Almanac Music – Jazz and Me

My own musical career was fleeting. When I was eight I learnt guitar until the teacher moved, and Kapunda being a country town, that was it. I remember strumming in that measured, funereal way to “Banks of the Ohio” and being uneasy at having to sing.


I plunged a knife into her breast

 And told her she was going to rest

 She cried “Oh Willy, don’t murder me

 I’m not prepared for eternity.”


The theme of inappropriate music continued. At our wedding two guitarist friends played some songs. During that bright October afternoon their version of “Hallelujah” was wonderful, but I’m still happy that one of the rehearsed numbers didn’t get an airing, because as fantastic as “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix is, it’s less than sunny in a nuptial context

 Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun of yours?

Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?

Oh I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady

You know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man.



While at university I discovered Vince Jones, jazz vocalist and trumpeter and his album For All Colours. Its sophistication reminds me of Frank Sinatra, and “Straighten Up and Fly Right” stars a rowdy Wilbur Wilde sax solo. I then knew that the saxophone could be as cool as a guitar.


The first concert I attended was Midnight Oil at Memorial Drive (Julia) and Vince Jones at Le Rox in Light Square was the second. Standing with other students in the airless dark I note that Vince wears a suit and tie, and in contrast to Peter Garrett’s frenzied jumping the jazz ensemble appears uninterested.


But, I was in. Jones himself once said, “I want to be inside every atom of every note.” Over the next decade I saw him often, usually in the Piano Bar of the Festival Theatre. And then, I don’t know why, he stopped regularly touring Adelaide.




One wet Saturday in England I heard a BBC Radio 4 documentary on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, so immediately jogged up the high street to a HMV and bought it for ten quid. And as rain and sleet lashed our windows, its saxophonic hymn brightened the crushing winter sky.


The storms of Coltrane’s personal life thundered in counterpoint to the spiritual still of A Love Supreme, and within two years of its 1965 release he would be dead.




One distant summer some Kapunda boys and I drove across the Hay Plains to spend a fortnight in Sydney with an air-traffic controller mate. He was among rude privilege in a Drummoyne apartment. We parked Woodsy’s Datsun 180B on the street. As we’d daily exit the Western Distributor there was a looming billboard with a huge fanged spider warning us to watch out for funnel-webs. We did. I still do.


Besides playing cricket by the Parramatta River, and body-surfing at Bondi and Curl Curl I hauled everyone to The Basement in Circular Quay. I was a fan of Live at the Basement on ABC Saturday evenings, and Galapagos Duck was the house band, and Don Burrows and James Morrison were often guests. I can’t tell you who played that sultry evening, but I liked it. The wooden tables, the ambiance, the enveloping melodies.




Among the more brilliant things about living in England is chucking a sickie, and knicking off at dawn on a Friday to another country. Easyjet flew us from Luton to Cologne so we could explore their Christmas markets.


The city is largely unremarkable save for its compelling cathedral; the Dom. With twin spires ascending to 515 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until the Washington Monument. Similarly astonishing is that in 1162 Emperor Barbarossa secured for the Dom the authenticated remains of the Three Magi. We drifted about its vast interior and leaving, presented some Euros to a nodding priest.


Papa Joe’s En Streckstrump is Cologne’s premier jazz venue so we find our seats early for Sun Lane Ltd, an ensemble from nearby Aachen. Slender waitresses disperse wine and beer. We can scarcely see through the stinging blue smoke. The punters surge in. Bespectacled, ample musicians squash timorously onto the picnic-rug stage. The pianist looks like a sheet has been stretched about a lumpy, wobbling refrigerator.


Standing unnaturally close, an energetic type suddenly clambers up and straddles a nearby stair- and me, as if he and I are posing for a gay fire-fighters’ calendar. I am startled. Forgetting that Europeans are often bilingual I blurt, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’


As the gentleman dismounts the step, and my groin, I mutter, “Thank you.”


“You’re welcome!” my intimate twitters.


“Say what you really want!” adds his friend. We don’t see them again.


The traditional jazz is brisk and zestful, and spilling out onto the Rhine’s bank Nina’s “99 Red Balloons” bursts from a heaving club. Lingering at the chilly Alter Markt, the wife sips a concluding gluhwein; the spiced, red wine and we confirm that Cologne jazz goes pretty well.




