LUMINARIES OF AUSTRALIAN JAZZ
Compiled by Bill Haesler OAM
Luminary. noun: A person who inspires or influences others, esp. one prominent in a particular sphere; a famous person; a celebrity.
Following the introduction of news radio in Australia in 1923 (via 2BL and 2FC) live dance music became an added on-air attraction. Imported and local records were broadcast frequently to a large audience, our professional orchestras introduced the latest renditions of US and English popular music using imported arrangements and the Australian sheet music publishing industry flourished.
The Radio Pioneers
- Hugh Reskymer (Kym) Bonython
Hugh Reskymer [Kym] Bonython AC AO:
(b. Adelaide SA 15 September 1920 — d. North Adelaide SA 19 March 2011) drums/broadcaster/concert promoter.
Kym, from a wealthy Adelaide Establishment family, was introduced to jazz by listening to his brother Jack’s records. He learnt to play drums and presented a regular jazz programme on ABC 5CL from 1938 until joining the RAAF as a pilot in March 1940. He served in Northern Australia, the East Indies and New Guinea and awarded an AFC and DFC for his distinguished war service. On his return to civilian life Kym unsuccessfully auditioned as an ABC announcer then, in 1946, recommenced his ABC jazz programme (renamed Tempo Of The Times ) that ran weekly nationally until 1975. He later became a guest jazz presenter on radio 5UV and had a weekly jazz program on 5MBS FM for five years from 2000 to 2005. Kym recorded with the Southern Jazz Group in 1949, worked and broadcast with Bruce Gray’s jazz band during 1949-1950, opened a record shop in the city and was the Adelaide representative for Melbourne-based concert promoters Aztec Services in the early 1950s booking venues and hotels for theatrical artists. In November 1956 he brought the Red Norvo Trio and Helen Humes (already in Australia for Sydney promoter Bill McColl concerts) to Adelaide. This influenced him to start his own entrepreneurial business and from 1960 to 1975 imported jazz artists and bands including Dave Brubeck, Eddie Condon, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stars of Newport, Kid Thomas, Earl Hines, Wild Bill Davison, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson and Turk Murphy. He also presented some non-jazz performers including Peter Nero and Chuck Berry. Over the years the experience proved to be an expensive venture. In addition to jazz promotion Kym was a dairy farmer and breeder, owned racing cars, motorbikes and boats, was a speedway and speedboat champion, opened art galleries in Adelaide and Sydney, published five books on modern Australian painting and held executive positions on the Adelaide Council, Adelaide Festival of Arts and the 1986 South Australian Jubilee 150 Board. His autobiography Ladies’ Legs & Lemonade, detailing an extraordinary life, was published in 1979.
- Eric Charles Child OAM
Eric Charles Child OAM:
(b. London, England 27 April 1910 – d. Sydney NSW 23 April 1995) broadcaster/drums.
Eric grew up with jazz in London, heard the visiting Plantation Orchestra in 1927 and Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway in the 1930s. He played drums in local dance bands and presented irregular jazz programmes on London BBC from 1936. Rejected by the Royal Navy, Eric volunteered as a radio officer with the Merchant Navy in mid 1939, served in the Atlantic and was torpedoed in the Pacific en route to Australia in 1942. He joined the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve in October 1942, saw active service in the Pacific and on discharge in April 1945 stayed on in Sydney then returned to radio in 1946 at 2GZ in Orange NSW where he initiated a regular jazz programme. He married, moved to Brisbane to join the ABC as a staff announcer in 1948 where he occasionally hosted early broadcasts of the Thursday Night Swing Club. In March 1952 programme controller Clem Semmler (qv.), aware of Eric’s vast record collection (rescued from post-war London) gave him the new Saturday morning jazz spot on the national network presenting Rhythm Unlimited. Retitled several times it eventually became World of Jazz and ran for over 30 years until February 1983. Eric had moved to Sydney in 1957 and, in addition to normal on-air radio duties, presented other regular jazz programmes including, Workshop For Jazz, Jazzography, The Late Night Show and Discourse on Jazz. Following his official retirement in 1975 he continued to present jazz on the ABC and prepared and pre-recorded in-flight jazz tapes for Qantas. Loss of sight forced him to sign off in January 1991. Eric was a much loved and dedicated member of the Australian jazz community.
- Clement (Clem) William Semmler AM, OBE
Clement [Clem] William Semmler AM, OBE
(b. Eastern Well SA 23 December 1914 — d. Bowral NSW 10 August 2000) broadcaster/radio executive/writer.
Clem discovered jazz at Adelaide University in 1932, met Dave Dallwitz at the Adelaide Teachers’ College in 1936, Kym Bonython in 1938, started collecting records and joined the Adelaide Jazz Lovers’ Society in 1939. Using his teaching association with the local ABC he proposed and was given a jazz programme, Drop Me Off At Harlem. It, along with those presented by Ron Wills in Sydney in Sydney and Ellis Blain in Melbourne, was one of the first ABC jazz programmes and ran until December 1943. He had joined the ABC as an education officer in April 1942, arranged broadcasts for Adelaide bands and wrote jazz articles for Tempo. He was transferred to Sydney NSW in 1946 as federal script editor for educational broadcasting, as well as acting director of light entertainment, and in 1949 initiated The Thursday Night Swing Club (later to become the ABC Jazz Club). It alternated records with live jazz, was relayed nationally and, compèred variously by Ellis Blain, Ron Wills, Alan Saunders, Eric Child, Wally Norman, Eric Dunn and Ian Neil among others, ran for nineteen years. Clem attended the First Jazz Convention in Melbourne in December 1946 and organised recordings for later broadcast. He also initiated the ABC sponsored Graeme Bell Australian Jazz Band eastern Australian tour in 1948 following the band’s triumphant return from Britain and Europe. It was Clem, who recognised Eric Child’s talent in March 1952 and allocated him the Saturday morning jazz spot on the national network presenting Rhythm Unlimited. What eventually became Eric Child’s World of Jazz ran for over 30 years until 1983. Clem was in a unique position at the right time and used the situation to give Australian jazz its rightful place on air. It all came to an end in 1965 when Clem was removed as Program Head and promoted sideways. From that time the amount of jazz on the ABC began to disappear and, as he recalls in several writings, “The 1950s and 1960s were the Golden Age Of ABC Jazz.” Clem MA and Doctor of Letters (D.Litt ) was a distinguished author of four books who maintained a keen and active interest in jazz all his life and sought it out on trips overseas. He was Assistant General Manager of the ABC from 1960 to 1964 and Deputy General Manager until 1976 and after 35 years, disenchanted with new direction the ABC was taking, resigned and retired to Bowral in the Southern Highlands of NSW. It was a busy retirement that also saw him involved in the local community and jazz events held there.
- Ellis Blain - to be added
- Phil Alderman - to be added
- Brian Henderson - to be added
- Arch Kerr - to be added
- Arch McKirdy - to be added
- Ian Neil - to be added
- Bob Rogers - to be added
- Allan Saunders - to be added
- John West - to be added