Guitar, Piano, Trombone
Frank Traynor played a vital role in the history of Australian Jazz. He initiated the Melbourne-led Australian jazz revival of the late 50s and 60s and, during his 40- year musical career, often broke new ground where other musicians and bands could follow.
Always with the aim of promoting and keeping jazz alive, Frank led Australia’s longest continuously running jazz band, The Jazz Preachers. He created many unique opportunities for jazz to continue and grow, the Melbourne Jazz Club and Traynor’s Jazz and Folk Club being just two examples. He taught, lectured and wrote on jazz, and inspired and nurtured many musicians. His ardent passion for jazz was as intense when he died as when he first discovered it in his early teens.
Frank was born in Melbourne on 8.8.1927 into a musical family (his mother played piano and his father played trombone in a brass band), and as a child was taught classical piano. At the age of 14 he first heard the blues and boogie-woogie and was completely captivated. However, his life-changing experience came a little later, when he heard Louis Armstrong’s ‘12th Street Rag’. It was then that he committed his life to jazz.
In his teens, Frank played piano in a few bands, but soon realised that he wanted to have a more prominent role in the New Orleans style jazz which he loved, and so learnt the trombone. His father showed him the first three positions on the trombone and from there he was completely self taught.
He formed his first band, the Black Bottom Stompers, in 1949 with friends Martin Finn and Graham Coyle, along with Peter Cleaver, Don Bentley and John Woolff. In 1951 he joined the Len Barnard Band and that same year was voted best trombonist in the ‘Make Way for the Bands’ poll. He also made his first recordings with this band.
By the middle 50s, jazz music had fallen into a slump. In 1956, in an attempt to revitalise jazz, Frank formed the Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers. He decided on a musical policy of no mikes, no singing, no chatter; just letting the music speak for itself. The Jazz Preachers had their first regular job at the Mentone Life Saving Club where they developed a popular following.
Another band policy Frank maintained was to not have a featured vocalist. He made three exceptions because of his great admiration for their exceptional talent. These were Paul Marks, Judith Durham, Margaret Roadknight and Helen Violaris. Judith’s career was launched while singing with the band, and Frank was able to help her and the Seekers obtain their first recording contract with W&G.
In 1958, still on his quest to promote jazz, Frank started the Melbourne Jazz Club. Based at St. Silas’ Hall in Albert Park, and featuring the Jazz Preachers, it became so popular and successful that it revolutionised the music scene in Melbourne. Soon jazz clubs were starting up everywhere, creating many work opportunities for jazz musicians. The success of the Melbourne Jazz Club spearheaded the Australian jazz revival, which continued well into the 60s. The format of the jazz club was also revolutionary. For the first time at a dance venue the audience sat at the front of the hall to listen to the music - any dancing took place at the back of the hall. The early Jazz Preachers comprised Frank, Bob Barnard, Fred Parkes, Bill Tope, Graham Coyle, Ron Williamson and Don Bentley. However, Bob Barnard soon moved to Sydney and was replaced by Roger Bell. As part of the Melbourne Jazz Club, Frank also ran classes and lectures on jazz. It was during this time that he produced a chord book for jazz musicians which is still in use today.
Another very important venue for the growth of the band’s popularity was the Wild Colonial Club at Lorne, where it played a six-week season every summer from 1958 to 1962, always drawing huge crowds. It was at the Wild Colonial Club that the band noticed the incredible audience response to a tune called ‘Sweet Patootie’ and realised its potential.
The Jazz Preachers had already recorded an L.P. for W&G, and Frank approached them to record ‘Sweet Patootie’ and release it as a single. It took many months to convince them but when ‘Sweet Patootie’ was finally released, it was an incredible success. At that time it was almost impossible for any Australian record to get radio play on commercial stations, little less make the hit parade: – it was extraordinary that a jazz tune should do so. This was one of many ‘firsts’ of Frank’s career. ‘Sweet Patootie’ sold so many copies without having had any radio play that, rather reluctantly, it had to be included in the Australian Top 40 Hit Parade, where it climbed into the top 10. The other extraordinary aspect of ‘Sweet Patootie’s’ success was that the number of record sales required for it to be included in the Australian Top 40 was based on Victorian sales alone. In those days, the feud between Melbourne and Sydney was very strong, and Sydney radio stations would not play any Melbourne records, no matter how popular. Despite receiving almost no exposure in Sydney, ‘Sweet Patootie’ sold the equivalent of what today would be considered a gold record. As a result, Frank broke new ground and crossed musical boundaries when the Jazz Preachers and ‘Sweet Patootie’ were included in the Encyclopedia of Australian Rock.
The Jazz Preachers had a total of three records on the hit parade, the other two being ‘Washington Square’ and ‘Please Girls Please’. This last tune was unusual in that it was composed by a group of music students from Box Hill College of TAFE, who approached Frank to record it.
The Jazz Preachers recorded with W&G for a number of years. Frank had a good working association with W&G and was given free rein on what he wanted to record. Once again, he broke new ground in the middle 60s when, at the request of W&G, the band recorded Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers Play Show Tunes and the soundtrack from the film Thoroughly Modern Millie. Another unusual recording session for the band was a series of singles featuring the Football Clubs’ theme songs, recorded for The Herald newspaper and 3DB radio station.
