Graeme Bell

Graeme Bell was a composer and pianist. He wore a black beret with a red shirt and a black vest. This was a reference to his status as the ‘father of Australian Jazz’. It was also older than the recorded version of the music, if not the live one. Bell was born in Richmond, an inner-Melbourne suburb, at the start of World War I. He said that his earliest memory was of his father displaying flags to commemorate the 1918 end of the war. Jazz was recorded for the first time in New Orleans in 1917, just a few years after its birth. However, jazz and Bell weren’t introduced until a while later. John Bell had two sons: Bell, who was a comedian and worked in musicals and light theatre, and Elva Rogers who was a contralto and had performed as Nellie Melba’s support singer. Bell was the youngest of these two. His father was also a health enthusiast and made sure Roger and Graeme exercised in the yard in their pyjamas every day. This was claimed by the elder Bell sibling. Bell and Roger showed promise early in music. He had weekly lessons in piano for many years. This was something he would be grateful for in the future. He was able to work even when jazz wasn’t paying his way because of his classical training. He taught and played the accompaniment of singers, as well as writing arrangements for other musicians over the years to make ends work. He would make over 1500 recordings. Scotch College was where the Bell brothers studied, and where the older brother excelled in both art and sports. Roger however fell in love with a group young musicians, including “Lazy” Ade Monsbourgh. They were the ones who encouraged Bell’s desire to learn jazz piano because they wanted a professional pianist. Bell worked nine years in an insurance company after he graduated from high school. However, he was able to continue his art education in the evenings and play in the evenings. Bell wanted to be an artist, but soon realized that music was a better career choice. He would often get early morning wake-up calls in order to go to art galleries. After moving to Sydney in late 1950s, Bell also owned a private gallery that was supportive of female artists. Bell married Margot Bias during his time at the insurance company. Bell was not fit to serve in the army during World War II. However, he was offered a job at an army entertainment unit in Mackay (Queensland). He married Elizabeth Watson in 1946 after a short marriage. However, that union didn’t last long. In 1961, he married Dorothy Gough. This marriage lasted for a long time. Bell began playing regularly in Melbourne by 1947 and was a regular with the communist Eureka Youth League. This organization sponsored Bell’s participation at the World Youth Festival in Prague that year. It was so popular that it stayed for four more months in Czechoslovakia. Bell took the group on a tour of Europe and Britain where they were a great success. Bell is often credited for starting European ‘”trad jazz”‘ revival. The group also toured Europe and Britain, where they were a huge success. Bell also did a study tour in the United States. DownBeat stated that Bell’s was “unquestionably the greatest American jazz band.” Bell returned from Czechoslovakia and established the Swaggie record company – primarily for jazz – and toured with the ABC. In 1951, he returned to Europe for a tour. He was accompanied by the American blues singer William “Big Bill” Broonzy, and played at London’s new Festival Hall. Bell formed a new troop tour group to go to Korea and Japan after the dissolution of his original band. In 1957, he moved to Sydney and began touring Australia with Johnny Ray. He formed the Graeme Bell All Stars in 1962. They played at Kings Cross’s Chevron Hotel, Sydney’s most exclusive night spot. Bell performed at major clubs and made records. He also had a national television program, Trad Pad (later Just Jazz), on Channel Seven. Bell continued touring in Australia and abroad. In 1978, he was awarded the MBE. He celebrated his 70th birthday in 1984 with a five-week tour that included one-night stands all over Victoria. People asked him if he was the child of Graeme Bell. Bell traveled to China in 1990 with a jazz band. With Little Pattie as the singer, The Graeme Bell All Stars also traveled to South-East Asia. They played at Expo ’90 in Osaka. He was also made an Officer of The Order of Australia (AO), for his contributions to music. Bell worked when work was available. Bell celebrated his 85th birthday in 1995 by hosting a tribute concert for Melbourne. He was inducted into ARIA Hall of Fame in 1997. The Graeme Bell Reunion Band was formed in 2003 by members of the All Stars. They played some concerts and set a record. He played two concerts in the week following his 90th birthday. The Bell Awards, an Australian jazz award, were established in 2003 and named in his honor. Live Performance Australia awarded him the James Cassius Wilkinson Award in 2006. This award was given to “recognise outstanding contributions to and lifetime achievements in the Australian live music industry.” After suffering a stroke, Bell was taken to the Prince of Wales Hospital. He was 97. His third wife Dorothy, his daughter Christina, Jason and two grandchildren are his survivors. Roger, his brother, died in June 2008. Harriet Veitch from

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