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Australian Biography -

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(generated from captions) who plays several instruments, Don Burrows is a jazz musician composes, and teaches. His talent and passion for music and other musicians has inspired students, fans from all over the world. and we'd have fun. We'd go to the job

That's when I used to say, y'know, this business, I'll give it away. when the fun goes out of to this day. And I still say that It's always there. But the fun doesn't go out of it. JAZZ PLAYS Can you remember the very first time with a musical instrument? you made a sound

Quite a large comb. Yes, well, that was my mother's comb. tissue paper. And I had toilet paper over it... And... with that, I sat for hours in front of the wireless, with all the bands of the day. blowing along you see. And I would memorise all those, somehow. I was only very small. And I felt... musically strong,

and I didn't know it, That's what I did, in counterpoint and improvisation. but I was getting my first lessons They loved music. Were you parents musical? I've ever had in music. And they were the best support system Really great mates. Mum and Dad and I were very close. tremendous lot of fun. And we had a lot of fun out of life, together always. How? We went to the beach then I'd stand there, shivering, And... then I'd swim, around the guys jamming on the sand and standing with all the ring and 'Some of These Days'. playing 'Sweet Georgia Brown' And I had all these songs. songs I've never seen the music to. And I know hundreds, thousands of you see. Just learnt everything by ear, in Bondi in the '30s? What was it like, growing up Well, this was the Depression years. when he got a job as a labourer But things helped out for my father of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. on the building it helped things quite a bit, y'know. And while that was on, he became a bread carter. And then after that, as a kid? And did you have a job to help out, take orders from the flats around us I had my own fish run. I used to before school. and I'd fill the orders for fish waiting for the first light, you see, I'd get over in the dark, float because I was a rock hopper. and... that's so I could see the and bream, things like that. I'd have some orders for blackfish cos you don't have to buy bait, I'd catch the blackfish first you use the seaweed.

Then I would clean them and gut them to catch the bream orders. and use the guts Cost? Nothing. was straight across the road. And my place of employ Public School. You went to Bondi Beach develop there? How did your interest in music named Victor McMahon. A man came to the school,

instrument to start, for children, He had figured out that the best B-flat school flutes. would be these little He picked the best children and he put us into one band Schools Flute Band. called Sydney Metropolitan 120 flutes - beautiful sound. 'ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR' And I became the captain of that one. at Bondi Beach, And even in that school band on Fridays when we did the formation marching of calling out the tunes... I used to have the privilege you know, marching along. 'Do Ye Ken John Peel', I didn't know why I was doing it, I used to pick the tunes... I was picking the ones but I know now for improvising. that had the best chord changes I was really raring to go, you know. I'd be playing jazz. from the school flute? How did you progress there was only Mum in the house, I remember one day, I think Benny Goodman's orchestra. and on came, I now know was That one playing up high?" I said "Mum, what's that one?

the school flute, even. This was before I got She said "I think it's a clarinet." to have one day." I said "That's what I'd like

Victor McMahon organised that. We couldn't afford a new one. It set us back a bit. professional engagement on that And I did my first three weeks after I'd owned it on 'The Youth Show'. and that was on national radio Just within no time... in gigs, professional gigs. I had the clarinet and I'm playing and I'm playing in nightclubs And then I had the alto and things like that. at the war, it's just Mum and me. I was out till all hours - Dad's away of wartime? What memories do you have and we heard this racket... Mum and I were home one night You know, this noise... a cannon. And... it was a gun firing, the submarine... It was the mother ship, at the Heads. which had unloaded the three midgets and then we'd hear "whromp!" And we'd see this flash going over the top of the flats. and then "whoosh" hit a block of flats in Rose Bay. And a couple of the shells

it was on, just bombarding. And then, all of a sudden, the houses, "What's going on?" And people were coming out of this was it. And for all we knew, at 14 and play music full-time? Why did you decide to leave school there was no comparison I loved it so much, I was achieving and learning. as far as me feeling If I went back to check out in trigonometry what was the cosine or the tangent how I could fit that into the blues. I didn't see playing in nightclubs. Now you were underage, by the authorities? How was it you weren't caught she'd push a button The girl behind the desk,

coming down the stairs, when she saw the raiders looking for people like us. the child welfare department this red light would go on like that We'd be playing away and would grab our instruments so the four of us kids who kept playing, and beat it out past Jim the drummer, and the last kid out put a record on. there was a dumb waiter set up there We'd go out through the kitchen and to the roof of the building and we'd get in and go up which was Selfridges in those days. and cross over to the next building with our instruments And we would sit there

that they'd gone. until a green light came on, Jim's still playing. We'd come back down. band or Duke Ellington on the record. He's playing with Benny Goodman's He's got all the best... the standard of music dropped when we came back. The last kid in would take the record off and we'd just pick it up from where we'd been and the look on the dancers was hilarious. And that went on, and I never got caught there. We used to play from six in the evening till at least two o'clock in the morning, and often, three. And sometimes I would actually bleed in here... The teeth'd go right through the lip and that's really sore. You played in Sydney at the Booker T Washington Club for black servicemen. What was that like for a jazz man? As long as it was grooving, as long as it was happening, they were cool. They also had some very good players among them who'd come and sit in. So it was very timely for a young bloke just getting into it all. And suddenly, wow! Even if I went to America, I wouldn't get a chance as a white bloke to have played in that equivalent situation. When you did try your luck in America a few years later, was that a success? Nearly. I was... I was in the right place at the right time... I had become great friends with the guys in the Count Basie Band and I was to be the replacement for Buddy DeFranco. But by then I was married to a girl who really didn't want to stay there. She just didn't dig it and she wanted to come home. We came home via England and looked around there and did a few trips... But the cards and letters that had been following me, trying to find me, saying "Where are you? We've got great news."

You know, great news... "We can't find you." Too late. By then they got Marshal Royal in the band and he stayed in that band for the rest of his life. Wonder if I'd have stayed that long. I dunno. But it's really nice, it's a great feeling for me to know that... that they thought I was up to it.

Some of the best overseas artists starting coming here in the '50s. What was it like playing with them here? It was just wonderful because... we were playing with the best artists in the world and we're still at home. These concerts were on in the Rushcutters Bay Stadium

and the artists, whether it was Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole,

they stood in the boxing ring to perform. Buddy Rich was in town, Mel Torme, Buddy DeFranco... And we would soon find somewhere to jam, usually in one of the nightclubs after hours. Yeah, and we'd just go right through till nine in the morning.

We'd come out and it's the next day, well and truly. And it's just been such fun, y'know. You'd formed your own quartet, and then, with television starting, were you earning big money? Saturday night, prime time. Live television. Gee whiz. That was good. But the money wasn't very good.

No. The money was crook.

But anyway, it was very satisfying to be playing in this... small group thing, as well as a big thing with strings. You know, you had two ways of having to play. That's good for a musician. PRESENTER: Here's our first soloist tonight.

It's clarinet player, Donnie Burrows, and Donnie's going to do something very magical indeed. 'YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG' But the thing that that was marvellous for was the continuity of the work. It really got the names of us soloists, and our faces and sounds continually into every lounge room across Australia. Yes, you were featured on 'The Magic of Music' for ten years. How did you like being a soloist, a star? I was a very shy person. I was born shy and I've always had to sort of overcome it.

I would just shut everybody out and then I wouldn't be nervous. If I didn't see anybody, I was just telling myself I'm playing by myself. To this day, I don't play without closing my eyes first.

Why do you think you have this shyness despite an appearance that you're very open and free and easy to talk to? Well... The first time I became aware of it where it really sort of mattered was when I first started being aware of girls. And if I had to meet a girl, y'know, I'd think "Oh, God." You know, "I'm not going to impress very much here." So what did you try to impress, say, your first girlfriend with? I went fishing... and I caught a really good fish and wrapped it up. I thought it'd be very impressive. So that was the first sort of overture to... you know, having a girlfriend, I thought I'll... Not many would be able to catch a fish like this and say

"I bought something for you." She... "Ah, what's this?" She opens it, she screams. (Laughs) She saw the fish... So it sort of had a reverse... but anyway. But we did, we were great mates and we went together for quite a while. And I think she was actually... just about the only girlfriend I ever had.

Yeah. Despite all that, you did manage to get married.

