COTTESLOE jazz musician and WA Living Treasure recipient Lew Smith still considers be-bop saxophone legend Charlie Parker to be the best-ever jazz player.
“It was 1950 and I saw him at the Birdland club in New York, and I was so impressed because he was a world-class performer before he got into the drugs,” Smith said.
Smith is a self-taught musician and his contribution to Australian and British jazz over 60 years was recognised, with 14 other arts Living Legends, at a Gallery of WA ceremony this month.
Yorkshire-born Smith was 12 when he started playing drums in his father’s dance band before picking up his beloved saxophone at 15.
His first professional job was playing on Atlantic passenger liners.
A year later, music led Smith to his singer wife June, who was with the Ivy Bensons’ All Girls Orchestra at a Butlins Holiday Camp in Yorkshire.
They moved to WA in 1974 when Smith started teaching music at the Claremont Secondary Teacher’s College.
As a founding member of Jazz Fremantle, Smith still organises gigs and plays occasionally at the Navy Club in Fremantle, in between daily morning swims at Cottesloe Beach.