News of Don Burrows' recent admission to the Jazz Hall Of Fame has jogged my memory about a fabulous evening I had last year...I'm ashamed to have filed it away and forgotten about it, but it was a magnificent occasion and I was delighted to find I hadn't deleted the post I did write later that year.
In July last year Blackburn High School celebrated its 50th birthday in style at 'The Centre' in Ivanhoe (which was, I believe, more happily known in past days as the Heidelberg Town Hall and the site of weekly dances in the fifties). To mark the occasion and to acknowledge Blackburn High's unique and enduring contribution to music education in the state of Victoria, (something I have admired from a neighbouring suburb for some time) copies of some original manuscripts from the Benny Goodman music archive at Yale were made available to the school stage band and an "All-Stars" alumni band to perform for a capacity crowd.
We arrived just after opening time and walked through the lovely Deco lobby of the 'Centre' to the toe-tapping strains of Miller's 'In the Mood', glimpsing the school band in full flow through the open doors.
My older daughter had a debutantes' ball at this hall seven years ago, so I knew it had already been lovingly restored to something approaching its former glory. I knew there would be nibbles and drinks for our $60 tickets, that my swing- and jazz-loving younger daughter, who had alerted me just in time for us to snap said tickets up, was not really dressed for dancing but was going to have a ball all the same.
I even hoped she might take swing classes after seeing some of the Melbourne Swing Club go through their paces - and was intrigued to notice through the night that very few of them had foxtrot steps in their repertoire, preferring instead to hit the floor with remixed swing as the mood took them.
Burrows, of course, is renowned for his contribution to music education in Australia, and didn't just frontline with both bands, but spent a day working with the school band before the event, which probably helps to explain the astonishing tone a VCE trumpeter called Henrik Beasy produced in his solo excursions. Burrows didn't look anywhere near as old as he does in the photo in The Age, which does him a disservice - he was as fresh as a daisy all night long and MC'd the alumni band performance with ease and delight. He spent a good couple of hours between numbers chatting amiably to the milling crowd, without being the slightest bit precious about noises from the dance floor, about his memories of swing, of Benny Goodman, of Dizzy Gillespie and other things I wish I'd written down the next morning.
He talked about relatives going to dances, about standing outside a dance hall as a twelve year old listening to the band through the windows and wondering what instrument he would have to learn to play to get a gig inside. There was a social, happy buzz in the air I've probably never felt at a rock gig - people mingling, looking at an amazing older couple from the swing club strut their stuff: people got up and moved without getting twisted about their jive steps, it was sweet, lively fun and all over too soon.
Burrows provided some personal photographs for the souvenir program, one showing a line of musos in dinner suits with a band leader and a couple of lady admirers, 'the boys and gals outside Sammy Lee's Restaurant, Pott's Point 1944. Don is on the left.' (The quality is not terrific or I would try to get it online.) You'll have to take my word for it that a row of Australian jazz players and their ladies in full evening dress, laughing in the street on a bright night in wartime Sydney helped put us all pretty much 'in the mood'.
The Goodman playlist included Let's Dance, Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day, Rosetta,
Life Goes to a Party, Don't Be That Way, The Earl, Roll 'Em, Flyin' Home, You Turned The Tables On Me, Gotta Be This Or That, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, On A Misty Night, Incognito, Seven Come Eleven, Goodbye, and Sing Sing Sing Parts 1 and 2.
Truly a night to remember - if that was the Saturday dance of yesteryear, why would you miss it?