Bruce Cale does not just live in Katoomba, he plays the Mountains in his music. The connection, after all, could not be deeper. He was born in Leura and grew up in Katoomba where, as a child, he took violin lessons above a shop on the main street – a building he now he lives opposite.
These two periods living in Katoomba have bookended a career that has seen Cale a force as a jazz bassist and composer in Australia, Britain and the US, working with such stars as Bobby Hackett, Billy Eckstine, Larry Adler, Dudley Moore and Shirley Bassey, as well as a host of more adventurous artists.
But the pull of the mountains was always there. When he returned from a decade in the US (where he had arrived with $110 in his pocket and a scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music) it was to live in Hampton, from where he not only ran his acclaimed quartet and jazz orchestra, but pursued classical composing. His very first orchestral piece, Land of the Aborigine, penned in the US in the 1970s, was recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and his subsequent output included a double bass concerto that he played with the MSO himself. Gradually he came to see composing as his priority.
“I was probably enchanted by the lovely feeling of sitting in my home at Hampton looking out across the valleys and dreaming up music for symphony orchestras,” he says. The dreaming led to Cale winning three major Australian composition prizes.
After stints in Queensland and Tasmania he returned to Katoomba in 2012, adding violin, viola and cello to his arsenal. He has also returned to a fascination with free improvisation via a duo called Dreams of Falling with drummer/percussionist John Shand.
“Camaraderie has always been important to me in making music,” Cale says. “The rapports I’ve had with pianist Bryce Rohde in the early days, Roger Frampton and Phil Treloar in the ’80s and now with John have been pivotal for me.”
Together Cale and Shand create spontaneous compositions that often have a wistful beauty, combined with a spaciousness and drama that surely reflect their Blue Mountains surroundings.
Dreams of Falling: August 22, Music Hunter Pop-Up Shop, 186 Katoomba Street, 4pm
Jazz Interplay (standards and originals with pianist Tim Bruer): August 28, Hotel Blue, 6.30pm
Bon Accord (standards and originals with accordionist Gary Daley): September 12, Hotel Blue, 6.30pm.