AT THE CONTROLS: Harry Harman at the desk for his weekly jazz program on Radio Five-0-Plus 93.3FM.
AT THE CONTROLS: Harry Harman at the desk for his weekly jazz program on Radio Five-0-Plus 93.3FM. PHIL DUFFY

Harry's still jazzed with Coast life at 89

IF WE were all as happy, healthy, active and alert as Harry Harman is at 89, we wouldn't mind getting older nearly as much.

Harry is the voice of Radio Five-0-Plus 93.3FM's Wednesday afternoon jazz program, the Rhythm Club, but you might also have seen him gigging around the Central Coast, or just hauling his double bass out of the car.

He's convinced it's the music - playing, listening, creating and programming - and the friendships that have gone along with it, that have kept him young.

He is still in close contact with a number of his playing contemporaries, who meet for dinner or a drink and "tell a lot of lies - a lot of tales about the things that happened ... and a few that never really happened!"

"I think it's that sort of communication that keeps you alive," Harry said.

His mum gave him his first jazz record when he was about 16 and, like most teens even in those days, he wasn't too impressed.

But when a friend convinced him some time later to go along to the 1948 Jazz Convention in Melbourne, "it was like a bubble burst" and he's been hooked ever since.

At that time he was playing guitar "very badly" he reckons, but well enough to form the Paramount Jazz Band alongside a bunch of other amateur jazz enthusiasts.

When a better guitarist came along, Harry went with the flow when band members suggested he "give the tuba a go".

He played tuba with the band for the next three years, in which time, unable to find a venue, they decided to create their own and, in 1953, founded the Sydney Jazz Club, with a two pound investment each by four musicians and four jazz fans.

The big buzz in the dance halls of the time was swing bands and vocalists, but they got 150 people along to that first gig and within years the fortnightly gigs proved so popular they had to move into a two-storey building, with bands playing on each floor and attracting up to 1200 people.

While they would never hit those dizzy heights again, the club operates to this day with a monthly gig at the Waverton Bowling Club.

The problem was, members of the seven-piece band still had jobs to hold down and family demands, so weren't always available to play, and there were no ready replacements.

So they decided in the mid-1950s to open a jazz school and create their own pool of talent, encouraging young people to become interested in jazz by playing alongside the experienced musicians.

But Harry's musical journey wasn't over yet.

When the Port Jackson Jazz Band was looking for a bass player ... Harry learned the double bass.

When he joined Graeme Bell's All Stars in 1962 and Britain's Kenny Ball and the Jazz Men were all the rage with the sounds of the banjo, Graeme said "pity you don't play the banjo, Harry".

Harry knew what was coming ... he learned and then played the banjo in the band for the next 12 months, until another player left and he was able to return to the tuba and bass.

"I always loved music, and it was a challenge, so I never minded learning something new," Harry said.

In 1984 Harry became a founding member of the New Wolverine Jazz Orchestra, which went on to play at the prestigious Edinburgh Jazz Festival in 1993 and do nine tours of the United States up to 2007.

"They were marvellous times," Harry said.

It's hard to believe having done all this, and earned an OAM in 2010 for his services to jazz, that Harry was actually only a full-time professional musician for five years in the 1960s when he played with Graeme Bell.

But touring and playing almost every night is tough when you have three kids, so Harry went semi-pro and to this day still plays with the Wolverines, the Dixie Stompers, his own Harry Harman's Gentlemen of Jazz, as well as doing private gigs in small quartets.

He's also able to share his love of jazz each week on community radio, starting 23 years ago at an opposition station, and for the past 11 years at Radio Five-0-Plus.

He believes the music brings back happy memories for people of their dance hall days.

And with 1100 CDs at his disposal (and growing), three regular guest spots, a growing tribute scene in New York to the sounds of the 1920s and '30s, and an enviable knowledge of the genre, there's plenty to entertain.

You can hear him each Wednesday from 12-3pm at 93.3FM, and watch for his bands playing live.

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