Aus­tralian jazz en­thu­si­ast’s ex­ten­sive legacy

Horst Liepolt. Jazz pro­moter. Born Ber­lin, July 27, 1927. Died New York, Jan­uary 9, aged 91.

The Australian - - ARTS - ERIC MY­ERS

In­flu­en­tial in three cities — Mel­bourne, Syd­ney and New York — Horst Liepolt came from an artis­tic fam­ily. His grand­fa­ther was a clas­si­cal oboe player, his mother a con­cert pi­anist, and his fa­ther a writer. In 1944, aged 17, he heard Louis Arm­strong’s Savoy Blues, which changed his life. That year was a cru­cial turn­ing point, which ex­plains why the club he opened in Mel­bourne in 1957 was called Jazz Cen­tre 44, and his record la­bel, es­tab­lished in 1975, 44 Records.

After the war, he ar­rived in Launce­s­ton in 1951. He worked as a “pow­der-mon­key” on con­struc­tion projects for the Hy­dro-Elec­tric Com­mis­sion for six months, be­fore go­ing on to Mel­bourne.

In Mel­bourne in the 1950s Liepolt no­ticed the emer­gence of tal­ented mod­ern jazz per­form­ers, and in 1957 he opened Jazz Cen­tre 44, a small club at the Kathe­rina Cafe in Mel­bourne’s bay­side en­ter­tain­ment precinct.

It lasted only three years but, as the writer Kaye Blum notes, it be­came “the Aus­tralian mecca for mu­si­cians, artists and au­di­ences for all that was the new­est and most cre­ative in jazz, art, po­etry, film and pho­tog­ra­phy”.

Un­like some Euro­pean mi- grants, Liepolt never lost his thick Ger­man ac­cent, which was fondly im­i­tated by friends: “Tell you vot, baby, ze band voss sv­ingkink und groovink!”

Liepolt ar­rived in Syd­ney in 1960 and be­came in­flu­en­tial the next decade, when a con­flu­ence of events stim­u­lated jazz ac­tiv­ity. Bruce Viles opened the Rocks Push in 1971, and in 1973 The Base­ment, which would be­come the city’s lead­ing jazz venue for many years. The group Gala­pa­gos Duck, then man­aged by Liepolt, played for sev­eral nights straight, with Liepolt pre­sent­ing more non-com­mer­cial and in­no­va­tive groups early in the week.

Over the fol­low­ing decade, Liepolt built up per­for­mance op­por­tu­ni­ties for sev­eral jazz mu­si­cians at venues such as the Aus­tralian Mu­seum, the Syd­ney Hilton and the African Queen. His Mu­sic is an Open Sky fes­ti­vals were sur­pris­ingly suc­cess­ful, and his 44 Records la­bel re­leased about 30 LPs of Aus­tralian jazz.

He in­tro­duced a sub­stan­tial jazz com­po­nent into the Syd­ney Fes­ti­val and, in 1980, shortly be­fore he left for New York, be­gan the Manly Jazz Fes­ti­val, which is still in ex­is­tence to­day.

In New York, Liepolt made his mark swiftly. Hav­ing met Mel Litoff and his wife Phyl­lis Weis­bart, who took over the venue Sweet Basil in Au­gust 1981, Lie- polt be­came the club’s mu­sic co­or­di­na­tor, and did what many said could not be suc­cess­fully done at the time in New York: put con­tem­po­rary jazz into an es­sen­tially com­mer­cial set­ting.

Liepolt and his two part­ners sub­se­quently took over a bar called Lush Life and pre­sented jazz there too. In 1982 they started the Green­wich Vil­lage Jazz Fes­ti­val in an ef­fort to re­in­force the sense of com­mu­nity in the vi­brant, some­what bo­hemian area. Spread across 13 venues, its open­ing con­cert in Au­gust 1982, star­ring Dizzy Gille­spie, was at­tended by 10,000 peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton Square Park.

Liepolt’s great­est coup was to of­fer a reg­u­lar Mon­day night gig at Sweet Basil’s to the ar­ranger/ com­poser Gil Evans, then a rel­a­tively ne­glected fig­ure de­spite his leg­endary sta­tus. Miles Davis, who re­garded Evans as his best friend, came to Sweet Basil’s on one oc­ca­sion and thanked Liepolt for giv­ing Evans this op­por­tu­nity. The Gil Evans Mon­day Night Orches­tra gig lasted for five years, and re­sulted in the re­lease of sev­eral suc­cess­ful al­bums pro­duced by Liepolt. The al­bum Bud and Bird won a Grammy.

In 1990 Liepolt mar­ried Clarita, a Colom­bian woman 25 years his ju­nior, who sur­vives him. A cel­e­brated artist/sculp­tor in her own right, she en­cour­aged Liepolt in his par­al­lel ac­tiv­ity as a visual artist.

He ex­hib­ited his paint­ings in Ber­lin and New York, in­clud­ing his Zen Im­pres­sions ex­hi­bi­tion in New York, which took place as he cel­e­brated his 90th birth­day.

Liepolt’s great­est coup was to of­fer a Mon­day night gig at Sweet Basil’s to Gil Evans

Horst Liepolt in­flu­enced the jazz scene in Mel­bourne, Syd­ney and New York

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