Will McIntyre

Pianist/singer Will (Willie “The Lion”) McIntyre was one of Australia’s greatest jazz entertainers. He was an instrumentalist/vocalist, so this puts him in a group which includes Louis Armstrong, Wingy Manone and Fats Waller. It was Ade Monsbourgh, the multi-instrumentalist of the best of Graeme Bell’s earliest bands, who dubbed Will “the Fats Waller of Australia”.

I shall never forget Will at the sixth Australian Jazz Convention, December 1951, playing Viper’s Drag. Will was one of very few Australian pianists who played stride, that robust style centred on the left hand, which was personified by Fats Waller.

Another pianist but only occasional vocalist whom Will admired was Jelly Roll Morton. In July, 1946, for the independent label Ampersand, Will recorded Morton’s Winin’ Boy Blues, probably his greatest record.

At the second Australian Jazz Convention, 1947, Bill Miller, who owned Ampersand Records and was a great admirer of Willie’s playing, told how he played Winin’ Boy Blues to Willie when the pianist was thoroughly plastered. “And,” said Bill, “Willie was saying ‘This is tremendous playing’ and ‘I’ll never be able to play like this.’ Willie had forgotten the record, forgotten he’d even made it.”

At the 1948 third Australian Jazz Convention, he recorded another piece which had twice been recorded by Morton. I was there and was profoundly impressed. It was Don’t You Leave Me Here and Will later heard a record made of it by the Melbourne collector Ray Tijou. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done”, Willie told me. “It’s so relaxed.” Thank God he remembered. What a pity the record was never made available.

Will’s regular daytime job was as an accountant with my uncle Walter, who was also an accountant, at a firm called Nonporite Pty Ltd in Glenferrie. On several nights of the week he was pianist with Tony Newstead’s Southside Gang, an excellent Eddie Condon-style band, which also included clarinettist George Tack and drummer Don Reid. Newstead played firm, swinging Bobby Hackett-style trumpet.

Will McIntyre was certainly an influence on my playing. I remember playing at a jam session in early 1949, just after the third Convention. Will was there, and I deliberately played some dissonances in his style on Tea for Two. “Hey! Pinching my stuff,” The Lion roared, “I can sue, you know.”

He didn’t though. But he continued to give me hours of pleasure as he played the most solid piano one can hear.

A personal highlight of our friendship occurred on the night of February 4, 1971. The now defunct Daily Mirror had flown me from Sydney to interview Count Basie in Melbourne and review his concert at the Festival Hall. I was backstage with Basie when Willie appeared.

“Bill,’’ I said (for Basie had asked me to call him Bill) ‘’this is Will, and you taught him, and Will taught me.’’

This was possibly the highlight of my social life in jazz.

Dick Hughes 1931-2018

Jazz pianist, journalist, broadcaster

Sydney October 2017