It was nearly an hour commute across Adelaide’s most miserable suburbs; Snowtown territory. After many months afternoon radio had become tiresome; especially when the old-age surrender of organising life around news bulletins, those ridiculous frissons began, so I fought this inevitability, by committing to Miles Davis. I submerged myself in Bitches Brew.


Menacing and swirling about you like a phantasm, the music is a sexual maelstrom, and its recording began within hours of Hendrix and his pyrotechnics at Woodstock. Was it jazz? Was it rock? Was it funk? I wasn’t sure, but I again knew that the trumpet could be as cool as a guitar.


Despite its ominous cadences and rhythms, I found it transportive and therapeutic as I’d make my way home to the beach. Bitches Brew is vital to jazz-fusion, and while the opening two tracks are rightly celebrated, “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” on side four is the standout. I still love getting lost in this 94-minute ocean.




This story begins with Mum and Dad’s record collection. Don’t they all? In among the usual 1970’s fodder of Ripper ’76 and the Best of Abba there’s some curios, and in the not on 5AD or 5KA and certainly not on Countdown section are some jazz albums, one a Dixieland compilation. I don’t especially recall any of the tracks, but these made significant impacts upon my psychology and vocabulary.


The jazz evoked widescreen travel and the speaking of strange tongues and moving about in dazzling metropolises that one day I might be permitted to visit. It was New York and Chicago and New Orleans. It wasn’t that I was trapped in dusty little Kapunda, it was that a planet was out there, and Mum and Dad’s jazz records captured these teeming, thrilling possibilities.


They still do.


About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Mickey, that Miles Davis bloke could have done with more banjos and Keith Conlon on drums. Never saw john Coltrane on a Christmas Pageant float or at the Anzac Highway Pizza Hut either.

  2. Saw Keith on drums one afternoon in Wellington Square as part of an annual O’Connell Street food and wine event. He was no Charlie Watts, but the occasion didn’t require it. Probably number two in the subset of Adelaide radio announcers/ musicians behind J. Vincent.

    Thanks Swish.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Unlike Vinnie, Keith also bobbed up calling footy for Seven in the 80s for a season or two.

  4. Dave Brown says

    An 8 year old boy in the Barossa singing that – it is the stuff of nightmares… or tourism commercials. When I was at uni, the Come in Spinner soundtrack was on constant rotation in the coffee shop, sadly, leading to a Vince Jones aversion akin to the first substance one gets irredeemably drunk on. The other SA celebrity/muso I remember was Don Hopgood the politician who could regularly be found, cornet/trumpet in hand, in various brass/jazz bands in the ’80s and ’90s. If only our pollies these days were as accomplished…

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Mickey. Coincidentally, my first gig was also Midnight Oil, in Geelong in the late 1990’s.
    Haven’t listened to a great deal of jazz, will make an effort to listen to some Vince & Miles.

  6. Swish- Keith the commentator? Fantastic.

    Dave- I’m pleased that Come in Spinner wasn’t my introduction to Vince. Probably like being introduced to John Travolta through Look Who’s Talking? and consequently denying yourself Pulp Fiction. Musical politicians makes me shudder as I can now only hear Mike Rann’s tortured pronunciation destroying The Smiths in a karaoke bar…

    Luke- Looking forward to the Midnight Oil gigs in 2017. Would love them to play “Postcard” in its entirety.

    Thanks men.

  7. Earl O'Neill says

    Olivia NJ’s take on ‘Banks of the Ohio’ is great, dig the contrast between her angelic voice and the devilish words.
    Jazz has never worked for me, can’t dance to it, can’t sing along, but I love the 60s free jazz, Coltrane, Ayler, you can fall into that stuff and surface at the other end wondering where you’d been.

  8. ONJ’s version is the one with which I most connect as it was on an album I heard often as a kid. Her early country stuff is easily her best work. That many remember the video for “Physical” and not really the song is probably telling.

    In some ways jazz appeals because I can’t sing or dance to it; it is a long distance from anything I’ve known or where I’ve been. It’s aloof and exotic and remote. Like science fiction, it can be a cool place to go, an escape. Maybe the best connection is to have no obvious connection.

    Thanks Earl.

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