How jazz won the ears of a kid from Bondi

Aus­tralian Bi­og­ra­phy: Don Bur­rows 6pm, SBS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THOUGH this show runs for a halfhour, it is so suc­cess­ful at what it does that you will feel you’ve known Don Bur­rows your whole life by the time the cred­its roll.

Of course, de­pend­ing on how old you are, you may well have known the great jazz man your whole life.

He is 80, and the words peo­ple gen­er­ally at­tach to per­sons of his age, such as ‘‘ spry’’ and ‘‘ co­her­ent’’, sim­ply do not ap­ply to his ex­u­ber­ant, colour­ful per­sona.

Bur­rows is an Aussie thun­der­bolt. He tells in­ter­viewer Robin Hughes, with a chuckle, that the minute the fun goes out of the busi­ness, he’ll give it away. No sign so far of the sun­set of the fun.

The mir­a­cle of this se­ries of Aus­tralian Bi­og­ra­phy is that the episodes con­tain so much in­for­ma­tion, and yet pro­ceed smoothly, as if in­ter­vie­wee and in­ter­viewer have just sat down for a nice, spon­ta­neous chat.

One of its key strate­gies is to il­lus­trate the words of the sub­ject with mag­nif­i­cently re­stored footage: in Bur­rows’s case, monochrome stuff from his child­hood in Syd­ney’s Bondi in the 1930s.

But it’s the ac­cess to the per­sonal that seals the deal. It’s com­mon­place th­ese days for celebri­ties to de­ploy as much spin as state politi­cians.

Without seem­ing to pry, Hughes gets Bur­rows to open up about his first 28- year mar­riage ‘‘ to en­tirely the wrong woman’’, and his much later but tragic sec­ond mar­riage to en­tirely the right one.

You will have to tune in for the de­tails, but Bur­rows is dis­arm­ingly frank about both.

And of course, it’s about the mu­sic. Bur­rows’s first pro­fes­sional gig was

I’d rather not have writ­ten any good songs and not suf­fered like that’

play­ing clar­inet on na­tional ra­dio, three weeks af­ter he ac­quired the in­stru­ment. He left school at 14, com­pletely cer­tain of his path in life.

‘‘ If I had to check the co­sine of the tan­gent in trigonom­e­try, I didn’t see how I could pos­si­bly fit that into the blues,’’ he tells us amid gales of laugh­ter. Also well doc­u­mented is Bur­rows’s 38- year part­ner­ship with gui­tarist Ge­orge Golla. ‘‘ I owe a lot to him as a friend and a mu­si­cian. Yeah, the best,’’ he tells us, softly.

Bur­rows has al­ways taught in schools be­cause he so well re­mem­bers the day of his first huge mu­si­cal thrill when a mu­si­cian came to Bondi Pub­lic School all those years ago, and set him on the course he has fol­lowed. He also worked hard to get the jazz depart­ment es­tab­lished at the Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium of Mu­sic, and taught there for many years.

He tells us he wrote the best mu­sic of his life fol­low­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of his sec­ond mar­riage.

‘‘ I must say I’d rather not have writ­ten any good songs and not suf­fered like that,’’ he says. ‘‘ But that’s the way the bikkie breaks.’’

Ian Cuth­bert­son

Dis­arm­ingly frank:

Don Bur­rows on sax

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