Jazz Club History

Development of jazz clubs in Townsville


Whilst jazz music had been played in Townsville long before the Harbour End Jazz Club was formed in 1980, there had not been a recognised venue where jazz was performed for about twenty years.  This club effectively started the revival of the jazz scene in Townsville which was then carried on with the formation of the North Queensland Jazz Club (NQ Jazz Club Inc. from 1995) and its subsequent change of name to Townsville Jazz Club Inc. in 2012.
The Harbour End Jazz Club was started in 1980 by Mo Murakami, Ted Redknap, Bob Hebden and Les Nicholson.
Ted and Mo were members of the widely acclaimed North Qld Area Army Band.  The Army band had a close association with the local musicians and having Ted and Mo as Directors cemented that close relationship.  Mo also had an input into starting the NQ Jazz Club which still exists today and is a significant institution in the promotion of jazz in Townsville.  

The club met on every second Thursday at the then Tattersalls Hotel (Tatts) in a back room that was small but very intimate, the ideal jazz club.  Crowds were phenomenal and there was not enough room to raise your arm to drink your beer.  The room spilled out to a beer garden which thankfully provided some space.  Brian Fitzimmons and his wife Pat ran Tatts and were very supportive of the club.

Brian and Pat also ran jazz in the beer garden on Saturday afternoons which provided work for the local bands.  Great musos such as Billy Laut, Ross Collins, Kanga Yoman and Franz Condie were regulars.  
All were ex Sydney musos who had come north to get away from the rat race.

Going to the jazz club at Tatts was always a great night.  The club became a place to be on the social scene and many friendships were formed which have lasted for 30 plus years.  Over its life the club had some famous Australian musicians who appeared including the Bob Barnard Jazz Band which included John Macarthy, Chris Tapperel, Johnny Costello, Len Barnard and Whally Wickham.  Don Burrows also played at the club as did Nth Qld legends like Junior See Poy and his wife Ann and Paul Zammit.

The club ran for many years and held two major Jazz Festivals in 1981 and 1983.  Sheila Keefe, a then Townsville City Council Alderman, was instrumental in assisting with the 1983 festival and was the patron of the club.

The Pacific Mainstream Jazz Band (PMJB) was the house band at the club which in those days had a line-up of Ivan Hauri (clarinet), Luke Portier (bass), John Ruffle (piano), Bob Hebden (drums), Nev Minon (trombone) and Les Nicholson (trumpet).  Paul Waters on clarinet was also a member of PMJB at various stages.

On the 23rd  February 2014 PMJB celebrated its 40th birthday at the Townsville Jazz Club and at that time Les, Bob, John and Nev were still current band members.

The club folded in 1990 due to several factors, arguably the most significant being the demise of the Nth Qld Area Army Band.  This decision by the Government of the time was very contentious and caused a vociferous outcry from members of the Townsville Community.

For ten years the Harbour End Jazz Club was one of the ‘in’ places in the Townsville music scene and made a great contribution to the Townsville Arts and Music Community.

The formation of the North Queensland Jazz Club began with discussions led by Brian Linforth, Mo Murakami and Andrew Dajski around 1993.  By 1994 these guys were playing once a month for ‘beer money’ just to get the club started however the club Newsletter from 1999 states that on Sunday 11th April the club celebrated its fourth birthday and indicates the official start of North Queensland Jazz Club being 7th April 1995.  Bands appearing in this formative era included Andrew’s band Downtown Dixie, Nobby Nielsen from Cairns, Les Nicholson’s Pacific Mainstream Jazz Band and other groups of musos who regularly played together in un-named bands. Brian Linforth was the inaugural President and the club became incorporated on the 22nd July 1997 and adopted the official name of NQ Jazz Club Inc.

The original logo for the NQ Jazz Club Inc. was designed and drawn by Bob Hebden and depicted a trumpet-playing, bowler-hatted face in the sun overlooking Castle Hill.

In April 1998 three foundation members, Andrew Dajski, Brian Linforth and Mo Murakami (now deceased) were appointed as Life Members of the club.

1998 was also the year that the NQ Jazz Club fully supported the decision by a small independent group, Les Nicholson, Bob Passmore, Peter Martin and Brian Lane (then president of the NQ Jazz Club), that the time was right to run an activity to encourage high school students to appreciate and play jazz.  Whilst this was not a jazz club event Nth Qld Junior Jazz Festival Inc. was promoted through the NQ Jazz Club until the final festival was held in 2007 and the remaining funds were transferred to the NQ Jazz Club on the 25th June 2008.   

Like many other jazz clubs it was a struggle to find an appropriate venue and the first gig to gauge public interest was held in the Sovereign Hotel in Flinders Street.   Over the next four years the club’s jazz nights were held in the Exchange Hotel, The Crown Hotel, the Royal Hotel, the Rugby League Club in Redpath Street and then the Kirwan Function Centre until September 1998.

The NQ Jazz Club then moved to its first ideal venue, the German Australian Club in Aitken Street, Aitkenvale on 25th October 1998 where it stayed until the building was put on the market December 2008.  The committee could not be assured of having secure accommodation for the full year so another venue had to be found.  The club moved to its current location at the Townsville PCYC, Wellington Street, Aitkenvale for the start of the 2009 year.

