By Judith Treby
If one needed a template on which to base the promise of a successful journey through life, then there is no need to look further than the accomplishments achieved by local Western Australian musicians, Lew and June Smith.
This delightfully vital, fun loving couple, who are both in their mid seventies, entertain audiences with their performances each Sunday at Jazz Freemantle's Navy Club venue.
Jazz Fremantle had its beginnings in 1992, when Norma Penny, well known Perth jazz enthusiast, together with Lew and June, joined with a group of jazz lovers to form Jazz Fremantle, of which Norma is now president.
As well as performing at Jazz Fremantle's Navy Club venue, they still take an active role in the life of the club, with June as patron and Lew as musical director, editor of the newsletter and review writer.
June is also a friend of WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and keeps in touch with them regularly. Lew was a lecturer in jazz history there for four years and also wrote a jazz column for the Sunday Times.
Lew, who is originally from Yorkshire, UK, and June who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, met in 1951 when Lew played in the Charles Amer Band during the summer season at Butlins Camp in Yorkshire, and June was playing with the Ivy Benson All Girls Orchestra.
It is no surprise then, that with their familial musical background, it would seem inevitable that both Lew and June would follow careers in music and entertainment.
Lew's father, a pianist with his own band, engendered Lew's interest in music when at a very early age he began learning the violin and by the age of 14 had joined his father's band playing drums before including the saxophone in his repertoire.
Three years later he took up the clarinet prior to going into National Service in the RAF, where he joined the military band which afforded him the opportunity to learn to play the clarinet so well over the next two years that at the age of 20, he became a professional musician, playing in dance bands, popular in Britain in that era.
June's love of music was no doubt influenced by her mother and aunt, who both played with the Ivy Benson All Girls Orchestra.
At the age of 12, she had the opportunity to travel to London to see the orchestra perform.
Obviously, this was a turning point in her life. June thought the orchestra was great - "all these musicians, all the women" she says.
The experience introduced
her to the trumpet and her mother said if she could play a scale after
a week, she'd buy June a trumpet, which she did. However, although she
took lessons from a brass band
Lew and June Smith - 2006
musician who only taught her hymns, saying you can always get a technique later, she never did.
Reflecting on her early years, June says she cannot remember a time when she hasn't sung, whether in concerts with her mother, or when her mother played the piano.
"I've always been more of a singer than an instrumentalist, you know" she confides in her soft Scottish brogue. "Most of the jobs I got were because I could sing as well as play".
After their marriage in 1952, June and Lew both joined Denny Boyce's band, and June became pregnant, giving birth to their first daughter, Katherine in 1954.
This unfortunately was the start of the "Rock n Roll" era; dance bands lost their popularity and Lew joined the London Palladium orchestra, where he played in the pit for 3 years. He also played for a national television show. "It was extremely hard work" he says.
In 1959, after enjoying an unusually wonderful summer in London, and wanting to go somewhere where the weather was like that every year, they enquired about emigrating to Australia.
In 1961, with their family now expanded to three children, they arrived in Melbourne. While June did the "Housewife" bit, Lew joined the RAAF central band, which he didn't like much, before becoming a music teacher.
By 1962 they had increased their family to four, two boys and two girls. Not to be denied their musical grassroots, June and Lew soon got together with some "muso's" in Melbourne, and with Lew's encouragement, June sang at these sessions which lead to them playing with the rock/pop band "Maximum Load" for a time.
This happened by chance - June recall one of the guys said "we've got a little band (together) and the singers leaving. Would you like to join us?". When the sax player left, Lew joined as well.
Later they both performed in the restaurant of a hotel in Beaumaris for three years. Lew, who was teaching music at the time, became fed up with the job and turned his talents in a totally different direction, completing a degree in
Librarianship. While he was working as a librarian, he was sent to Perth for a conference, and when subsequently he was offered employment there, made the move to Perth in 1974.
After their arriva, June was singing with Will Upson and his Big Band when she was offered the chance to perform at the inaugural prom concert, with arrangements by Tommy Tycho in Sydney, organised by David Measham at the Entertainment Centre. "That was wonderful" said June; "I had never sung with a big orchestra before".
Later they worked casually until the America Cup was contested here in Perth in 1983, when they formed their own band, "The Apple Band", a successful quintet with June singing and Lew playing Sax and Clarinet.
Reflecting on that time, she shares with me the observation that perhaps she and Lew were a bit unusual in that they were in their fifties and the rest of the band were in their twenties. "That's a thing we have tried to do - keep playing with young musicians to keep our enthusiasm and energy up".
June recalls a little gig the band did at the Subiaco Theatre Centre. She was talking with the younger musicians and asked "how old are you guys?". Their reply drew a surprised exclamation from her - "Jeez, I'm older than the three of you put together" she recalls, laughing heartily.
June enjoys listening to today's young musicians and admires them for their dedication to their profession. And the family cycle continues - three of the four children are involved in the Arts; their eldest son Andrew is programme director of drama television and film at WAAPA, Clifford is a secondary school music teacher, and second daughter, Sarah, is a scriptwriter and editor currently working on McLeod's Daughters, and first born Katherine, a scientist at the Lucas Heights complex, jitterbugs as a hobby.
inspirational couple have no intention of retiring yet. "We won't
retire while the energy levels are there" they say. More power
to trhem, and what a way to "have a go!"