Vale Allan Browne
You could catch Allan Browne most Monday nights at Bennetts Lane, driving the band from behind his drum kit and cymbals. If there was ever a foundation of the Melbourne jazz scene, Allan Browne was the man. Alongside regular gigs like his Monday night features at Bennetts Lane, he was the chairman of the Melbourne Jazz Co-op, ran masterclasses on jazz history at the Victorian College of the Arts and also served with the Australia Council for the Arts. Allan was also a recipient of the prestigious Don Banks award in 2001 - one of only a few Australian jazz musicians to receive the prize. Not only that, but he was a Graeme Bell Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, and performed on a number of ARIA award winning releases, including Paul Grabowsky's Six By Three.
Browne was due to play at the Bennetts Lane closing night on Monday, June 14, 2015, and had appeared there only a week beforehand at the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival to launch his latest quintet album 'Ithaca Bound.'
Always the gentleman, Allan Browne’s free spirit was evident in his art. He was not only a drummer, but a composer and a poet, and he was an immensely diverse musician. During the 60s, he helped found the legendary Melbourne trad jazz outfit known as ‘The Red Onion Jazz Band:’ “Because traditional jazz was very popular, we became a cult band… As we became more competent, we started getting interested in the Hot 5 and Hot 7 stuff… we learn’t all the Jelly Roll Morton, everything that Pops recorded, all the King Oliver things and all the Bix Beiderbecke things.”
When big international names were in town, Browne would often accompany them on the drums. He backed the likes of Milt Jackson, Jay McShann, Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin. “The Milt Jackson gig was the most swinging’ gig I’ve ever done… he wanted a sizzle cymbal, so I got this old cymbal I bought for 30 bucks. I took it in and he loved it, and I’ve been playing it ever since, and that was ’78!”
Browne never shied away from more contemporary jazz settings either, and instead surrounded himself with many younger musicians, and has recently worked with Marc Hannaford, Sam Anning, Shannon Barnett. Mal Stanley featured a 2011 Bennetts Lane recording with Browne, Hannaford and Annaing on Jazztrack, which you can check out here. His latest album, which was just released at the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival featured Eugene Ball on trumpet, Geoff Hughes on guitar, Phil Noy on alto sax and Nick Haywood on bass, and you can hear a sample here, and below is another clip of Browne accompanying bassist Sam Anning with saxophonist Julian Wilson.
Finally, in his own words - those of a true improviser, when asked by fellow drummer Andrew Dickerson about what to expect when playing a gig with Al: “When you come along… I hope you realise that none of us really know what we’re going to play, we’ve spent our lives up until now preparing for this moment. That’s what it’s all about, and we’re just going to do our best. It’s not a planned thing - it’s completely improvised.” Catch that full interview from RN’s Into the Music here.