Early in 2000 I completed my doctoral thesis, and I prepared to move to Sydney, where Sall and I lived thereafter for two years. On the evening of February 16 I gave a recital in studio 345 at the ABC Centre, Southbank, as a gesture of thanks to the many people who had helped me through the PhD process. The following day I had been booked by Mal Stanley to do a session with Shelley Scown for Jim McLeod’s Jazztrack. Shelley and I had worked together a little bit before, starting when Shell generously sang on my final undergraduate recital at the VCA in 1992.
After we’d done the duo session I got to thinking about the proximity of the two recordings and the manner in which they seemed to complement each other. So I put together the present program: solo pieces mixing with duo ones. I thought to release it way back then, and we talked about it, but going to Sydney and focusing on other things meant that that didn’t happen.
I’ve listened to the set over the years and never lost my affection for it. I had loved Shelley’s voice since first I heard her sing, in Paul Grabowsky’s quintet. And she had become a friend since first we worked together for that VCA recital. It was a very great joy to have her write the lyrics to two of my compositions, and then to prepare them with her for recording. My previous recordings had almost all taken place at the ABC: two dates with Browne – Haywood – Stevens, another duo recording with guitarist, Geoff Hughes, and a session with Ben Robertson’s Songhouse in October of 1994. It was all feeling very comfortable.
‘The view from the desk’ was written several years before the PhD started, but revisiting it for the recital it seemed to have the feeling of sitting in my study in West Brunswick and looking over the ’burbs as I put my chapters together. The words to ‘This autumn year’, are, I think, absolutely brilliant – but at the time they were written I didn’t understand them at all. I had no children in those days, and now I have three so that’s the change that has brought Shell’s exquisite text into relief. ‘What are you doing the rest of your life’ and ‘That’s all’ were both selected by Shelley and although generally speaking I don’t play standards they were terrific choices. ‘Sooty’s return’ was named by Allan Browne when I brought it to a BHS rehearsal one day; his family’s dog, a small white creature they had ironically named Sooty, had (as I recall) very recently come back from a vet procedure. ‘Quite like lightning’ has been previously issued by the ABC on an album celebrating forty years of Jazztrack. Again, astonishing words; the surprise in the opening line gets me just about every time. ‘Music for Meredith’ was composed initially for the recording with Hughesy, and Meredith had been one of the great supporters during my doctoral candidacy. ‘Never let me go’ I insisted on doing because it’s a tune I absolutely adore, and I had first heard it on Shell’s 1992 gigs at Jac’s Bar with Richard Montgomery playing piano. 'The thurible and the club', freely improvised, takes its name from a line in my PhD thesis that impressed my supervisor in such a way as he wondered if I'd actually thought of it myself. (I had.) It's a piece that surprised me as I delivered it; I was pleased with it and I recall (with a wee blush) that as it wound up I said, out loud, ‘I just made that up!’ Gosh, for shame. Finally ‘If I only had a brain’ was a selection of mine because everyone does ‘Over the rainbow’ and we already had enough ballads. (Also, I think it’s a ridiculously cute tune.)
Thanks firstly to Mal Stanley, for inviting us to record for Jazztrack, and for so expertly engineering both that session and the recording of the concert the night before. Thanks to Jim McLeod for providing a space on air for work like this, and for his personal encouragement over so many years. Thanks furthermore to Hugh Robertson at ABC Music for organising licensing of the Jazztrack material.
Thanks to Paul Grabowsky, to Richard Montgomery, and to Stuart Speed and Allan Browne. My deepest thanks however go to Shell, for friendship and encouragement and collegiality and for recording these pieces with me. It’s a blessing to know you and to have worked with you.
My part of this recording is once again dedicated to Sally, who stayed with me right through the doctorate – and ever since. You, Sall, are my heart’s love.