Thursday, 18 July 2013

Return visit to the SA Jazz Archive: the Graham Eames Tribute Concert and the SAJA Book Club

This week I made a return visit to the South Australian Jazz Archive. This was a jam-packed two days beginning with an interview with the Archive’s current president and archivist, Don Hopgood, who was a catalyst in the SAJA’s founding. 


Don is a very well-known public figure in Adelaide, having spent 20-odd years as an elected member of the South Australian Parliament, including as Deputy Premier from 1985-1992. Indeed, there is a wealth of expertise in the core group of volunteers at the SAJA from the fields of politics, broadcasting and academia among others. And of course, Don is also an historian, so he can readily dip into the archive’s materials which he does regularly when writing for the SAJA magazine Back Beat. Though Don is also involved in other community and volunteer work around Adelaide, his Tuesday’s are devoted to jazz, spending time at the archive during the day and then the Southern Jazz Club in the evening. 

My visit to Adelaide also involved attending a tribute concert that had been organised by the South Australian Jazz Archive to honour cornet player Graham Eames. 

The concert was held at The Highway Hotel, the home of the Southern Jazz Club. Don Hopgood was MCing the event and read out a lovely citation, the content of which had been drawn in part from an oral history interview that had been conducted by Don’s brother (and which is part of a series of oral history interviews with South Australian musicians which were undertaken for a forthcoming book). As Don said of Graham, “how much poorer would Adelaide jazz have been without Graham Eames”. The SAJA Award of Merit was then presented by archive patron Ollie Clark AO who described Graham as a “tremendous musician and great bloke”. To get a sense of the music played during the evening watch the short extract below:

As part of its fundraising activities, the archive had a stall at the concert where punters could purchase merchandise, including ten CDs which featured Graham Eames on lead trumpet/cornet. The archive also had a series of colourful banners on display that provided information about the archive and other aspects of jazz culture in South Australia.

At the end of the night the Southern Jazz Club presented the archive with a cheque, a much welcomed donation. All up, it was an excellent night of mainstream jazz which also featured Bruce Hancock on piano; Bruce being a member of the SAJA Committee and the archive’s link to the Conservatorium. 

The following day I was back at the archive, this time to sit in on its book club. This is a wonderful initiative of the archive’s librarian (and secretary) Jane Shoebridge. Not only is it a way of putting duplicate copies of books held by the archive into circulation among members, but it also provides an opportunity for members to share their knowledge about different aspects of jazz. This meeting of the club focused on Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and was led by the current treasurer of the archive, Bill Wood, and the former president Ron Spain. 

To get a sense of the book club, imagine 11 people sat around a table with steaming mugs of tea and coffee and a selection of biscuits and chocolate; jazz books in the centre of the table; a CD player with open jewel cases, boxed sets and liner notes scattered to one side; selected tracks played at regular intervals to illustrate discussion and those present nodding heads or tapping fingers in time with the bluesy rhythms; knowing murmurs at the lyrics and the odd chuckle too. Although, as Jane observed, book club meetings have gradually morphed into “seminars” they still seem to serve the archive well in providing an opportunity for interested parties to get together socially, in a way that emphasises knowledge exchange, and all the while using the archive’s book collection. 

I hope to return to Adelaide a few more times in the next three or so months to continue my participant observation at the SAJA. I certainly need to get in some dance practice before I head to another night at the Southern Jazz Club!