Living treasure a trove of talent
COTTESLOE jazz musician and WA Living Treasure recipient Lew Smith still considers be-bop saxophone legend Charlie Parker to be the best-ever jazz player.
“It was 1950 and I saw him at the Birdland club in New York, and I was so impressed because he was a world-class performer before he got into the drugs,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith is a self-taught musician and his contribution to Australian and British jazz over 60 years was recognised, with 14 other arts Living Legends, at a Gallery of WA ceremony last Friday.
Yorkshire-born Mr Smith was 12 when he started playing drums in his father’s dance band before picking up his beloved saxophone at aged 15.
His first professional job was playing on Atlantic passenger liners that took him to New York – that Charlie Parker gig – and to also explore the jazz of trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie.
A year later, music led Mr Smith to his singer wife June, who was with the Ivy Bensons’ All Girls Orchestra at a Butlins Holiday Camp in Yorkshire.
“She was an attractive lass and a very good singer,” Mr Smith said.
However, the mid-’50s arrival of rock and roll killed dance jazz bands and Mr Smith started playing music in theatres which, he said, “bored me to tears, it was so repetitive”.
As a result, the couple migrated to Melbourne, where they had a band called Maximum Load, before moving to WA in 1974 when Mr Smith started teaching music at the Claremont Secondary Teacher’s College, and the family raised four children.
“June and I had a band together – the Apple Band – in which I played flute, clarinet and saxophone,” Mr Smith said.
As a founding member of Jazz Fremantle, Mr Smith still organises gigs and plays occasionally at the Navy Club in Fremantle, in between daily morning swims at Cottesloe Beach.
Jazz Fremantle founding member Lew Smith still organises gigs and plays at the Navy Club in Fremantle.