Harry Harman, an Australian traditional jazz devotee, died January 2nd at age 91. He was recently active with his band Harry Harman’s Gentlemen of Jazz, The Dixie Stompers, The New Wolverine Jazz Orchestra, in small groups, and as the host of The Rhythm Club, a Wednesday afternoon jazz radio program in Gosford, NSW. His contributions to traditional jazz in Australia began over 70 years ago.
In 1948 he began playing in jazz bands after attending a jazz convention in Melbourne. At the time he was playing guitar but switched to tuba to fill a need. In 1953 he formed the Paramount Jazz Band and the band founded the Sydney Jazz Club to have a regular place to play. At its peak, the club’s events would draw as many as 1200 people for traditional jazz at a time when swing and vocalists dominated Australian nightclubs. In the mid-50s the club organized a jazz school so that they could have young alternates available when musicians had family or work obligations. The club still hosts monthly events.
In the late 50s, he switched from tuba to double bass to play with the Port Jackson Jazz Band. In 1962 he joined the Graeme Bell’s All-Stars and began his only five years as a full-time professional musician. For one of those years, again to fill a need, he learned and played the banjo before returning to tuba and bass for most of his career.
He was a founding member of the New Wolverine Jazz Orchestra in 1984, and after retiring from his career as an electrical wholesaler, devoted more of his time to the band. They played the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in 1993 and toured the United States nine times, most recently in 2007. Many American musicians and fans remember him from Bix Fest and other events.
Back home he has hosted jazz programs on community radio for almost 25 years. He was awarded The Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2010 for service to Jazz.