How did that come about? Oh, gosh. I was green... inexperienced. Everything about me... becoming married. It was the wrong... person. We weren't really meant for each other at all. And, it led, for me... the greatest heartache and hurt that I've ever had in my life. And that's why I don't talk about it. The shades are down. Y'know, it's... And it's over, it's gone. How long did you stick it out for? 28 years. You see, I was born into an era where divorce was... very uncommon. And, also... Y'know, when you say for better or worse you take the rough with the smooth. You stick it out, and especially... if there's children, you stick it out for the children. And you see it through and I saw it through. JAZZ GUITAR PLAYS How did you meet George Golla? There was a place in Goulburn Street, near Chequers. I'd finished and I was walking up the stairs just as the next group played. And I heard this guitar... I waited till he walked up and I said "Gee, that was good. I loved your playing." He said "Thanks." I said "What are you doing tomorrow?" And that was the beginning of 38 years together. And it sounded as if we'd been rehearsing, which we hadn't been. And that's how we toured the world. Now that was a good marriage, wasn't it? That's... Yes. Yeah. I tell you what, I owe a tremendous amount to George Golla, as a friend, and as a musician. And a real colleague. Yeah. Yeah, the best. APPLAUSE Now, from the late '60s, you ran your own Supper Club at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney. Where did that lead you? People like Bill Cosby, Miles Davis, they all stayed at that hotel and they would tell their friends, if you to Australia, stay there, and listen to the group on the 5th floor. That got our name known to George Wein who ran the Newport Jazz Festival.

This next tune's pretty apt. We're on our way to Newport. It's 'Come What May'. Was the Newport Jazz Festival the highlight of that trip? Playing in Carnegie Hall was just... Oh, gosh, it was a great feeling. Just knowing the history of the place and who'd played there. And the very dressing room they gave us was Benny Goodman's.

You know, for me, the beach bum from Bondi who said "Mum, what's that one playing?" "That's a clarinet." I said "That's..." Here I am, right there. I made sure when we played there that I did at least one tune on the little B-flat school flute. So that when we came off, I got near a phone... I rang my mum and dad. And I said "I've just come off stage in Carnegie Hall. "I just played the B-flat school flute. "I think you can safely say now

"the 18 and sixpenny investment was worth it." By the '80s, you'd recorded dozens of albums but you'd also written a lot of music... a feature film... commercials... and documentaries. GENTLE JAZZ How did you get involved in composing? Someone would hear something I'd written for them, that would lead to something else. It was like a huge spider's web of... opportunities, y'know.

It was like the delta of a big river. There's little trickles going everywhere.

So I became like a full-time composer/arranger for one period. I was always writing music... For other people. Not for me. One particular very, very talented advertising agency with a lot of good connections wanted me to go in with them as a kind of a partner and be exclusively their music guy. And at first I thought "Ah, boy. This is gonna be it. "This is it." Big salary? "I'm going to suddenly be well-off as a musician. That's unheard of." You see? And in a very short time I realised, that's not me cos it involved being at meetings, with a briefcase. And that's totally out of character. So... I had to turn my back on what I knew would've led me to having a big boat on a jetty somewhere. Because I'd have been a fish out of water. And my dream of just being a player of music is very simple. It's not complicated. I'm not complicated. I was gonna make myself complicated. And I didn't want to belong to any one outfit. I like bouncing from this to that and going here and there and not having to answer to anybody and, y'know.

So it was like I'd reached a point in the road with signs going everywhere. Which one do I take? So I thought, stay with what you are. And that's what I've remained, all this time. And in terms of the sort of work you did, you rock-hopped. Yes. Yes, if I thought they'd be biting better over on that rock I'd go over and burley it up and I'd... (Laughs) You're getting to know me. MELLOW JAZZ

How often do you get asked to explain just what jazz is? It's the most asked question. When they say "What is jazz?" I think of it more as not a "what", it's "how".

Let's hear it. (Beats rhythm) If it was a "what", it'd be possible to teach everybody about it and they'd know or have it as if it was a theorem or something, you see. But a "how"... is what I think it is. And being a "how", it's an individual decision about what is jazz because it can sound your way, my way, anybody's way that's doing it. Because there really are as many ways of playing jazz as there are people playing it.

