Graeme Bell, one of the pioneers of jazz in Australia, and a bandleader and pianist that made over 1500 recordings during a span of 70 years, passed away yesterday at the age of 97. Reports say that Bell suffered a stroke and died in a Melbourne hospital after being admitted earlier this week.
Born September 14, 1917 in Melbourne, Bell began working professionally in the 30’s, but came to notoriety after forming his Australian Jazz Band and touring Europe during the post-war era. The most notable leg of the tour was in 1947 in Czechoslovakia where his band experimented with combining elements of tradition and Dixieland jazz with more obscure compositions.
Bell returned home to Australia and formed the record label Swaggie. He continued to tour and record virtually non-stop until 1967, when he started to diversify his projects. In 1973, Bell took the role of narrator in the Australian orchestral production of The Who’s rock opera Tommy.
Australian critics and musicians alike largely agree that Graeme Bell was not only the musician who put jazz on the map in Australia, but was Australia’s foremost jazz musician.
Bell was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) on 1 January 1978 for “valuable service to jazz music” and an Officer of the Order of Australia on 11 June 1990 for “service to music, particularly jazz”. He was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 1997. The Australian Jazz Awards, or “The Bells”, which commenced in 2003, are named in his honor. Bell is also reportedly the first Westerner to lead a jazz band to China.