Australian Jazz Quintet “Threepenny Opera” (1958)

Track Selection: Mack the Knife

Artists

Australian Jazz Quintet:  Jack Brokensha AUS (vib) Dick Healey US ,(as,fl) Bryce Rohde AUS (p) Errol Buddle AUS (ts,bars,cl) Unknown (d) (Teddy Charles replaces Brokensha on Mack the Knife) recorded 1958, sufficiently obscure not to appear in most discographies, or as they say on eBay, “rare!”

Music

“Australian” and “Jazz” are not two words you see often together. Well tie me kangaroo down, sport, it is better than it looks, honest!  A trifle kitsch, but all the musicians manage to play passable jazz despite the corks strung around their hats, and is that Ned Kelly on drums I see? The opening bars of the track selection “Mack the Knife” are ironic, incidentally, and quickly settles into a good bop groove to elaborate the tune. Four Australians and one American, the quintet toured the US between 1953-57, no  doubt in a beat up old VW camper van.

Shiraz jazz? Cabernet-Sauvignon dinner jazz? Perhaps it’s a little unfair mocking the Australian angle so much. But if I can get away with it, why not? They have given us poms a lot of stick over the years, so time to get even.

Vinyl: Bethlehem BCP 6030, original US mono DH

Classic US Fifties DG mono pressing. Bethlehem, a record label for which Google search generally returns large number of matches involving nativity scenes.

Collectors Corner

Destined to languish indefinitely on a North London record store shelf. Australian Jazz – Australia? yeah, cool, cobber? Jack Brokensha, is that spelled correctly? Sellotaped edges, on “Bethlehem” with a blurred photo of three pennies…right. From a Kurt Weill opera. Do I look like Marlene Dietrich? .

None of the signals that give the jazz collector a rush. If anything it looks like a project from Mel Brooks “The Producers” – designed to fail. Despite this, Bethlehem is a good New York Fifties Jazz label and anything on it is worth investigating if it is sufficiently inexpensive, which this was.

Two other Australian Jazz Quintet records on Bethlehem appeared in the same store a month later, but I didn’t feel strongly that I needed to own more than just the one. Maybe even that was one too many.

6 thoughts on “Australian Jazz Quintet “Threepenny Opera” (1958)

  1. “I remember wondering who went to all the trouble to go to Australia to find this music and why on earth did they go to the trouble of bringing it back to America to record.”

    Hi, the answer is quite simple, the Australians came to the USA. In fact the band, which wasn’t called the AJQ yet, was set-up in Windsor, Canada where Erroll Buddle (who actually plays bassoon on the recording and not barytone sax) came first and then called his mates Bryce Rohde and Jack Brokensha to join him. All three came from Adelaide. However, it is in Detroit that the AJQ in its original line-up started, Dick Healey used to sit-in with his bass, sax and flute when a producer enquired about the possibility that the band backed-up the singer Chris Connor. He asked them to play something of their own. Then that producer, Ed Sarkesian (the spelling differs depending on the sources) came out with the name: The Australian Jazz Quartet. Because Brokensha doubled on drums and Healey on bass, the situation wasn’t satisfactory and they added a regular bass and a drummer along the way becoming a quintet. The last bass player Ed Gaston (which probably is the one on that record, the drummer would be Jerry Segal or Osie Johnson), immigrated to Australia when the band toured there in 1958 before splitting. He’s still playing in Sydney, and Erroll Buddle too. Bryce Rohde’s living in california (you can check out his website and his music, he did some great avant garde albums in the 60s in Sydney (and more beautiful records since then), unfortunately still not re-issued: http://www.brjazz.com/)

    They’ve been signed by Bethlehem, which was a remarkable label at the time, Mel Torme, Mingus, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Herbie Nichols were some of the musicians signed. There is an interesting recording of Porgy and Bess, that features most of the musicians of the label.

    I don’t think the AJQ was modelled on the MJQ, for two reasons: first the MJQ was relatively young when the AJQ did their first record (the MJQ started in 1952, the AJQ in 1953). Secondly, the AJQ had already a very distinctive sound with Buddle playing the bassoon and Healy’s flute. Of course as soon as you have a vibraphone with a piano playing some neatly arranged music, it is difficult not to think about the MJQ, but I don’t think it was conscious. Interestingly the AJQ toured with the MJQ, as they were part of some “jazz packs”, that producers had touring the USA (I don’t know if it was in a VW camper van though). I’ve read an interview were Rohde said how intimidating it was to share the bill with the MJQ (and Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn…), but that it really had them growing musically quite fast. The AJQ was very successful in the States, I’ve read that they outsold Miles Davis at some point. I can’t confirm that, I haven’t seen the figures.

    Bethlehem has just been reactivated by Verse music group: http://bethlehemrecords.com/
    perhaps it means that the AJQ recordings will be made available again.

    cheers,

    Pierre

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  2. I ran across a AJQ record at a rock and roll store in their mostly-barren jazz bin. I was excited when I saw the 50s Bethlehem deep groove label. Luckily, for once I had the sense to take it to the listening station before ponying up my $3.

    I remember wondering who went to all the trouble to go to Australia to find this music and why on earth did they go to the trouble of bringing it back to America to record.

    The best theory I have come up with is that this was Bethlehem’s answer to the very popular MJQ and that they hoped to achieve the same sort of sales with this group. It does seem that this group was one of their best sellers. I’ve certainly seen more AJQ records than any other Bethlehem acts.

    As for Bethlehem, they seem to be yet another poorly document East Coast independent jazz label. The best information I have found is here:

    http://www.tyleralpern.com/bethlehem.html

    I have a stereo (boo, hiss) pressing of “East Coasting” by Charlie Mingus (featuring a 28 year-old Bill Evans) which is quite a nice listen. I don’t know much about where it was recorded or by whom. The liner notes merely give “New York 1957” as the recording date and location. I went back and referred to my CD reissue (boo, hiss) of this title and discovered that the liner notes there were nothing more than a reprint of the back of the LP without any additional information.

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  3. Oh dear, LJC. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, if only as a reminder of how good all the other stuff you’ve posted has been!

    Guy

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