Foreword

Material for this history has been gathered principally from a virtually complete collection of Newsletters in the possession of Robin and Avis Willis, kindly made available to the editor, from entries in the Club’s cash book, and from the committee’s Minute Book.

Regrettably periods existed when the Newsletter issues were many months apart, and information on happenings – such as the appearance of bands – was not recorded. That bands actually performed in the period was confirmed by entries in the cash book – but until recently, bands in that document were not identified by name.

It was therefore impossible to list all the local bands that appeared each month at the Willows and Lakeview and in other locations before 1989. Also, even if it were possible to record this information, it would have more than doubled the size of this document.

However, in adopting this course, an injustice has no doubt been done to those many local musicians who were (and still are) the backbone of music in the club.

The hundreds of performances given by these dedicated musicians for our pleasure have done more than anything else to establish the Club on a firm footing, and members and others owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, which the editor would like to acknowledge here.

This document is not a history of jazz on the Far South Coast and only occasionally is reference made to “non Club sponsored” jazz. However, many restaurants, pubs and bodies such as the Bega Arts Council have provided jazz over the years – the most notable being, of course, the Merimbula Jazz Festival, which, until 1998, was conducted independently from the DSJC.

Pre-1984

The formation of the Down South Jazz Band in 1978 by Jiri Kripac introduced some sort of frequency to jazz performances on the Far South Coast , with fairly regular gigs at various locations such as the Bank Hotel in Bega and the Top Pub in Pambula. Tuesday was practice night at Wolumla Hotel, usually attracting 10 to 15 people. The band comprised Jiri Kripac (trumpet and leader), Barry Pascoe (trombone), Monique Lysiak (clarinet), Gordon Brown (piano), John Moffatt (sousaphone), Bill McLean (banjo) and John Cursley (drums). Pat Thompson (Madam) sang regularly with the band until it disbanded in 1985.

The band was even invited by the Victorian Jazz Club to perform for them over one weekend, which they did most successfully.

On another occasion, the band was playing for a fancy dress 40th birthday at Nethercote. At 12pm they began to pack up when a 6ft 4in burly abalone diver called Harco, dressed as Superman, strode over and questioned the finishing time, insisting, in the deepest, roughest voice, it was 1am. The band, being totally convinced by his argument, started playing again and John Cursley asked Barry Pascoe, who was somewhat upset, “what will we do if he wants us to play until 2am?” Barry briefly stopped playing and quickly said out of the side of his mouth, “We’ll play till two”.

1981 saw the inauguration of the Merimbula Jazz Festival, which brought increasing numbers of expert jazz musicians into the area annually, and allowed local jazz enthusiasts to get to know these musicians personally. It also, in time, brought an urge in these fans to listen to jazz on a more regular basis, with local musicians as the backbone and visiting musicians invited with their bands or as front liners with the locals.

The catalyst in the formation of the Down South Jazz Club was the arrival in Bega in 1984 of Sydney Jazz buffs Frank and Wendy Percy, who had the enthusiasm and know – how to set up and run a jazz club. A committee was formed, a constitution drawn up and the Club came into being in April 1984. Mention should be made of those members of the inaugural committee, whose enthusiasm and self belief ensured there is now a thriving Down South Jazz Club. The committee comprised:

  • President: John Cursley
  • Vice President: Ken Gordon
  • Secretary: Frank Percy
  • Treasurer: Brenda Cursley
  • Publicity Officer: Wendy Percy
  • Newsletter Editor: Frank Percy

1984

With commendable self confidence, the committee opened proceedings with a successful visit by Tom Baker’s Swing Street Orchestra at the Hideaway restaurant in Bega, with a net profit of $147.74. If only subsequent committees could make a similar boast!

Throughout the year, performances by local musicians were held approximately monthly at the Bank Hotel, Bega and the Top Pub, Pambula. A concerted membership drive saw membership rise in the first year to 182. A number of fine visiting artists performed at the Bank Hotel and Hideaway Restaurant in Bega and Eastern Jade Restaurant in Merimbula:

27th April -Tom Baker’s Swing Street Orchestra – Hideaway Rest.
13th June – Sydney Jazz Quintet – Bank Hotel.
6th July – Mike Hallam Hot Six – Eastern Jade Rest. (A tribute to Louis Armstrong)
12th August – Madam Pat and Rag Tag Band – Bank Hotel.
!st Sept – Dick Hughes with DSJB – Hideaway Rest.
18th Oct – Tom Baker’s Swing Street Orchestra – Eastern Jade.
27th October – Graeme Bell’s Allstars – Bowling Club. (Graeme’s 70th birthday)11th November – The Mildewed Figge J.B. – Bank Hotel.

A very fine start to the Club’s programme, by any standards.

Visiting band members always stayed at the Cursley’s, Gordon’s and Percy’s and very many late nights ensued. One night, at the Cursley’s Lyn Wallis went missing and John Cursley eventually discovered him lying on his back in the front yard. Lyn then proceeded to bring John’s attention to the wonderful stars above Bega!

1985

The Down South Jazz Band, the Southern Swing Quartet (comprising Charlie Gibbons on trumpet, Freddy Thomas on piano, Don More on bass and John Cursley on drums), and other local musicians, continued to entertain on a regular basis at the Commercial Hotel, Top Pub, etc.

Frank Percy developed the format of an attractive newsletter which rivalled the best produced in the capital cities.

Membership dropped off from 182 to 140.

Microphones and a multichannel mixer were purchased. The piano from Bega Town Hall was acquired, its action renovated and located at the Hideaway Restaurant for jazz gigs. Speakers were purchased from Tom Baker.

