Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Price, Raymond Arthur (1921–1990)

by Bruce Johnson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Raymond Arthur Price (1921-1990), jazz musician, was born on 20 November 1921 at Canterbury, Sydney, fourth of five children of Walter James Price, carpenter, and his wife Nellie May, née Knudson, both born in New Zealand. His parents were musicians, and Ray played drums in the Price family orchestra in the 1930s, including during a tour of New Zealand in 1938. He learned banjo, then guitar with lessons from Charlie Lees, and played in swing groups. In 1939-40 he was assistant-editor of Tempo: the Australian Musical News-Magazine.

Beginning full-time duty in the Militia in October 1941, Price served in Papua (1942-43) with the 14th Field Ambulance before returning to Australia and being discharged as medically unfit in September 1943. He then played at Sydney’s Booker T. Washington Club for African-American servicemen, and on radio 2KY Sunday-night swing sessions. In 1947 he joined the Port Jackson Jazz Band and, as its business manager, became an effective publicist and ‘gig’ organiser, including for dances at Air Force House, until he pulled the band out upon discovering that Black people were barred. The band played at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music and was a regular headliner during the jazz concert boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Price organised (1948) a tour of New South Wales and Queensland but, bedevilled by bad weather and reputedly by maliciously circulated accusations of communist sympathies, the tour—and the band—collapsed in Brisbane. On his return to Sydney, he took labouring jobs. The band name continued to be associated with various combinations of musicians, but faded from regular view in 1950.

In 1949 Price began studying double bass at the Conservatorium, where he had earlier studied bassoon until discontinuing because of asthma. He gained the licentiate of music (performers) from the London College of Music. In 1950 he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under (Sir) Eugene Goossens, and later also worked with the National Theatre Ballet and the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio orchestra. He formed the short-lived Dixielanders in 1952, and then re-formed the Port Jackson Jazz Band, with which he performed in 1955-62. Defying an ultimatum from the ABC (who sponsored the SSO concerts) regarding his jazz activities, he was dismissed from the SSO amid considerable publicity in 1956. Soon after Price formed a trio for the Macquarie Hotel, which, ironically, was heard in 1959 by a guest SSO conductor, Constantin Silvestri, who gave it high praise. With changed personnel and augmented to a quartet, the group moved to the Adams Hotel; this residency concluded in 1966.

Price’s main musical activities became school concerts, which he had begun with quartets and quintets some years earlier and which continued until 1980. His groups toured Australia many times in the 1960s and 1970s for the Arts Council of Australia; he also visited New Zealand and Fiji. He acted in entrepreneurial roles during this period, including as the musical director for the Waratah Jazz Festival in 1973. Although he moved to the Port Macquarie area in 1982 due to ill health, he nonetheless organised a local jazz festival and played in occasional reunions of the Port Jackson Jazz Band.

An active, even outspoken and controversial, advocate of jazz, Price was an astute publicist on behalf of the music. Through its prolific performance, recording and touring lifetime, the Port Jackson Jazz Band, aided by Price’s media skills, offered the main exposure of the Dixieland style to the public in New South Wales in the postwar decades. His smaller groups projected the music into the Sydney jazz-pub scene and into schools. He gave employment to more Sydney musicians, from a greater stylistic range, than any other bandleader; a standing joke was that a band called the X-Rays would be the biggest in the country.

Price had married Betty (Betel) Jarvis, a secretary, on 5 June 1948 at All Saints Church of England, Hunters Hill. After their divorce he married Nadine Hansfeld, née Amadio, a writer, on 13 February 1953 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney; they were to divorce in 1968. On 18 May 1970 at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Mona Vale, he married Sandra Donaldson, a schoolteacher. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died of pseudomonas pneumonia on 5 August 1990 at Redcliffe, Brisbane, and was cremated in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Bisset, Black Roots, White Flowers (1987)
  • B. Johnson, The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz (1987)
  • J. Mitchell, Australian Jazz on Record, 1925-80 (1988) and Back Together Again!: The Story of the Port Jackson Jazz Band (1995)
  • B884, item N92475 (National Archives of Australia)
  • papers of R. Price and N. Linehan (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bruce Johnson, 'Price, Raymond Arthur (1921–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/price-raymond-arthur-15532/text26745, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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