Monday March 22, 2021

Peter Cowden

The North West's Jazz Ambassador to Australia

    22/03/21 -

    Anybody who has listened to jazz on the internet for as long as I have, can't fail to have come across Peter Cowden's broadcasts. He produced more than 200 half  hour podcasts for lovers of traditional jazz between 2006 and 2009 under the Jazzology name.  He currently produces Swingtime Radio, Broadcasting Traditional Jazz, Swing, Blues, Gospel and popular vocals worldwide 24/7, and you can listen to it here

    Peter was born in Gatley, Cheadle, Cheshire and after moving to New Mills in Derbyshire as a teenager until finishing school his family moved to Thornton Cleveleys. It was there he tells me he used to visit Blackpool weekly for the big band dances but it wasn't until national service in Dusseldorf that he became interested in jazz. Shortly after demob he migrated to New Zealand and stayed for about a year but found it too quiet. He arrived in Sydney in 1958 and immediately found a very lively jazz scene. It was only when he started radio in 1988 that he realised that availability of overseas jazz LPs was virtually non existent so he set about correcting that by launching Jazzology Australia. I'll let Peter tell his own story. -

    Sydney Jazz

    I arrived in Sydney back in 1958 on the good ship Monowai after a short stint in Auckland. Initially, I found the Sunday night dances at the Trocadero filled my needs for good dance music until one evening I was taken to the 'RocksPush' where the Bob Barnard band was playing. A crowded venue with a good atmosphere I returned regularly listening to not only Bob Barnard but also the Graeme Bell band who played there when they weren't touring overseas. Another regular gig was at the Ironworkers Building; an unlicensed union location which necessitated crossing George Street to the Newcastle Hotel during the sometimes quite extended music breaks. Another Saturday afternoon venue down on the waterfront at Woolloomooloo in a pub beer garden was somewhat seedy. My friend, the late Viv Carter (formerly Acker Bilk's drummer) told me that one day a customer who had won the regular Saturday raffle at some adjacent premises took advantage of his prize (which was a lady of somewhat dubious reputation) on the dance floor. The band played on. Those were the days.

    My family and I returned to Sydney after a few years in Newcastle to find Trad Jazz in full swing at the city pubs and wine bars. My favourite spot with a different band every night of the week was Red Ned's at Chatswood. It was here we would listen to the likes of the Mike Hallam Hot Six (Mike is still playing every week), Noel Crow's Jazzmen, Eric Holroyd, Kerrie Biddell etc. In the city one of the go to places was Soup Plus a cellar wine bar where the Harbour City Jazz Band had a regular gig. Tom Baker's San Francisco Jazz Band and his Chicago Seven were regular haunts at City and Surry Hills pubs.

    We then moved to Brisbane with work at the end of the sixties and it was there that apart from the Adventurer's Club (mainly modern/mainstream) I found The Twelfth Night Theatre Club. Every Tuesday this cellar venue featured the Vintage Jazz Band which played to a packed house. Visiting bands such as Kenny Ball would come and sit in but unfortunately, it was closed down for safety reasons as there was only the one exit.

    It was in 1988 that life changed quite dramatically. My daughter Joanne brought home a boy friend who suggested that, as he was a presenter on a local radio station I might like to do a jazz programme. Thinking this would be a bit of fun I agreed and started my stint at 2RRR in Sydney. After a couple of weeks I realised that my collection of LPs was totally inadequate to continue presenting. What was even worse was that there were very few overseas recordings available so I contacted George Buck in New Orleans and asked for a distributorship to which he agreed and Jazzology Australia was born. I then talked with Paul Adams at Lake and Liz Biddle at Upbeat to give me access to top British jazz labels. Luckily, the annual Australian Jazz Convention was to be held in Sydney in 1988 which gave the business a flying start. The business continued selling mail order and at Jazz Festivals in Australia. Another major change occurred in 1990 when I was made redundant from my main income source. As a family we decided to move to the country to a small town called Stroud where we lived for twenty years.

    I was still broadcasting on radio but now on 2NUR a larger radio station on Newcastle NSW. The advent of CDs had provided a major boost to Jazzology but I lacked a marketing base apart from newsletters and response from radio broadcasts. It was then that I discovered iTunes and as I was already preparing weekly programmes for 2NUR decided to apply the same material to the internet as podcasts. Although in those days podcasts weren't all that well supported by listeners I had enough dedicated subscribers to make it worth doing. Some of these podcasts still play regularly on Swingtime Radio.

    Following the passing of my wife Mary, in 2010 I moved to Woy Woy and became involved with the long established Jazzleague at the Central Coast Leagues Club in Gosford NSW. Our main objective apart from listening to different jazz bands every Sunday afternoon was to raise money for scholarships for aspiring young jazz musicians. So far we have awarded over $63K to help with their development.

    My new wife Bobbie and I attend weekly jazz at the Ashfield Club in Sydney where we listen to Dennis Quinlan's Bridge City Jazz Band and their regular guests and will hopefully be returning to the Jazzleague once the club gives us approval to restart after COVID.

    I am currently working on the Swingtime Radio jazz page to make it more interesting and interactive. Please contact me at cowdenpeter@gmail.com if you would like to contribute programmes to Swingtime. Amongst others we already have regular contributions from well known UK banjo player and composer Pete Sumner.

    Peter Cowden

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