A high number of imported bands was maintained, despite reduced attendances.

The following bands were engaged:

11thJanuary – Paul Furniss’ San Francisco J.B. – Bega RSL Auditorium.
13th January – Paul Furniss’ San Francisco J.B. – Eastern Jade Restaurant.
26th January – 1st Jazz Ball – New Harlem J.B. – Bega RSL Auditorium.
23rd March – Madam Pat and Rag Tag J.B. – Black Dolphin.
1st September – Black Mountain J.B. – Kameruka.
2nd November – Madam Pat and Rag Tag J.B. – Tathra Bowling Club.
16th November – Annual Jazz Ball – Jiri Kripac “Southern Odd Balls Banned” Twyford Hall.
24th November – Tom Baker and Swing Street Orchestra – Hideaway Restaurant.

President commented that the Annual Ball and Tom Baker functions were a great success, although only 30% of the audiences were Club members.

1986

In an early Newsletter, the president highlighted the poor attendance of Club members at most functions, commenting that only 20 turned up to the last function at the Hideaway. He warned that unless attendances at the Hideaway and Kameruka improved, these venues would be lost to us.

An experimental get-together with jazz clubs from Canberra, Sydney, Illawarra, Kiama and Narooma was held at the Steam Packet Hotel, Nellingan on Sunday 13th April. Many bands including the DSJB, musos from Canberra, Madam Pat and her band and many others provided the music. It was apparently a rip roaring success, with around 300 present.

Gigs were introduced at the Cobargo Hotel and Tathra Surf Club, for some reason known as “Sippers”. (John Cursley explains: “nippers” are young members of surf clubs. “Sippers” were the 5pm – 9pm Sunday drinkers at the Tathra Surf Club).

A Club badge was issued, but abandoned for later years on the grounds of cost.

Windcheaters in blue with a gold “Down South Jazz Club” logo were purchased from Tulgeen Industries in Bega. Wendy Percy supplied and attached an embroidered music note to each of the first garments purchased. As there were only a few, they were prized as indications of founder membership.

This year heralded the real start of the “bucket brigade” at the Yellowpinch Picnic at the end of the Merimbula Jazz Festival, in which raffle tickets were sold with great enthusiasm to the picnickers. Reference to the appendix will indicate just how much the Jazz Club has relied on this raffle to keep afloat financially. It is mostly the same team today continuing the tradition, so – to take the opportunity to plug – any new volunteers will be most welcome and a lot of fun is guaranteed.

Membership slightly increased to 150.

The following bands were “imported”

30th March – DSJB with Joe Stokman & Paul Ingle – Hideaway
13th April – Nellingan Rort with other jazz clubs. See above.
15th June – Madam Pat with the Hot Club de Bega – Kameruka.
29th June – Clare Hansson with Madam Pat – Eastern Jade.
26th July – Sydney Jazz Quintet – Eastern Jade Restaurant
27th July – Sydney Jazz Quintet – Hideaway Restaurant.
25th October – Annual Jazz Ball – Mike Hallam’s Hot Six – Twyford Hall.
26th October – Recovery Cruise – Mike Hallam’s Hot Six – Sinbad, Broadwater.

Claire Hansson was a much acclaimed sit – in at the Ball. Life membership was presented to our very distinguished Pat Thompson by President Terry Hayes.

The editor happily recalls the look of horror and disbelief on the face of President un – faze Hayes when we arrived at Sinbad for the Recovery Cruise to discover their liquor licence had not yet come through and the ship was dry! Naturally, the cruise was delayed whilst the situation was rectified.

1987

Membership fell to 95.

The number of “imported” musicians was reduced by around half because of losses sustained in previous years. Bank balance fell to $144 at one point during the year.

Founder members Frank and Wendy Percy returned to Sydney, with loss of their enthusiasm and organising talents to the Committee. Frank Percy was appointed Life Member of the Club in recognition of his unstinting work to get the Club off the ground.

Ken Gordon became Newsletter Editor.

Pat Thompson and her band undertook their first overseas tour to London, Edinburgh, Frankfurt and Holland. Its success may be judged by the many subsequent tours demanded by Pat’s overseas fans.

“Non – Club” Jazz was re-introduced to Kameruka, with the Andrew Ferguson Quartet playing on the afternoons of Candelo market days.

The following visitors played for the Club in 1987:

14th February – Mike Hallam’s front line – Merimbula Golf Club.
15th Feb – Mike Hallam’s front line, backed by Messrs Cursley, Moffatt & McLean, with vocals by Madam Pat – Sippers at Tathra Surf Club.
24th May – Madam Pat & Her Rent Party Band – Sippers, Tathra Surf Club.
8th August – Tribute to Benny Goodman by Paul Furniss and Glen Heinrich backed by Freddy Thomas on piano, Don More on bass and John Cursley on drums – Bega Bowling Club.
23rd October – B & W Ball – Society Syncopators – Black Dolphin Motel .

The Benny Goodman night was acknowledged by all to be unforgettable, with brilliant clarinet playing by Paul Furniss and superb vibraphone work from Glen Heinrich, ably backed by our local musos. John Cursley found it difficult to move his arms for the next week after his frenetic drumming on Sing, Sing, Sing.

Due to previous bookings, the committee broke with tradition in holding the annual ball at the Black Dolphin instead of Twyford Hall. Special efforts to make the venue attractive included beautiful table decorations in the form of black cardboard silhouette stands of musical instruments, lovingly made by Avis and Robin Willis.The ball was a great success, but a consensus of members demanded a return to Twyford Hall in future. Perhaps another reason was the portable dance floor at the Dolphin caused more cursing and swearing during its temporary installation than a golf round.