How jazz won the ears of a kid from Bondi
Australian Biography: Don Burrows 6pm, SBS
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.’’
Don Burrows on sax