester Young. He was a keen listener and was interested in all types of music.
 
From John Pochee:

What a great time we had in the forty years since we began out musical association!
We began playing in the Judy Bailey Quartet in 1974 and recorded two albums (the second album Colours was re-released two years ago). Then we started the quintet, The Last Straw with Ken playing beside Bernie McGann. This band had a cult following and performed over 25 years until the Wangaratta Festival in 1999. Our one album won an ARIA Award for Best Auastralian Recording. Studernts at the Conservatorium have recently discovered this album and have been asking me about it and wanted to play some of the tunes.

Ken, during these years and since has been involved in many other projects, leading his own Quintet, which I played in, and playing in rock and backing bands. He was a wonderful composer, arranger and bandleader as well as being a great teacher. In 1986 I formed the ten piece ensemble Ten Part Invention. This has also just clocked up 25 years and Cobb and Co delivered Ken's gold watch to him shortly after he moved to Hamilton. As he did with The Last Straw, Ken always stepped in and led the band whenever I suffered health problems. Ten Part won several awards and, like The Last Straw, travelled all over the world to many great jazz festivals, with The Straw even winning 1st  Prize at the Leningrad Jazz Festival. When I took the band to the Chicago Festival in 2005 we also appeared in a variety of small combinations and in these Ken really cut loose. I still remember the great jazz writer John Litweiler - who wrote A Harmelodic Life, which was a biography of Ornette Coleman - running over and asking if Ken had an album he could have. He said to me, "That Ken James sure can play!!!"

He sure could and it was my great pleasure to have him in our bands and spend a lot of time in his company.

Thanks for the great music and spirit you gave us, Ken.

Till we meet again,

With love from your old mate

John Pochee