After leaving W&G the band continued to record regularly on various labels, including the World Record Club and the band’s own label. The Jazz Preachers’ records have been released in Canada, Germany, England and France.
In early 1963, Frank started the Frank Traynor’s Folk & Jazz Club. Commonly referred to as ‘Traynor’s’, it became a Melbourne icon. Like the Melbourne Jazz Club, it was revolutionary and played a key role in the folk revival in Australia, while at the same time keeping jazz music alive after the boom had collapsed.
Frank had felt that there was a need for a place where jazz musicians could play the music they wanted to play, without the restrictions of ‘crowd favourites’ and dance tunes. Because of his connection at the time with a number of folk singers, he understood their need for a different style venue for their music. To quote Frank: “There was a natural affinity between folk and traditional jazz musicians at the time. They had mutual respect for one another, particularly because they were both taking their music from folk roots, they were both a bit underground, they were both totally sincere in what they were trying to do with their music and had a great personal belief in it; there being a message of truth in the music”.
‘Traynor’s’ had a number of features which made it unique:
• The combination of jazz and folk music – This created a created a cross over and blending of folk and jazz for both audiences and performers;
• The setting – a dimly candle-lit coffee lounge with barrels for tables and canvas fold-up stools for seating with almost no choice in beverages and food;
• The format – the focus was on the music, which was presented in a concert-like atmosphere with the audience sitting in silence during the performances. Folk music was performed 7 nights a week. On Friday and Saturday, jazz was performed from midnight until the early hours of the morning.
• The open house policy – musicians were encouraged to drop in and “have a blow”, creating a wonderful opportunity for young inexperienced musicians to play, often with their idols. Frank provided a supportive and creative environment with great nurturing of young talent.
During its 13 years of operation, ‘Traynor’s’ became a home base for folk and jazz musicians, a reference centre for folk and jazz and a booking centre for folk singers and jazz bands. It encouraged and presented other art forms growing out of folk traditions: flamenco music, exhibitions of paintings, classical music, plays and poetry readings. In its field, ‘Traynor’s’ gained a reputation around the world, and international folk and jazz musicians knew it as a place to visit when in Melbourne.
Frank always promoted jazz with a fervour verging on the religious. It didn’t matter where he played, or for what occasion, as long as people heard jazz. He called it “spreading the word”. To this end, the band played anytime, anywhere and for any occasion: concerts, balls, dances cabarets, hotels, schools, festivals, promotions, rallies, be it in a concert hall, shopping mall, train, boat or the back of a truck.
Among its many, often Australian, firsts, The Jazz Preachers was the first band to play at a wedding ceremony in a church and the first to play at a New Orleans style jazz funeral; the first jazz band to be included in a Moomba programme; the first jazz band to have a featured regular spot on a television show (Peter Couchman) and the first to be featured, as itself, in an episode of a television series (Cop Shop).
The band toured extensively throughout Australia. It also toured for both the Victorian Arts’ Council and arts’ councils in other States.
Over the many years, The Jazz Preachers played regularly in a number of venues such as Athol’s Abbey and the Melbourne Townhouse. However, the venue that is most associated with the band is the Beaumaris Hotel, where it played every Wednesday night for 16 years.
Frank produced and directed many large-scale concerts including ‘The History of Jazz’, ‘Seven Decades of Jazz’, and ‘The Jazz Odyssey’ at Dallas Brooks Hall, the Melbourne Town Hall and the Sydney Myer Music Bowl. In 1972 he presented ‘The History of Jazz’ at the National Folk Festival – the first time a jazz band had been seen at a folk festival. He initiated a program, which ran for many years, of taking jazz to schools, both primary and secondary, presenting an introduction to jazz and its history.
As an authority on jazz, he lectured extensively on jazz history and wrote many articles on jazz.
Frank taught music, piano, trombone, trumpet, clarinet and guitar. He taught guitar for a number of years at Melbourne Teachers’ College and the YMCA. In the 60s he was given a feature column in the teen magazine Go-Set where he wrote on jazz and folk music. He also produced a weekly series of guitar lessons for Go-Set.
He helped Bob Crawford make the Free Entertainment In the Parks Jazz Week the huge success it became. A unique ‘Jazz Week’ event was a concert at the Myer Music Bowl, where the Jazz Preachers presented a program playing with traditional Aboriginal musicians. In 1975, as part of FEIP, he was voted by his peers the 1st King of Jazz.
Frank’s ever-present concern for the survival of jazz in Australia and work opportunities for jazz musicians, led him to becoming an office bearer in the Musicians’ Union, where he worked tirelessly for a number of years.
Through his playing and his many music-related activities, Frank was able to make music his career. Through this career, he was able to inspire and influence many musicians and music lovers. He created many musical opportunities and provided work for countless musicians. He was once described by a journalist as “the pulse of jazz” and on the ABC was referred to as “Mr. Jazz”.
Looking over his career, one can see what a pivotal role he has played in the Australian music industry. His contribution to Australian jazz has been immense and there is no doubt that Frank has done more to promote jazz than possibly any other musician in Australia.
- Discography — by Don Williams — last modified Oct 04, 2007 05:22 AM
- Go Set Magazine Articles — by Don Williams — last modified Jan 13, 2009 12:54 AM
- Scanned images of folk and jazz articles written for the magazine by Frank covering the years 1967 - 1970.