One of the most gratifying things about being a jazz listener is the possibility of meeting one’s heroes in the flesh. I could lament that I never saw Django or Charlie Christian or Teddy Bunn, but I’m happy and proud to be able to write, “I’ve met John Scurry.”
I first heard John — guitarist, banjoist, composer, and not incidentally an artist — on several NifNuf CDs that came out of Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties (a glorious series of celebrations running for a decade).
I would put the CD into the player, most often in my car, and just listen, not knowing who the players were aside from Bob and one or two others. But when I got to my destination or at a stoplight, I would look at the personnel to see exactly who that most impressive (unidentified) player was. Sometimes it was Fred Parkes, other times Chris Taperell or George Washingmachine.
But I came to know John Scurry’s work quickly: his ringing lines that didn’t go in familiar paths, his solid rhythm, his interesting voicings. I then heard him on CDs with Allan Browne and Judy Carmichael and continued to be impressed.
And it would have stayed that way except for this summer’s trip to England and the long thrilling jazz weekend at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.
One night before the festival actually began, there was a concert devoted to the great British dance bands of the Thirties. After we found seats on the little bus that was to take us to the hall, I recognized some people I’d met at the previous year’s festival — the multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid and his sweetheart Anna Lyttle. . . then Michael introduced me quickly to his colleagues, “there’s Jason, and John, and Ian.” I’m not terribly good with names the first time I’m introduced, so I let the new bits of data wash over me. (Eventually I came to meet and admire Jason Downes and Ian Smith.)
Later on, though, someone pointed out “John” and gave him his full title . . . and I went up to him and said, “You’re John Scurry? I’ve been admiring your work for a long time . . . ” and on. When he played with Michael’s Late Hour Boys, he was even better in person. (I’ve posted a number of clips on YouTube that will bear me out.)
I’ve been listening John’s winding, curious compositions on some other CDs with Allan Browne recently. I regret that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to make a solo or duo CD. In a world full of guitarists, he surely stands out.
I was both delighted and a bit puzzled by the portrait top left — even though I could understand that it is summer in Australia while we are worrying about the effects of the first frost on the plants . . . so I asked John to explain:
The band is a drumless quartet with Eugene Ball trumpet, Mike McQuaid
reeds, Leigh Barker bass, and myself on guitar. We are unrehearsed and
playing standards, some of my so called originals and whatever comes
to mind in the balmy summer eve atmosphere of the lovely interior
spanish mission style courtyard of the Mission to Seafarers in
Melbourne, and old circa 1910 building. The painting is by Antoine Watteau and I think it may be in the Met. Jed Perl who writes for The New Republic did an article on it a few years back. The painting if I remember correctly was recently rediscovered: I downloaded the image from his article, which was called ‘A Big Surprise”. A very beautiful work, don’t you think? Sort of
encopasses everything really.
As to “reverse swing”. It’s a cricketing term, wherein the ball when
bowled swings the other way unexpectantly and contrary to Mr. Isaac
Newton’s expectations. I like the name, I’m left-handed and happen to
play cricket…and I’m a bowler. At this stage up until Christmas the gig is only for three weeks, however as with all things we live in hope and joyful anticipation that more music may be had from the seafarers in the New Year.
I did this gig last year with Mike and Leigh, it’s a lot of fun
working with an acoustically based group without drums……it’s good
to find one’s voice for better or worse without certain aural
I only wish that New York was closer to Australia, or the reverse. Perhaps someone will record REVERSE SWING with a video camera and share the results with us? It won’t be the same, but it will tamp down my “Something wonderful is happening far away and I can’t get to it.”
May John Scurry and his friends — not only in the Australian summer — prosper.