The Victorian Jazz Club celebrated this remarkable man and iconic jazz musician at the East Malvern RSL last Wednesday evening, 19 July, with a sold out Louisiana Shakers performance marking Nick Polites’ recent 90th Birthday.
On the afternoon of Nick’s actual birthday – Sunday 2 July – we saw him performing with The Louisiana Shakers at Carlton’s Clyde Hotel, as he regularly does. Again, it was a crowded house of family, friends and fans. Guest musicians stood in for regular band members, with celebratory speeches, birthday cake and much accolade.
Nick’s jazz journey commenced with an epiphany eighty years ago. In 1938, as an 11 year old, a footy team-mate loaned him some jazz records, and said “listen to these”. Once Nick started listening to tunes like Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” he was immediately hooked and knew his future would be as a jazz musician. A short decade or so later, in 1951, Nick commenced a stellar recording career with Frank Johnson’s Dixilanders on the Verve label; and continued recording right through to his current band The Louisiana Shakers.
Over his jazz journey, Nick toured extensively in the UK and Europe; and of course was regularly in New Orleans from the early 1960s. He was embraced by the jazz community in New Orleans performing in iconic venues such as Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. An ultimate accolade was befriending, performing with and even standing in for his idol, New Orleans clarinettist George Lewis (1900-1968).
In his “other lives”, Nick was a scholar, a confectionery manufacturer, and inaugural Director of the Australian Greek Welfare Society. For the most part he kept his life in the jazz world separate, but I did come across a pertinent cross-over. In Nick’s music career scrap-books there are a couple of press clippings from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. This newspaper reported on Nick’s initiative to put together a group of local musicians to perform for residents at a New Orleans home for the elderly, to their great delight!
Nick recently donated thirty volumes of his music career scrapbook memorabilia, going back seventy years, to the Australian Jazz Museum. AJM are currently working through each volume, page-by-page, to digitalize each album so that we can make them accessible to members on-line. Older albums are quite fragile, and all the albums will deteriorate further with age; so we are considering options for how best to preserve the contents for posterity.
To find out more about the Australian Jazz Museum, go to: www.ajm.org.au