WHITEOAK, Ralph Andrew

MMus (Perf) University of Melbourne 2004 (NiC) Pages:

A SEARING SOUND - A preliminary investigation into the legend of Australian saxophonist, Frank Smith.

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[Abstract provided by author] Like most countries that possess a history of jazz performance, Australia has its share of legendary jazz figures, or jazz 'greats'. Of these, the saxophonist Frank Smith (1927-1974) is considered by highly credible witnesses to have been possibly the most talented and original modern jazz saxophonist of his generation.

Jazz historian, Bruce Johnson describes him as 'one of the most important musicians in the history of Australian jazz and one of the handful to achieve legendary status' (Johnson 1987:254). Partly because both his public profile in jazz and his life ended before historians began to take a serious interest in Australian modern jazz, much of what is thought to be known about Smith has been passed down by word of mouth. Furthermore, until quite recently there were no widely available examples of Smith's playing, meaning that relatively few people have heard Smith playing jazz.

In this thesis I seek to question certain aspects of the Smith legend by testing various claims, anecdotes and stories against data provided by those who were close to him professionally or otherwise, and also data extracted from primary printed sources and the study of sound recordings sought and obtained as a critically important basis for this project.

Central questions addressed by this thesis are; what was it about Smith's approach to playing jazz that gave him such a reputation for originality and virtuosity, just how justifiable is this reputation and, what precisely was the nature of the musical influence he is said to have exerted over various grateful jazz talents who survive him? These questions are framed within a survey of broader influences and events in Australian modern jazz of Smith's era drawn from reputable secondary sources and also a chronological survey of Smith's career drawn where possible from primary sources.

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