Band Culture at Brisbane LIVE – Big Sounds of our Society

The Queensland State Library, in the QAGOMA precinct has an interesting initiative on right now. The showy Queensland Band Culture, which started in May and runs through until September 15, is all about celebrating the ‘soundtrack of our state’.

It is a big, diverse, bold program with a plethora of events to attend FREE as well as an exhibition that documents just how much band music has mattered and meant to the Queensland people over the past fifty years. The period is explored and examined through photographs; sheet music, posters, instruments and clothing, as well as a diversity of styles of ‘band’ music presented LIVE.

From the Swing Bands of the Jazz Age to Bowie’s The Next Day, there is something for everyone, including a children’s Story Lab to keep the kids happy during the winter school holidays. Industry professionals will give them a hands on experience in special workshops.

Brass Roots Live, Fete De La Musique 2008 Brisbane, courtesy Brisbane City Council photo: Antoine Matarasso

Prior to World War I during the nineteenth century, European bands had been all about tradition. They harked back to an age when those working at the coalface were dealing with the rapid changes being wrought by the fury and cataclysmic fast pace of the industrial revolution.

In so many respects everyone’s lives dramatically changed and some were totally dissolved in the terrible trenches of war-torn Europe. Following World War 1 bands became the voice of the people, bigger, brassier and bolder than ever before, especially with the expansion of the swinging music called ‘jazz’.

It was American popular magazine author F. Scott Fitzgerald who had labelled ‘The Jazz Age’ in his novel The Great Gatsby published in 1926. The novel ironically hailed as a ‘dud’ in his day, mused on the wealth, successes and excesses of the high society age of flapper culture, jazz music, playboys and prohibition that he knew so well

Brisbane Municipal Concert Band

A six-screen video installation by artist Sarah-Mace Dennis entitled Sounds of the Emergent State explores the changing state of music and its style in Queensland, from the influence of American soldiers and Jazz during World War 2, to the rise of Punk in the 1970s and 80s, and the international emergence of Queensland Bands towards the end of the twentieth century.

Many people in the other states of Australia would relate to it as well.

Bands of many types have certainly have been integral to my own life’s journey. During my decade living in Brisbane as founding producer of the French phenomenon Fete de la Musique, I met and was able to learn about and to know a great many local bands and their talented musicians. The Brisbane Metropolitan’s Bands Association, through its guiding light Helen Johns, also worked hard to provide me with great bands for various community events produced for Brisbane City Council.

James Stewart as Glen Miller

Growing up following World War II in Australia meant also learning and knowing a great deal about big brass bands and the ‘big band era’.

Two of Hollywood’s favourite actors at the time, June Allyson and James Stewart starred in the fabulous Glen Miller Story in 1954. This happened when I was ten years old and it made a huge impression.

Its rebellious rhythmically strong musical forms were infectious and nostalgic, reminiscent of the time when families and communities pulled together as one to hurdle the challenges of survival through the horrors of the Great Depression and World War II so they could help to preserve our way of life, its system of justice and many freedoms.

Jazz Legend Glen Miller (1904 - 1944)

Glen Miller was a famous American ‘jazz’ band leader prior to and during World War II. He was presumed dead when his plane was lost over the English Channel on 15th December 1944, the day my mother returned home after giving birth to the last of her babies, me.

The war was coming to a close at that point and she saw it as a sign from somewhere, although in retrospect its hard to pin point what, except to say it was more than likely about Jimmie Stewart being her favourite movie hero – she talked about the movie all the time.

We went to see it at The Boomerang Cinema at Coogee Beach something like six times. We went to the Boomerang regularly on Friday nights with our parents to see the latest release and my brother and I enjoyed the matinee on Saturday arvo. This ‘Jazz’ story certainly had a big, immediate and noisy impact on all our lives.

Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

My brother who was 15 was music crazy, as indeed we all were. He played the piano; the drums and trumpet and from then on the soaring sounds of Glen Miller’s marvellous music joined that of all his other favourite ‘jazz age’ heroes.

Miller’s ‘sweet sounds’ filled the cool night air so loudly that I was very sure sailors on passing ships would be able to hear it way out at sea.

Being the last card in a pack of tap dancing singing siblings, my sisters ranging from 12 – 20 years older than me, had meant that I grew up listening constantly to music from the so-called ‘Swing’ era. Glen Miller and his contemporaries made sweet ‘swing’ sounds, reinterpreting the earlier Jazz movements in music that had emerged from the southern states of America in places like New Orleans prior to WWI in America’s to invade the cellars of Manhattan.

It was so much bigger, much less raw and somehow very much ‘cooler’.

Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, one of the most famous musicians of the jazz age, said to America’s favourite crooner Bing Crosby on the latter’s radio show

Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation, then they called it ragtime, then blues, then jazz. Now, it’s swing. White folks – yo’all sho is a mess!”**

He starred in the great movie of the time High Society, along with those very cool crooners Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby with Louis Armstrong making a cameo appearance along with the heart stoppingly beautiful and a very ‘cool’ ice-goddess Grace Kelly, and the very witty delightful Celeste Holm. What a cast, it was 1956 and I was now 12 and the show’s toe tapping tunes by Cole Porter have never really left my consciousness.

Louis and Bing pondered how jazz was made in their fabulous party piece ‘Now You Has Jazz’.

