ALL THAT JAZZ: Dr Lauren Istvandity looks over a scrapbook of heritage materials from the 1970s.
ALL THAT JAZZ: Dr Lauren Istvandity looks over a scrapbook of heritage materials from the 1970s.

All that jazz: Expert looks to preserve musical history

WHEN do past events become history and how do we protect those memories?

That's something Dr Lauren Istvandity has had a lot of time to reflect on as she seeks out the community's memories of jazz music in Queensland from the 1950s-early '80s.

She has spoken to musicians, venue and club owners, audience members and their families, as well as collectors, in an effort to increase the Queensland Jazz Archive collection, preserve the musical heritage and inspire future generations.

But she has found a lot of people have already passed away, their memories, photos, posters and recordings lost.

Trained in classical music and viola, Lauren grew up in a musical family in Toowoomba, which has a rich jazz tradition, and began singing jazz about six years ago.

Her current work is as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Queensland Conservatorium, working with the State Library of Queensland through the John Oxley Library Fellowship to capture the stories of an era.

She has discovered a similarity in her own path to jazz, with most of the original musicians coming from classical backgrounds, self-taught jazz and the skill of improvising by simply listening to records or by peers.

Most people, she said, were musicians by night but also had day jobs, including everything from insurance salesmen to doctors.

"Dancing was the main pastime for most people - it's where most people met their partners - and there was a gradual change-over from bush dances to swing and the big bands," Lauren said.

"I think Brisbane and South-east Queensland generally were seen as very sleepy, but there was a thriving jazz scene and exciting things were happening here ... it just went under the radar in a national discourse, overshadowed by Sydney and Melbourne."

Describing jazz as "the pop music of its time", Lauren said photos and stories suggested both artists and audience would go from club to club and musicians would sit in with different bands, with local musicians even called in to back up big touring acts such as Louis Armstrong and Shirley Bassey.

Names which often cropped up in her research included Jack and Vern Thompson, Darcy Kelly, Perc Garner, Mileham Hayes and Sid Bromley, she said.

She pointed to venues like "The Primitif" in Brisbane, a cool bohemian jazz café set up in 1957 by a young mum of just 21 with the unusual name of Peter Cox (Hackworth), as well as Mileham Hayes' Cellar Club, jazz restaurant "Sweet Patootie" and Brisbane Jazz Club.

Big dance venues included Brisbane's iconic Cloudland (sadly demolished in 1982 despite its National Trust listing), Riverside Ballroom and the Trocadero, which attracted hundreds each night.

Lauren said she found it sad that too often in Queensland, we undervalued the future heritage importance of things, and therefore lost pieces of our young history, particularly when older people downsized or died.

"Time marches on: people think the 1980s is recent, but it's already 30 or more years ago, the '60s are at least 50 years ago ... that is our legacy," she said.

Lauren will present a lecture summarising some of her collected stories and other findings to date at the State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane, at 6pm on November 1, but is continuing her research.

If you have stories, photos or other memorabilia about jazz in Queensland during these years, contact Lauren on 0431302094 or go to https://qldjazzmemories.com.