Jack Brokensha

John Joseph “Jack” Brokensha, born in Australia, was an American jazz vibraphonist. He is best known for his work as a member of the Australian Jazz Quartet or Motown Records. Brokensha was born at Nailsworth in South Australia. He studied percussion with his father and also played the xylophone on radio and in vaudeville. He was a member of the Australian Symphony Orchestra from 1942 to 44, and he also played in a band with the Air Force between 1944 and 46. He formed his own band and played in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Sydney in 1947-48. In 1953 he moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada with Australian pianist Bryce Rohde; they formed the Australian Jazz Quartet the following year with Australian bassoonist/saxophonist Errol Buddle and American saxophonist/flutist/bassist Dick Healey. After a tour through Australia, this ensemble recorded as a quintet and sextet. They toured together until 1958. Brokensha was born in Detroit, Michigan and moved to Detroit where Berry Gordy, Motown Records, hired him as a drummer. He also became one of the few black members of Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. recording station’s house band, The Funk Brothers. To distinguish him from Jack Ashford (an African American percussionist, nicknamed “Black Jack”), he was given the nickname “White Jack”. Brokensha was a percussionist (mainly vibraphone), on hundreds of records. Motown did not credit session musicians until 1971 with the highly-acclaimed Marvin Gaye album “What’s Going On”, which Brokensha performed. He ran a steakhouse in a converted house on Lothrop Street, right next to Berry Gordy’s Hitsville USA. “Brokensha’s” was the name of his club. It featured good food and great music. Bess Bonnier, a fellow Detroit resident, was often his companion. In 1970, Earl Klugh, a teenage jazz guitarist, made his first appearance at Brokensha’s. He played solo and with Jack Brokensha’s Quintet. Brokensha started his own music production company after further tours to Australia with Sammy Davis, Jr., and Stan Freberg. In 1963, he did a session in Australia with Art Mardigan and then became more involved in disc jockeying as well as writing music for television. He was again recorded as a leader in 1980, and continued leading his own group into the 1990s. Brokensha, 84, died in Sarasota from complications due to congestive heart disease.

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