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Obituaries

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Bryce Benno Rohde

"The Piano Man"
September 12, 1923, Hobart, Tasmania - January 26, 2016, Tiburon, California
In Adelaide, Australia the headline says it all…
"ADELAIDE'S BRYCE ROHDE TOOK JAZZ TO THE WORLD"
"A pivotal figure in Australian jazz"
Bryce Rohde was born in Tasmania and raised in Adelaide, Australia, where his parents owned a successful bake house. At 11 years old, he showed an early talent for the piano and furthered his studies in music at the Adelaide Conservatorium. After serving in WWII, he joined the Alf Holyoak Sextet playing at dances around Adelaide. He also regularly played live on ABC Radio. In 1946, he married and had two boys. In the early '50s, the Australian Jazz Quartet was born, featuring Bryce on piano and fellow Australians Errol Buddle (on saxophone), and Jack Brokensha (vibes and drums), along with American Dick Healey (on alto sax, flute and bass). The group's different sound attracted the attention of Joe Glaser, who managed a stable of famous musicians from Louis Armstrong to Dave Brubeck. Glaser sent them out to back singers such as Helen Merrill and Carmen McRae but, before long, they became a draw in their own right.
Their U.S. journey took them to jazz clubs across the nation and to more prestigious performances in Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Opera House. They toured for 48 weeks a year playing opposite the likes of Count Basie, Brubeck, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald and backing Billie Holliday.
In 1955, bass player Ed Gaston joined and the quartet which then became the Australian Jazz Quintet. They continued performing and recording and became the fifth-highest paid jazz band in the U.S. after Armstrong, Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and George Shearing.
An invitation to play in Australia in 1958 saw the quintet return for a series of concerts. It was to become the group's swan song, with Buddle announcing he was wanting to resettle in Australia.
Bryce also settled in Sydney and formed the Bryce Rohde Quartet with Gaston still on bass and guitarist George Golla and drummer Colin Bailey. While they played regularly at Sydney's El Rocco club, it was a national tour with the U.S. folk group the Kingston Trio that forever changed Bryce's future direction with jazz.
The trio's bass player was obsessed with a book by George Russell, "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation." Bryce, too, became obsessed and embraced the concept, saying later that it had allowed him to write tunes he could never have written. Charlie Munro (reeds), Mark Bowden (drums) and Bruce Cale (bass) were part of his first Russell-influenced group in Australia.
He moved back to the U.S. in 1965 after marrying Valerie Manning. He then had two girls and lived in Burbank before relocating to Mill Valley, where he resided for 32 years. He was divorced in 1975 but remained good friends with Valerie until his death.
Here in the U.S., Bryce composed, played, taught and occasionally recorded. The Bryce Rohde Quartet returned to Adelaide to play for South Australia's 150th birthday celebrations. He subsequently performed at the Honda Jazz Festival in Adelaide in 1993 and at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival in 2003 with local drummer Lee Charlton and Bruce Cale, two friends whom he remained close with for about 50 years. He spent some time playing big cruise ships in Japan, the Philippines, Alaska and Hawaii.
Bryce wrote more than 60 jazz tunes and recorded them from the '50s through to his more recent albums, including "Turn Right at New South Wales," "Short Way Home," "Always Come Back Here" and "Windows of Arques," which featured the signature tune for Jim McLeod's long-running Jazztrack program on ABC-FM Australia.
In 2006, for the 49th Grammy Awards, he was acknowledged as songwriter for Nancy Wilson's "Turned to Blue," which won Best Jazz Vocal Album. Bryce's website —www.BryceRohde.com — was something he created with assistance from his daughter, which he was very proud of. He spent many hours on his computer with special music programs, burning CDs, and general daily computer work and emails.
In Bryce's later years in the Bay Area, he played at the old Sabella's and many other local gigs, which included the Velvet Turtle, the Fairmont and Bix Restaurant (where he played until his late 80s). He also played for many special occasions at the Trident and even had some local appearances in the early days of Friday Nights on Main.
He was passionate about photography and even printed his own photos in his earlier years. In 1998, his photography and music was honoured in Sydney, where a gallery hosted an exhibition of his collection. You would rarely see Bryce without his camera, his walls at home filled with family photos he took.
After living in Strawberry, Mill Valley for more than 30 years, he moved to Tiburon in 2002 to be closer to his daughter and son-in-law. Bryce was a true local, making his daily walks around the Boardwalk and Beach Road. He was a frequent customer at Woodland's Market, picking up his stock of bananas and fresh vegetables regularly, and was a foodie always enjoying a new dish. The family will miss their regular dinners together at the Pizza Antica counter, the Buckeye, San Francisco Yacht Club and all the local spots in between. Bryce had a love for martinis and often enjoyed his "Chopin up with a twist." In November, Bryce experienced his most recent accomplishment — passing his driver's test!
He will be long remembered for his gentle soul and mild-mannered demeanor. He was a great man, a best friend, father, artist, composer, and accomplished pianist. He had an amazing attitude, always supportive to his family. He lived life without ego and his soft-spoken sense of humor put a smile on everyone's face. A most thoughtful man, he never missing a birthday or holiday card and each year he called his daughters on their birthday to play "Happy Birthday" on his piano. His friends and family will miss their Jacquie Lawson digital birthday cards he loved to send to them on their special days. Additionally, he was very good on his iPhone, daily texting with his family, often with emojis — not bad for 92!
Bryce passed peacefully in his sleep January 26, 2016 — Australia Day.
He is survived by his older brother, John, of New South Wales; his daughters and sons-in-law Ed and Shana (Rohde)-Lynch of Tiburon, Lance and Chelle (Rohde) Bushnell of Petaluma, son Rhett and Anna Rohde; grandchildren Shana, Erin, Sarah, Alyssa and great-granddaughter Olivia in Texas; son Kym and grandchild Kim, and extensive family of nieces, cousins and additional family members in South Australia, all of whom he was very close with.
A celebration of life will be held in early April.

(Published February 24, 2016)

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