The Tassie Connection
Alex Hutchinson Quartet featuring Jack Duffy
When I first met Alex Hutchinson playing at Merimbula, NSW outside the Twyford Hall with a guitarist friend, I recognized a rare jazz talent and made up my mind to invite him to our Suncoast Jazz Festival, held annually at St Helens, Tasmania. This festival which started in 1984, enables all our best jazz musicians to assemble for a jazz party, where they are mixed and matched with invited guest artists from the mainland.
One of our most respected and loved jazzmen, Jack Duffy never misses the annual pilgrimage to St Helens. Consequently some five years ago with the arrival of Alex, there developed a special friendship. The beautiful music these two jazzman played with Jack on vibes and Alex on clarinet, was pure Goodman/Hampton and an immediate hit.
Jack Duffy, now in his eighty-second year, is one of the giants of Tasmanian jazz; musically, physically and instrumentally, as he excels also on piano - and wait for it - piano accordion! (In the Van Damme mode.)
Alex developed a penchant for getting Jack to record while he is still around (as he put it) and his dream came true, post the fourteenth Suncoast Jazz Festival in June 1998, when he assembled Jack and several of his friends down in Hobart to produce Jack's first CD at the age of eighty-two!
This is to me a wonderful occasion, which has resulted in The Tassie Connection, thank you Alex.
When people have reached octogenarian status, most have retired, but not Jack Duffy who at eighty-two has just made this recording as my special guest. My prime reason for making this CD was to record Jack, although I admit to some degree of self indulgence in that this was a comparatively rare opportunity to record with a jazz accordionist of Jack's calibre and achieve that wonderful blend of accordion and clarinet which we both enjoy so much.
When I first met Jack he was playing in the lounge of the St Helens Hotel in Tasmania on a Friday night in June 1993, prior to the actual commencement of the annual Suncoast Festival. Upon hearing the delightful sound of the accordion, I asked Jack whether I could sit in. Although he said yes, I don't doubt that he must have wondered who the heck I was, because I was wearing jeans and a black leather jacket with a short pigtail hairstyle. Further more, I was carrying a large black not so brief case containing my two clarinets. (I guess Jack must have thought that I was either a druggie or a gunnie. Interestingly enough, earlier in the day at Melbourne airport, I was asked by the security officer to reveal the contents of my case after passing through the metal detector!)
Apparently when I had played about sixteen bars, both Bruce Hayley, the festival director and Murray Brown, a great Tasmanian muso, said that Jack's face lit up with a look of approval! It would seem that this was Jack's acceptance of me.
With the exception of the contemporary jazz musicians (most of whom sound the same from an improvisational aspect). I can generally pick the major musicians who have influenced a musician when I hear him/her either live or on record. Accordingly I figured that Jack was fond of the jazz accordionists Ernie Felice and Art Van Damme; the latter who Bruce Haley referred to in his introduction previously.
I first heard Felice in my early teens on a Benny Goodman recording 'Classics of Jazz', made on the Capital label in 1947. To my knowledge, the incredible Benny Goodman never ever recorded with accordion again and it was not until 1960 that the phenomenal clarinetist Buddy De Franco, recorded with Tommy Gumina, an extraordinary exponent of the jazz accordion - albeit a modified electric model, on some of the five albums they made.
Despite having played with some wonderful piano players, the most outstanding of whom was Ted Preston at Scott's Hotel in Melbourne (1958), it has always been my penchant to record with an accordion. Of course this has now come to fruition, thanks to Jack Duffy, even though it has taken nearly fifty years of my career for it to happen! However, it should be mentioned that I did a one-off recorded broadcast over thirty years ago, for an A.B.C. Radio jazz programme with my good friend Bruce Weate: on of Melbourne's few fine accordionists in the jazz vein.
Now to the tracks, apart from 'Crazy', all of these tunes are virtually jazz standards. And if you think you hear two accordions on 'Roses of Piccady', you are absolutely correct. Jack takes the first ad lib chorus, followed by Bruce Gourlay (also playing accordion) and then follows a chorus of four bar chasers, kicked off by Jack alternating with Bruce.
The rhythm section takes a rest on 'If You Could See Me Now' in favour of myself with Bruce on piano, albeit an upright. Jack's wife, Junie, displays her vocal expertise on 'Behave Yourself', and note that she takes liberties with the melodic lines by varying them. I feel that this is a skill which cannot be taught, or to be more specific, it is an innate ability, no different to an instrumentalist.
Bassist Joe McConechy came over from the mainland especially to do this recording, because he is one of the few natural bass players with the proverbial good ears, which was a prerequisite for the gig, as there were no charts used. Both Joe and I toured South Australia with Graeme Bell and the Allstars in 1956 and we have worked together on many occasions since then, moreover, Joe's pedigree includes having worked with the legendary pianist Teddy Wilson.
Drummer Alf Properjohn has been, to my mind, amongst Tasmania's leading drummers for many years and has played with practically anyone and everyone of note, from both overseas and the mainland. As Alf has the ability to drive a band and vary his rhythmic patterns to suit the soloist, he was my logical choice.
I am deeply indebted to Bruce Gourlay, not only because of his excellent muscianship, but also his capacity in a subliminal role as a back stop to Jack Duffy. Not so strangely enough, Bruce credits Jack as having been his early influence. He has also had a long session with the Launceston based Jazzmanians as well as having recorded on Jim Mcleod's ABC Jazz Tracks.
Practically all of these tunes on this CD are first takes. This is because I didn't have the luxury of an unlimited budget and I could not afford to be in the studio as long as all the musicians would have liked. Nevertheless all of us were pretty happy with the results and as the musicians comprised both Tasmanians and Victorians nothing could be more appropriate than to call the CD - The Tassie Connection.
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