CANBERRA blues musician Dean Edgecombe’s family has enjoyed an out-of-the-ordinary brush with fame.
His late mother – actress Ilma Adey – performed with Australia cinema royalty, and his late father – musician John Edgecombe – played with jazz great Ella Fitzgerald and other leading musicians of the era.
A founding member of the Canberra Blues Society, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Edgecombe shared his remarkable family history with “CityNews” while discussing the importance of the society to the Canberra music scene.
“Dad was a very good jazz musician and very well known during the 1950s,” says Edgecombe, 66.
“He backed a lot of overseas stars when they came to Australia including Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and Johnnie Ray.
“Mum was an actress, and a singer, and made a movie called ‘King of the Coral Sea’, which came out in 1954.
“It was filmed on Thursday Island and starred Chips Rafferty, Rod Taylor, and a very young Charles (Bud) Tingwell.”
A talented songwriter, bassist, and vocalist in his own right, Edgecombe is also the founding president of the Canberra Blues Society, which formed in 1997.
Following his relocation from Sydney, Edgecombe helped establish the society with other like-minded local musicians, as a way of promoting blues in the territory.
“I’d been involved in the Sydney Blues Society and when I moved to Canberra for work I spent some time getting to know the local blues musicians and we all decided it would be a good idea to get a blues society together,” says Edgecombe.
“So, we met up at the Gypsy Bar in the city and it went from there.
“The whole idea of the society was to promote interest in blues music and try to get some gigs for ourselves.”
Starting from humble beginnings with 30 members, the society now boasts a membership base of more than 300.
While the society has had many homes over the past 25 years, it has settled on the Harmonie German Club as its permanent base where it
hosts travelling blues bands, blues events and runs regular jam sessions and workshops.
“The popularity of blues has definitely grown in Canberra and that’s down to the work of the society because it has provided venues for bands, and promoted not just our own events but other blues events, too,” says Edgecombe.
Following a long career in a number of Canberra blues bands, Edgecombe has played most recently with the Jeff & Deej Trio.
A passionate fan of blues music, Edgecombe says the genre developed in the late 19th to early 20th century.
“It comes from a moulding of African rhythms from the people who came as slaves from various parts of Africa to the US,” says Edgecombe.
“It’s good music and it’s relatively simple to play.
“If I’m playing with a band and we are going well and the audience is appreciative, then playing blues feels great, it’s like a drug-free high.”
Fellow Canberra Blues Society founding member Steve Hartnett, 69, points to the pivotal role that blues music has played in the development of some of the biggest pop groups including The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
“There’s hardly a genre of music – apart from classical – that doesn’t have a blues influence somewhere in its development,” says Hartnett, who serves as the society’s current president.
According to Hartnett – a seasoned harmonica player with Canberra band Blue Tone Specials – blues music encourages movement and dance.
“It lets you in,” Hartnett says.
“It makes you want to move, tap, and dance because of all the rhythms and tempos, and its subject matter is so varied.
“Blues music is not all lovie-dovie, it’s earthy, it’s sad, it’s about loss, grief and bitterness.”
Longtime society office bearer Kerry Sattler, 69, has devoted her time as secretary, treasurer, and booking agent to support the volunteer organisation over many years.
Although not a musician, Sattler has fond memories of growing up listening to blues music on her crystal set radio.
“You had to connect a thing to your venetian blinds so you could get the signal,” Sattler says.
The blues society has given her an opportunity to reconnect with those childhood memories and the music she loved.
“When I listen to blues I get totally immersed in it. I can shut everything out and forget all my troubles,” says Sattler.
“It’s just the music and me, and that’s a great feeling.”
To mark the Canberra Blues Society’s 25th anniversary, the society has produced a CD of blues songs performed by local artists to be launched at the 10th Annual International Blues Music Day celebration on August 6, at the Harmonie German Club.
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