The club would not have become established and continued to operate had it not been for many dedicated voluntary committee members who gave their time freely to help manage a successful jazz club.  Whilst it’s not possible to name all committee members club records show the following people have filled the President’s role since the first AGM in 1995:

1995 – 1996              Brian Linforth

1997                           Len Kingsun

1998 – 1999              Brian Lane

1999 – 2003              Neil Walsh

2003                           Neil Walsh / Acting President Bob Spillane

2004 – 2006              Bob Spillane

2007                           Bob Spillane / Acting Presidents Brian Lane & Ken Burnes

2008 – 2009              Ken Burnes

2010 – 2015              Marie Gibson
2016  -  2017             Corralie Costigan
2017 -  2018              Ken Burnes
2018 -  2019              Larry Thomson
2020 -  2022              Bob Passmore
2022 -                         Bob Spillane

In 2006 Albert Schimmel started a website to promote jazz music featuring the Jazz Program on 4TTT Radio and the NQ Jazz Club.  This website is still being managed by Albert with regular updates to the Program page and a selection of photos taken at almost every jazz night each year.  This facility has continued to be a great promotional tool for the club with traffic increasing every year.

The committee of 2008 introduced some ‘feature’ nights to give members a selling point to entice new people to attend in an effort to increase attendance numbers that had been dwindling for a few years.  The first of these special evenings would be held close to ANZAC Day featuring music from the war era and a jazz ball with Stokes Nicholson Big Band as the drawcard.  Pacific Mainstream Jazz Band offered to present the ANZAC-themed night and a very successful Come in Spinner night with 93 attending was held on 27th April.  Cinderella’s Jazz Ball was held on 13th September, the name reflecting that this was a mini-ball and guests would all be home before midnight!  This was a way to hold a shorter-duration ball at a lower, more competitive ticket price than other balls then being held in Townsville.  The night was a huge success with 103 people in attendance!

Up until this year a different band played at each jazz gig but as musicians moved away from Townsville, drifted to other more lucrative styles of music or retired from playing in bands the club constantly struggled to set a program in advance, not knowing which band would be available. This was not popular with patrons as the club had some members who liked to follow their preferred style of jazz or ‘their’ band and this uncertainty further depleted crowd numbers.  In April the committee decided to introduce the stability of having the same band play on one of the two jazz nights each month and rotate bands in the other jazz night of each month.  Pacific Mainstream Jazz Band was appointed as the first ‘house band’ and a new program had other bands playing on the 2nd Sunday of the month and PMJB regularly on the 4th Sunday.  This greatly relieved the pressure on the committee, enabled program information to be publicised in advance through the monthly newsletter and attendances began to increase.

With the change of venue in 2009 the club made a concerted effort to attract a wider circle of people to the club, predominantly by encouraging all members to introduce at least two new people to the club in that year.  This was another successful attempt by the committee to revive the jazz club and with provided the momentum for other ventures such as the Step OUT-Step UP program designed to give emerging jazz enthusiasts the training and mentorship to step out of the classroom and up onto the stage.   

The club continued to hold an annual jazz ball with a change of title to Jazz ‘n Jewels Ball (later changed to Jazz & Jewels Ball) giving patrons the opportunity to dress in their finery and skim the dance floor to the beautiful music of the 22-piece Stokes Nicholson Big Band and a special night close to ANZAC Day to commemorate the post-war era of jazz.  



The Townsville Jazz Club was originally established as the NQ Jazz Club and operated under this name for approximately 18 years when the management committee began to question whether the regional name of ‘North Queensland’ that did not clearly inform people where the jazz club was actually based was not assisting new people to locate the club.  

In this age of electronic searches to find recreational activities, it was felt that most new residents and people travelling through Townsville who were searching for jazz venues would include jazz and Townsville in their search regardless of any other keywords that they may use in their search.                  

At the 2011 Annual General Meeting a proposal was made to change the name of the club to Townsville Jazz Club Inc. to better reflect the physical location of the club. This motion was passed and the official change of name took place on 11 January 2012.

2012 – A year of change and growth

The club’s website that had been operating since 2006 was changed to reflect the new name and a Townsville Jazz Club Inc. facebook page was established on 21 January 2012.

On Sunday 24th June 2012 more than half the club’s members were present for the launch of the new Townsville Jazz Club Inc. logo featuring Neville Minon.  This was a memorable night when we paid tribute to Nev for his 62 years of service to both jazz and brass band music.  With such a distinguished musical career I don’t think anyone would begrudge Nev the honour of gracing the Townsville Jazz Club logo.  It was clear that Nev was very touched by the occasion and he and his wife Christine were delighted with the image that was created through Bob Spillane’s photography and the artistry of Katrina Cataldo at Townprint.  

By the time of the AGM in November 2012 the club had increased its non-member attendance by 69% over the previous year which the committee agreed was heavily influenced by the combination of the change of name and a concerted effort to promote the club through electronic media.

The Townsville Jazz Club has continued to shape its program to reflect the style of jazz that attracts the majority of its members (mostly swing and trad jazz), lots of theme nights with patrons encouraged to dress in the fashions of that era, with occasional evenings of modern jazz.  The club still encourages bands to play jazz that people can dance to as the most of the members either like to dance or are happy to watch other people dancing whilst still enjoying the music from their chair.  

A further development for the club was the introduction of a Facebook page in 2013. This has been steadily expanding people’s awareness of the Townsville Jazz Club and has helped to encourage new people to attend.  

As we begin the 2015 jazz year with the Opening Night being held on 8th February, the Townsville Jazz Club has a well-planned program for the year, a hard-working dedicated committee and a membership base that loves jazz and fully support their local musicians.  What more could a club want...