Australian jazz enthusiast’s extensive legacy
Horst Liepolt. Jazz promoter. Born Berlin, July 27, 1927. Died New York, January 9, aged 91.
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