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Traynor, Thomas Francis (Frank) (1927–1985)

by Al Watson

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

Thomas Francis (Frank) Traynor (1927-1985), jazz musician, was born on 8 August 1927 at Murrumbeena, Melbourne, son of Tasmanian-born Francis Bernard Traynor, builder, and his Victorian-born wife Mary, née Mason. Educated at St Kevin’s Catholic School, Ormond, Frank was essentially a self-taught musician, although his mother helped him with the piano and his father gave him some rudimentary instruction on the trombone. At 14 he became interested in the blues. Although discouraged by his father, he was soon deeply influenced by the classic jazz recordings made by Afro-American New Orleans musicians of the 1920s such as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. This style was to remain the touchstone of his playing.

After briefly attending the University of Melbourne, Traynor worked in a bank and in the motor registration branch of the Victorian police department. At 22 he formed his first band, ‘The Black Bottom Stompers’, with friends. Two years later he joined Len Barnard’s jazz band, making his first records with them. Constantly engaged, the band played three nights a week at the Orama Ballroom, Footscray, and on Sunday nights at the Mentone Life Saving Club. Their drive, discipline, inspired performances and stable personnel provided a model for the relationships Traynor would seek in future.

On 24 April 1954 Traynor married with Catholic rites Patricia Jewel Burgess. By 1956, when he formed ‘The Jazz Preachers’, music had become his career. He led the band for almost thirty years. A complex, sometimes seemingly contradictory man, he was not given to compromise. His displays of fiery temper were legendary. After one concert he rushed at an eminent politician who had picked up his trombone, and grasped him by the throat shouting, ‘Put that down!’  But he could also be genial and generous, particularly with those who shared his musical enthusiasms.

In 1963 the Preachers released three records that made it into the Australian ‘top 40’ charts, ‘Sweet Patootie’ being the most enduring. In 1958 Traynor had started the Melbourne Jazz Club at Albert Park, and gained an audience who disliked the dull formality of the suburban dance halls but to whom rock and roll had little appeal. One of the first to recognise the commercial possibilities in the rising interest in folk music, in 1963 he founded ‘Frank Traynor’s Folk and Jazz Club’ in Exhibition Street. Featuring folk music every night of the week, with a late-night jazz jam session on Saturdays, ‘Traynor’s’ provided a centre for Melbourne folk music until sale of the premises forced it to close in 1976.

Traynor encouraged aspiring musicians, including Judith Durham, who made her first recordings with the Preachers in the early 1960s. When she joined the folk group ‘The Seekers’, Traynor urged W & G Records to secure their recording début. At various times players of the calibre of Roger Bell, Peter Gaudion and Keith Hounslow held the band’s trumpet chair. While rock music was depleting the opportunities for jazz, Traynor drummed up constant work and paid his band well. Divorced in 1968, on 7 June 1969 he married Mary Guiseppina Maiuto at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. Their Christmas parties for band members, complete with lavish presents, were memorable events.

Austere purists might have blanched at some of Traynor’s recordings, such as the Preachers’ ‘Show Tunes’, or their singles of Victorian Football League clubs’ theme songs, some recorded with Graham ‘Smacka’ Fitzgibbon. Determined to keep the band working and popular, he grasped opportunities when they came: there were tours under the auspices of various arts councils; promotional shows in shopping malls; and ‘one nighters’ at dances and balls. He staged ‘history of jazz concerts’, free performances in parks, and initiated a popular ‘jazz in the schools’ program. In the late 1960s he covered folk, jazz and blues for Go-Set magazine. He taught several instruments and was a strong supporter of the Musicians’ Union of Australia. At the Melbourne Jazz Festival of 1975 he was declared ‘Australian King of Jazz’.

Tall, gruff in appearance, with swept-back dark wavy hair, Traynor never moved from the New Orleans ‘tailgate’ style of trombone playing. Within those limits he was technically assured, conveying great feeling and subtlety, particularly with the blues that in adolescence had infused his soul. He remained dedicated to the ‘message of truth’ in folk forms of music.

Survived by his wife and their daughter and by two sons from his first marriage, he died of leukaemia on 22 February 1985 at Fitzroy and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. A daughter had predeceased him. ‘You give everything you have to music’, he had once remarked, ‘and if you get anything back it’s a bonus’.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Breen (ed), Missing in Action (1987)
  • Keith Hounslow: 50 Years of Playing Jazz in Australia (CD, 1999)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Al Watson, 'Traynor, Thomas Francis (Frank) (1927–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/traynor-thomas-francis-frank-15644/text26841, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 August 2018.

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

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