My sisters provided a do waa do waa singing back group for Australian crooner Darryl Stewart for a time. He performed with Bobby Limb at Stones Cabaret, which was nearby the beach at the place where the trams back and forth from town terminated.

So I grew up to the sound of fabulous big bands led by such amazing musicians as Miller, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack and Gene Krupa.

Songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo, String of Pearls, In the Mood, Little Brown Jug and Walkin’ My Baby Back Home were played ad nauseam.

The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) with dreamboat Tyrone Power and gorgeous Kim Novak added with ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby’, My Heart Belongs to Daddy and Manhattan to the mix.

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra singing High Society only added many more catchy tunes to the momentum.

After World War II there had been an immediate significant period of Retro design harking back to the Art Deco or Jazz Age and that’s why it was part of the big revival and also many of the greats like Glen Miller had entertained the troops. When he was lost at sea it was a big blow.

I went to work at the Rural Bank on the corner of Martin Place in Sydney in 1959 and each Thursday a big brass band with gleaming instruments and men in crisply pressed clothes marched down that revered space to play at a ceremony held at the Cenotaph honouring those who had died in the war. Sometimes they were bands from the various military services, but often it would be a Scottish Pipe Band with tartan twirling, which would only add to the impact.

My bank friends and I were always going to lunch just at the time they were marching by and so it was very hard not to find yourself marching along in time and becoming emotional.

The music cut right into the heart of your being.

The very elegant Christian Dior led fifties, for which the movie High Society epitomized and motivated the hopes of a new generation wanting to achieve the American Dream gave everyone something else to focus on so that they could recover their equilibrium and begin again.

The Beatles on Abbey Road - Paul born 1942, John 1940 - 80, Ringo born 1940, George born 1943 - 2001

They melded however into the dissatisfaction of a new generation in what was a very seductive sex-focused swinging sixties and the age of rock and roll bands. They changed the beat entirely, as Jazz faded into the background and everyone bopped and jived to all new sounds.

The Beatles, a band from Liverpool in England became the greatest phenomenon and the biggest commercial success in the history of music. Their 1964 world tour, which included Australia meant a trip down under where ‘hysterical fans’ ensured that they gained celebrity status. Poor Beethoven really did roll over in his grave as the boys twisted and shouted.

The sideburn oriented bell-bottomed spandex long haired superstars Abba driven seventies provide us all with a lot of laughs now, especially when we look at the fashion, but it was all about an all new generation, who had not gone to war, finding out who they really were.

Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad however would not be wooed to go to Brisbane, where leading politicians actually pleaded with the Swedish base pop group ABBA and their band to do so, although to no avail.

The boomer generation certainly indulged themselves during the bouffant big shoulder padded eighties, which began with the crazy Blues Brothers putting together their old rhythm and blues band to save the Catholic children’s home where they were raised.

It’s now a cult classic.

The overblown eighties finally deflated when the sometimes not so nice nineties came along although the superb budget oriented movie Brassed Off kept us all humming along.

During that time Rock bands met morphed into Pop, Hip Hop, R & B, Punk Rock, Reggae and Heavy Metal bands.

If we had to pick one musician of a band, whose life has spanned the period and who, like a perennial flower keeps popping up regularly to bloom with profusion and eloquence we would have to put forward David Bowie.

“As was the case with Miles Davis in jazz, Bowie has come not just to represent his innovations but to symbolize modern rock as an idiom in which literacy, art, fashion, style, sexual exploration and social commentary can be rolled into one.”***

Bowie  has become the master of moving with the times by embracing change and by continually reinventing himself and his music, with innovative simply brilliant visual presentations, ensuring that music has become a modern art form.

He sets a role model for others as he demonstrates his intellectual depth and personal commitment and many musical artists in different band genres have been influenced by Bowie and his music at some point in their development.

Recently highlighting ‘The Next Day’ exploring ‘Where Are We Now’ he has ensured that he’s one of the great heroes of music of the current modern age, the one that started with a bang in the sixties.

Music is at the essence of who we are and sounds are what we make first before we speak.

The brilliant recent ad by the ‘Apple’ corporation depicting people from all walks of life, from many different cultures and all ages enjoying music tells a very simple and telling tale about how connected we are by the sounds of our society.

While Brass and Military bands often fade into the background for a time they never really leave us, after all they have now become traditionally required all around the globe and in many different cultures for official ceremonies and public events.

Multi-layered LIVE events as in the program of Band Culture currently on at Brisbane will go along way in introducing different styles of band music to the emerging generation and highlights the value of our institutions in contributing to appreciation education.

Advocates and lovers of Jazz, which in itself has many and varied movements, have since WWII kept the fires of the big ‘swing’ bands burning and their light alive.

Now during the second decade of the the 21st century it has finally reach a point where it has become OK for people to enjoy many different forms of ‘band’ music and still remain at the very essence of cool.

From the East to the West
From the coast to the coast
Jazz is king cause jazz is
The thing folks dig most…

That’s jazz

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

Live! Queensland Band Culture

Celebrating the Soundtrack of our State

11th May – 15th September 2013
Queensland State Library

Southbank, Brisbane

Click for Program of Events

*Quote: Brassed Off the Movie 1996

**Argyle, Ray (2009). Scott Joplin and the age of ragtime. McFarland – Father of the Blues by William Christopher Handy. 1941 MacMillan

***Rolling Stones Magazine…

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