Here, you ready? Here we go. One, two, three, four. Ah... keep going. You've taught in hundreds of schools all around Australia. What is it that you like about that? It takes me right back to that day at Bondi Beach Public (Chuckles) when Vic McMahon came in and... I still know how they're feeling cos I vividly remember how I was, looking and wondering, and "Gosh, I wish I could do that. "One day I might be able to do that." And that never stops. If I'm playing by myself without any accompaniment at all, I'm thinking of that... And I think, gee, I turned pro when I was their age. And I learned on the job. But they're learning now in the classroom, virtually. So... it augurs well for the future of Australian musical standards. Mmm. The job we have to do at the Sydney Conservatorium in the Jazz Department is work with virtually the musicians of tomorrow, I guess. And we've got some of them here today... You worked hard to get the Jazz Department established at the Sydney Conservatorium.

How did you feel when you were asked to head it? I said, I'm not an academic, by any degree.

I'm a player. I'm out on the road and on the stand. I learnt to play on the stand. But if I can help, I'll help. I thought, well, it's a beginning of actual permanence for jazz musicians. How would you describe your teaching style? Simple... Easy to understand. I believe in getting the playing going

and when they can do that then I'll show them the music. Then now when they're reading it... "Ah! I see." Because I remember with my own, y'know, experience where I.... I really neglected learning to read properly because I was just relying on the ear but career-wise I had to eventually apply myself and learn to read. But it was much quicker to learn to read now that I could really play than try to do everything at once. It was very interesting and hard-going but I stayed about 10 years and then I went back to being my own musician again. And meanwhile, you'd decided to get married again. Yes, I did and she was great. She was the best pal I'd ever had and we were terribly, terribly close. It was just... everything I wanted. And one day I discovered that she was off with somebody else and it nearly killed me. It put me in hospital. I was so ill, so bad, y'know. Yeah... it knocked me about and it took a lot of getting over. And I've had a forcefield around me ever since. Don, when these really deep things happen in your life can you express those in music? Oh, yes. Yes. At the depth of my depression er... I wrote the best music I've ever written. The best, most meaningful songs. Yeah. So, I must say, I'd rather never have written any good songs (Chuckles) ... and not suffered, but that's the way the bickie breaks. And I think one of the things that saves me from disaster is... I've never been... dependent on grog or anything like that. And I've always had these terribly close-to-my-heart options like... the rocks. Whenever I've had a problem, even a musical problem, where you get a block and you can't think of the answer... I can't fire and I'll tear up what I've written... I'll go fishing. And not actually thinking about it and suddenly the light'll come on. I'll think "I know what I shoulda written." I'll pack up the gear, go home, and start writing again. Or photography. I'll spend hours in the dark room, sometimes when I really don't feel like it but it'll take me away from what's worrying me. You're still really active as a musician so why did you decide to leave Sydney? I was invited to be a member of the Australian saltwater flyfishing team in a match against Canada. The captain of that team was the late Ray Clark of Paynesville, Victoria and he said "Come down and stay with Lillian and me." He said "I think you'd like it." I came down, I liked it alright. Here I am, I live here and I've still got my friends in the music business. Lucky me, y'know, because that's vital... friends are vital. So, it's been a hard road to get here but boy, it was worth every bump in the road, it really was. And it all began with a B-flat flute. I always jokingly say that's the only one I'm gonna take when I go. That's coming with me, y'know. It won't take up so much room in the coffin anyway. Fancy getting in the coffin with a baritone sax. So what do you think about dying? Dying... What that'll be like? Dying? I've got a fair idea it's gonna happen. But... (Laughs) On second thoughts, I'm having such a great life down here I may not bother going. I think I'll hang around. Stay, y'know. Yeah. Captions (c) SBS Australia 2008

This program is captioned live. An Aeroflot jet crashes in central Russia - all on board die. A string of bombings rips through the heart of New Delhi. This one was bad. It was the longest, slowest hurricane I've ever experienced. A massive rescue operation under way in Texas. And Mark Bosnich shows some of his old magic for the Central Coast Mariners. Good evening, and welcome to SBS World News Australia... I'm Lee Lin Chin. And I'm Craig Foster. Also tonight - Western Australia's Liberals set to form government