Glen Innes history: Dashing 'Father of Jazz'

Brass beginnings: Frank Coughlan (seated second from right) went on to great things in music. His father William is in the centre with the cornet.
Brass beginnings: Frank Coughlan (seated second from right) went on to great things in music. His father William is in the centre with the cornet.

Described as the “Father of Australian Jazz”, Francis James Coughlan was born in Emmaville in 1904, the third son of  William and Elizabeth (nee Parr) Coughlan.

Frank Coughlan.

Frank Coughlan.

William Coughlan was a clerk at Webbs Silver Mine and later accountant and clerk at the Glen Innes Municipal Council.

His four elder sons  joined the Emmaville Miner’s Brass band at the age of six or seven, playing the cornet, trumpet and euphonium.

With his trim physique and pencil thin moustache, he cut a dashing figure in formal attire.

Andrew Bissett, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Joan Ford has a chapter on The Boys from Vegetable Creek in her 1995 book Meet Me at the Trocadero: “….In 1922 Frank went to Sydney and his approach to music was revolutionised when he heard White-American trombonist ‘Miff’ Mole…”

Playing with Will James Band at the Bondi Casino, and with The Californians at J. C. Benrodt’s Palais Royal, he gained valuable experience in technical aspects of the music.

In the Australian Dictionary of Biography Andrew Bissett writes: “In April 1936, Coughlan led the 13-piece orchestra at the opening of the Trocadero, Sydney.

 “This Palais band was one of the finest in Australia and the public looked to him for the latest styles in jazz and dance music.

“With his trim physique and pencil thin moustache, he cut a dashing figure in formal attire.

“He married a professional vocalist, Margaret Rose Grimshaw, in 1939.

“Frank left the Melbourne Trocadero band when he was mobilised in the Militia in November 1942, and then transferred to the AIF in 1943. He performed in the 9th Division Concert Party in Queensland in 1944 and with the 10th Entertainment Unit in Bougainville in 1945-46.

“On discharge, he went back to the Sydney Trocadero and directed the band until July 1951.

“After two years back with its Melbourne namesake, he was maestro at the Sydney Trocadero from September 1954 until the nightclub closed on 31st December 1970, when he retired.

“One of the most influential musicians in the development of jazz in Australia, Coughlan was an outstanding trombonist – in traditional and mainstream styles -  trumpet player  and an arranger. He advanced the careers of many spirited performers and was an indefatigable advocate of jazz....”