For many decades, Keith Hounslow answered the call of the bugle of jazz music
A great jazz musician, Keith Hounslow never learned to read music and only had a primitive knowledge of chords and associated scales. Yet he has been active in Australian jazz for over 60 years, achieving a level of brilliance matched by only a handful of this country’s most distinguished musicians.
As a young boy in Perth, whose father had bought him a trumpet, he loved swing, which he heard on the radio, and was drawn to American trumpeters Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier. Jazz musicians in Perth were scarce then, but Hounslow worked with a group called the West Side Jazz Group.
He had been playing for about two years when, at age 19, he arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Eve 1947 to attend the Second Australian Jazz Convention. Two trumpeters, Roger Bell and Ade Monsbourgh, were then in Czechoslovakia for their unprecedented tour with the group Graeme Bell. Frank Johnson and 19-year-old John Sangster were still in Melbourne to fly the flag but, according to Dick Hughes, Hounslow was “without question the new star of the second convention”. Within a year, the dean of Australian jazz critics, William H. Miller, had voted Hounslow Australia’s best trumpeter.
Hounslow settled permanently in Melbourne in 1948, being part of a bohemian subculture linked to the rebel movements of painting, poetry and jazz. He formed Keith Hounslow’s Jazz Hounds who worked as a dance band in Melbourne venues.
A milestone was the 1949 visit of former Duke Ellington cornettist Rex Stewart, 42, who became a father figure to Hounslow. Stewart toured with the group Graeme Bell, with Hounslow as the “baggage boy”. He was close to Stewart and his partner Ruth Hansen and accompanied them when they moved to Sydney for Stewart’s subsequent performances.
As a non-reading musician, Hounslow was not interested in the commercial work that supported many jazz musicians, but when a true improvisational musician was required, he was the first call. He moved to Adelaide in 1950-51 to play with composer / pianist / trombonist Dave Dallwitz’s reformed Southern Jazz Group. Their recordings in 1951 prompted insightful critic Bruce Clunies-Ross to praise Hounslow’s “very individual genius as an improviser” and to describe him as “Australia’s most brilliantly original jazz instrumentalist”.
Back in Melbourne, Hounslow spent six months with Frank Coughlan’s dance group at Trocadero in Melbourne. However, like many Melbourne players at the time, a “day job” was required. In the 1950s he started working in the Melbourne office of advertising agency J Walter Thompson and built a successful career outside of music.
In 1954 he married Valerie McDermott and three children were to accompany him. With a family to support he was happy to earn a lot of money in advertising. He was also an excellent documentary filmmaker and at the Chicago Documentary Film Festival in 1962 won a director’s award for best foreign film on Shell Co Australia.
In the mid-1950s, saxophonist Brian Brown transformed Hounslow into modern musicians, including Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Hounslow, who loved what he heard, became a member of Brown’s quintet that revolutionized Melbourne jazz at Horst Liepolt’s Jazz Center 44 club. The other participants were pianist David Martin, bassist Barry Buckley and drummer Stewart Speer. Almost overnight, Hounslow had become a modernist, playing bop in a fully developed style.
At home, Valerie and Keith, believing they could not have children, adopted a boy, Nicholas, in 1963 (died in 2014), followed by the birth of their two children, Simon in 1965 and Sophie in 1967. Valerie and Keith separated in 1984 and Hounslow moved to Sydney. There he was joined by his new partner Kerrie Thorp; they stayed together for 33 years until Kerrie died in 2017.
Hounslow performed a duet in the mid-1970s with Tony Gould from Melbourne, a bank clerk who played the piano next door. In McJad (Melbourne Contemporary Jazz Art Duo), they pioneered free improvisation many years before The Necks was known for this genre. âHe must always be a special type of pianist to me,â Hounslow said, âand I found that in Tony, a beautiful musician. We just absolutely play and don’t even need to talk about it. It is magic.”
Before moving to Sydney, Hounslow revisited traditional jazz with Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers in Melbourne and, once in Sydney, formed a brilliant mainstream quintet, Keith Hounslow’s Jazzmakers, who toured extensively for Musica. Viva.
In his elderly care unit in Bunyip, outside Melbourne, Hounslow passed away peacefully, listening to jazz, with his surviving children Sophy and Simon at his bedside.