'Lazy Ade' Monsbourgh

Jazz multi-instrumentalist

Thursday 22 September 2011 06:20

Adrian Herbert Monsbourgh, trumpeter, valve-trombonist, saxophonist, woodwind player, pianist and bandleader: born Melbourne, Victoria 17 February 1917; AO 1992; twice married (one daughter); died Melbourne 19 July 2006.

When "Lazy Ade" Monsbourgh and Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band first arrived in Britain in 1947, hidebound enthusiasts of traditional jazz wore beards and sandals and judged the local jazz musicians by how accurately they aped their American betters. Traditions were respected and it was thought crass and vulgar to try to play jazz on a saxophone.

The Bell band blew a gale of fresh air through all that. Until then listeners in the clubs had sat in studious rows before the bands. The uninhibited Australians cleared away the chairs and brought in dancing to the music. And "Lazy Ade" Monsbourgh and "Pixie" Roberts played saxophones. Instead of reverentially recreating performances of jazz themes from the Twenties, Monsbourgh and Bell wrote their own tunes and even used "pop" songs.

Monsbourgh was at once the most eccentric and the most creative man in the band. His monosyllabic replies and air of detachment earned him his nickname. He was, then unheard of in British jazz, a multi-instrumentalist, who impressed most on the white plastic alto saxophone that he played. The trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton, whose life was changed by the Bell invasion, caught the essence of a Monsbrough performance:

The way he wrestled with the sax to produce music that was tough and sentimental in the same breath always suggested to me someone trying to extract his own tooth . . . His face, with its short, aggressive nose, fiercely bulging eyes and long upper lip, had in repose an expression of benign and disdainful pugnacity, like a Boxer puppy.

When the Australians returned to Britain in 1951, the band, in the endearing habit of Australians, settled uninvited in Lyttelton's home. Lyttelton claimed to have Australians the way other people had mice. Monsbourgh and Lyttelton had a particular musical affinity and, since Lyttelton's trombonist Keith Christie had recently left to find his way into "modern" jazz, Lyttelton's front line consisted only of himself and the clarinettist Wally Fawkes. This left ample room for Monsbourgh to step in and the records they made together 55 years ago have such spirit and energy that they are still selling well across the world today.

"Technically, he was not highly accomplished," wrote Lyttelton:

He and his alto sax lived on terms of mutual distrust and non-cooperation. Every note he played seemed to be torn grudgingly from the instrument, with which he literally grappled, heaving and lurching about . . .

Monsbourgh formed his first band while at Melbourne University. The association with Graeme Bell began in 1930 and he was on all Bell's tours of Europe between 1947 and 1952. He worked and recorded with Bell's brother, the trumpeter Roger, from 1943 to 1971.

Steve Voce

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments