MAESTRO TOMMY TYCHO
AM MBE HON DOCTOR OF MUSIC
My Research focuses on music arranging and orchestration as a primary vehicle of artistic expression. My PhD (Musicology) research focuses on the music arrangements of Maestro Tommy Tycho, Australia's premier music arranger and orchestrator. I have currently published in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians on Tommy Tycho and have presented at a number of academic conferences examining Tommy's music arrangements, orchestrations and how he utilised a changing media landscape to sustain his career.
ABC Radio Appearance:
Earlier this year I appeared as a guest on ABC Radio's 'Rare Collections' with Jordie and David Kilbly. Here we presented a two part special on the Life and Music of Tommy Tycho. See the Links below
Tommy Tycho had long been on our list of people for RareCollections when we received an email from listener, Sam Cottell, who informed us that he was working on his PhD, the subject of which was Tommy Tycho! A musician himself, Sam was keen to ensure that Tommy was recognised for his far-reaching influence on light music in Australia and offered his knowledge and assistance. Needless to say, we were spurred into action, but rapidly became aware of the how difficult it would be to do justice to such a major figure in a mere two episodes.
In this initial program, we not only hear some of Tommy's notable arrangements but we learn details of his fascinating earlier life, from personal pianist for The Shah of Iran to working as a storeman in David Jones; from performing with the Budapest Philharmonic when he was 10 to tickling the ivories on ABC radio's 'A Handful Of Keys' at 26. Whether it was on stage, on screen or in the recording studio, Tommy Tycho's brilliance as a soloist, composer, arranger or conductor was clearly apparent and it is little wonder that his fellow artists as well as his audiences revered him.
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Another highlight this year was having Tommy's biographical entry published in the Grove Dictionary of Music. Tommy, the ever humble person, would have been chuffed at this and I am pleased to have made this important contribution.
Music Arrangers Guild of Australia
Last month the president of the Music Arrangers Guild asked me to write an obituary of Tommy Tycho for their latest newsletter. It captures some of the key details of Tommy's life (who was one of the earliest members of MAGA when it was founded in the 1960s.
Tommy At the National Portrait Gallery
In 2013 Tommy's daughter, Vicky, donated Tommy's most famous photograph portrait to the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. It is now on display for all to see. If you are in Canberra go and check it out. This photo of Tommy demonstrates everything about him, his personality and his dapper and demure sense of style (something which also shone through in his music). The big smiling grin is also very Tommy and demonstrates his welcoming nature. And of course, being at the piano, his instrument. For more information: http://www.portrait.gov.au/people/tommy-tycho-1928
THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF MAESTRO TOMMY TYCHO (1928-2013)
A Child Prodigy
Tommy grew up in a household surrounded by music. His mother was a soprano and they always had musicians in the house. By the age of four he had commenced piano lessons, even though his feet could not reach the pedals. By the age of 10 he was a child prodigy and performed the fiendishly difficult, Rhapsody In Blue with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. He also performed a number of works with them for broadcasts on the radio, including Rachmaninoff's C# minor piano concert and Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations. By this time he had commenced piano lessons with the celebrated soloist, Egon Petri.
Hungary After the War
After World War II ended, Tommy started his own band and arranged music that he transcribed off V-Discs that the American troops had with them. Soon he was part of the sophisticated hot jazz ensemble, ‘Filu and his Swingers’. This group performed a number of popular swing and ‘hot jazz’ numbers that were most likely transcribed and arranged by Tommy for the band. Existing records also indicate they recorded “Tiger Rag”, “Golden Wedding” and “Hey Bob-a Re-Bop” on 48’ wax records.
A Film Composer
In the early stages of his career in Australia Tommy composed music for the Department of the Interior who had a film unit. Most of the films that were created by the Federal Film Department contained information about particular social aspects or topics of national interest. Most of the films were short in length (circa 10 mins each). Tommy composed the music for “Valley of the Yarra”, a documentary about the famous river. The music is scored for a small chamber orchestra. Another film that Tommy composed the music for was called “Call for Order”. A documentary that gave advices to employers about keeping their office space and desks clean in the workplace.
Jay Wilbur Strings
In 1954 Tommy became the pianist and arranger with the Jay Wilbur group.
The Thomas Tycho Players on ABC Radio
During the 1950s, when Tommy was still known as Thomas and television didn't exist in Australia, Tommy had his own ensemble at the ABC called the Thomas Tycho Players. They were also referred to as The Thomas Tycho Star Players. Their broadcasts included a number of light music arrangements by Tommy and they performed an array of musical material from Gershwin to Warner Baer (a Jewish Australian composer, who was also an ABC Controller). Tommy also composed his own pieces and we are fortunate to have some reel-to-reel tapes of these. One of Tommy's pieces includes 'Dance of the Fireflies' (we are also lucky to have the piano score). Here is the audio:
When Tommy started broadcasting at the ABC he commenced as a solo pianist in a program called, 'A Handful of Keys' that ran on the ABC up until the 1980s! Shortly after this Tommy teamed up with local pianist Glen Marks for a program called 'Duelling Pianos' or 'Duo Pianists'. Here Glen Marks and Tommy played two piano versions of popular songs of the 1950s (largely selected from the American Songbook repertoire) and Tommy also found time to pen a few of his own compositions. One of them, a dance, called 'Tom's Twist' is an upbeat tune. Tommy would later go on to orchestrate 'Tom's Twist' on his debut album with the RCA label, Tycho, Tycho.
Radio 2UW 'Laugh Til You Cry'
In 1956 Television started in Australia. At this time Tommy was very busy with his Thomas Tycho Players at the ABC and performing on Radio 2UW's program 'Laugh Til' You Cry', a live broadcast comedy and variety show with acting, singing and comedy. Over at the ABC Tommy was trying to live his dream of directing his own light music orchestra, but they were not willing to pay him the extra costs for more musicians and the time spent on orchestrating and arranging. Working at the ABC was providing little dividend and so Tommy left to pursue work on television at the new started ATN 7 (Amalgamated Television Network 7). He started in 1956 as the pianist in the band for In Sydney Tonight (Australia's forerunner of variety shows that set the format and standard for those that followed). By 1958 the station realised they needed a music director who was capable of playing any sort of music, had the skill to arrange and orchestrate music, and a personality to match. Naturally, that was Tommy. So began a 15 year journey that would see him arrange, orchestrate and compose hundreds of musical items from everything to country, jazz, classical music and beyond.
From Quartet to Symphony Orchestra
Top Television Themes
As the Music Director of ATN7 (From 1958-1972) Tommy and his orchestra, as well as a team of musicians and dancers were responsible for creating music backing for guest artists, instrumental music for programs as well as the music for television themes and films. During a fifteen year period Tommy composed and orchestrated dozens upon dozens of television themes including 'Whiplash', 'Riptide', 'ANZAC', 'Penthouse', 'You Can't See Around Corners' and a number of In house themes such as 'Teen Time' and 'Blues in Studio A'. Most of these are contained on an LP record released in the mid 1960s, on the Radiola label called 'Top Television Themes'.
As well as theme tunes, arrangements and instrumental music, Tommy was also responsible for writing music for the sponsors of the television station. These include Ardath Cigarettes (who sponsored the Ardith Hit Parade), BP Petrol (who sponsored the BP Super Show) and the Commonwealth Bank (who sponsored the Commonwealth Bank Hour of Music- a classical music program that aired on Sundays). One of the commercials that Tommy composed the music for was Capstan cigarettes. This music is urban and sophisticated and is reflected of cool jazz with a few hints of Henry Mancini for good measure. The video clip is pretty cool, with cartoons showing the jazz ensemble instruments.
Tommy appears on sheet music
As Tommy was appearing on the television screen as a pianist, conductor and music director, seven days a week he soon became a recognised figure and household name. When Tommy would play a piano solo or a popular tune with the orchestra that was on the charts at the time the local sheet music publishers would put his name and picture on the cover. This was at a time when sheet music sales of popular songs were still a commodity for consumers and a way to play the popular songs that were featured on ATN7's shows.
Pioneering Australian Television
Revue 61' & Revue 62' - Australian Variety Television at its best
The RCA Label in the 1960s
During the 1960s the RCA label had found a footing in Australia. It was originally set up here as a means of being a distributor for Elvis Presley records but soon developed its own artist roster of local talent. (It would later also develop its own surf-rock roster in Australia). When the local artists showed particular promise they were allowed to record with an orchestra on their RCA releases, and who better than Tommy (who was still Thomas at this stage) to arrange and direct the orchestra. Tommy paired up with dozens of local artists to record on their RCA releases. His most notable releases and arrangements on this label were with trumpeter John Robertson. Robertson was originally from New Zealand and was a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He was also well known in the club circuit and popular music (he also had a gimmick in that he could hold a high C for a long time, his party trick that is often mentioned). Together Tommy and John Robertson paired together to make dozens of tracks that would later be turned into LP’s. In fact, this album was also unique as Robertson played the entire trumpet section using multi-tracking techniques, hence the title ‘John Roberston and his Multi-trumpets’ . This album won best popular instrumental album of (1961).
On the RCA label Tommy worked with a number of artists, such as Gita Rivera (he recorded an LP and many singles with her), John Mellion and Digger Revell. One of the novelty songs that Tommy worked on at this label was John Mellion’s ‘Hot Pie and Tomato Sauce’ (could it get any more Australian?).
Tommy Tycho Plays My Fair Lady : The Complete Score
In 1965 Tommy released his first LP as a featured artist. "Tommy Tycho Plays My Fair Lady: The Complete Score" was released on the Festival Label in April 1965 around the same time the movie "My Fair Lady" was released in cinemas in Sydney. It is a great recording featuring hints of classical style, jazz and some big and bold Broadway styles and only with a quartet. Reg Robinson on Bass, Len Hutchinson on guitar and Tommy Spencer on drums. And a classic album cover to go with it. An article was written about it in "The Biz" :http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/189521481?searchTerm=Tycho+%27my+fair+lady%27&searchLimits
Following the success of these albums the RCA label invited Tommy to release his own album as the featured artist. His debut, Tycho Tycho features Tommy at the piano, with his arrangements and orchestrations. The theme of the album is songs that contain double T’s (Thomas Tycho). It features classics such as ‘The Tender Trap’, ‘Tom’s Twist’, ‘Tiggers’ Tune’, (based on the character of the Winnie the Pooh fame), and ‘Twilight Time’, and of course the ever popular ‘Tico Tico’. This is as hip and sophisticated an album today, as it would have been in 1966. My favourite track on this album is "Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Me"; it's got Tommy written all over it. The cheerful upbeat feel, the lovely chords in the piano and the lush strings (along with some of his favourite harp glissandos and pizzicato strings). Tommy transports the song from a little ditty (made famous by Tiny Tim) and makes it a beautiful instrumental number (and who can resist the glockenspiel highlighting the melody and the "basie ending".
The Mavis Bramston Show (1964-1968)
The Mavis Bramston show premiered on Australian television in 1964 and was the first show of its kind to deal with ‘tongue in cheek’ satire and comedy. Tommy wrote all of the music to go with the lyrics on the show and each episode featured a song focused on the content of the episode. It was one of the first shows that successful competed with the American imports of the time and propelled some of the actors to stardom. The show won a Logie in 1965 for 'Best New Show' and rumour has it that it was so popular even some QANTAS airline pilots tried to swap shits so they could be home to watch it. It won another three Logies in 1966. The music you can hear in this film clip was composed by Tommy and performed by the ATN Quintet (as you will see in the credits).
Tommy had a pseudonym
During the early 1960s Tommy was the Music Director of ATN7. As such he was not allowed to write arrangements outside of his role their, as per their contract. In order to continue his arranging work outside of ATN7 Tommy used a pseudonym name of Henry Connors. This ‘Henry Connors’ was famous for writing the arrangement of the 1963 hit ‘Royal Telephone’ as sung by Jimmy Little. Tommy writes:
“I had been doing arrangements and recordings outside of Channel Seven for sometime. By then, it was not frowned upon: several years before they would not have tolerated it, and that reminds me of a story. When I first started doing outside work, I took on an alias. I called myself, Henry Connors. Henry, after Henry Mancini, and Connors because that’s my wife’s family- and I wrote songs and opened a bank account for royalties to go into. In those days, opening a bank account was as easy as walking into the bank and asking for it. I forgot about the account and it was many years later that Eve reminded me of it. By then, times had change, and it was a lot harder to get the money out.“But I’m Henry Connors,” I said, “No, you’re not. You’re Tommy Tycho.” Eventually they believed me. I had written a song for Jimmy Little called ‘Royal Telephone’ which was a world hit, and I had been getting royalties from it and the account was a fairly decent one.’ (The Tommy Tycho Story: Music, Maestro Please. pp. 93-94, Brolga Publishing 1995).
Previously, Tommy had used a ‘non de plum’ of “SAMIT” (a kind of reverse of TAMAS), on a piece of music he wrote, called ‘The Kangaroo’. There is no date on this score, but he presumably wrote the work before he had joined the Musicians Union in an attempt to get a foot in the door to the Sydney music scene.
Tommy Tycho and the 2CH Good Music Orchestra
By 1972 Tommy had done all he could creatively at ATN7. His orchestra had been reduced to a quartet (the very place it began) and he was now looking for new adventures. After a some much need R & R Tommy launched his freelance career, building on the profile he had built for himself over the years at 7. The newly opened Sydney Opera House was ready to be used for performances and 2CH 1170 was about to switch to a 'Good Music' format, this was the perfect job for Tommy. With his then manager, Lyn Rich, he assembled an orchestra of the finest musicians in the country and created the Good Music Orchestra. Over a period of several years (from 1973-1978) Tommy Tycho and the Good Music Orchestra presented themed concerts of the highest quality. Fortunately for us listeners today concerts were released on LP record and we have a wonderful documentation of these important entertainment events in Australian cultural history. It was these concerts that sent Tommy to the top again and saw him embark on a freelance career as a pianist, arranger, composer and music director, to rival none.
Good Music Live at The Sydney Opera House
It was November 1973 and the Sydney Opera House, after much saga, was finally open. 2CH Radio was about to switch to an easy listening format, which they called good music and Tommy Tycho was well rested after fifteen years of television, and eager to commence a new phase in his career. Working together with 2CH he formed a good music orchestra and the first of these 'Good Music Live at Sydney Opera House' was recorded. The 32 piece orchestra had many big names in Australian chamber and orchestral music and was a power house orchestra. The inaugural concert of the Good Music Orchestra featured orchestral arrangements of everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mozart and beyond. One of the most exciting tracks on this LP is Tommy's arrangement of 'Waltzing Matilda'. It opens with a grand orchestral fanfare on a paraphrase of 'Advance Australia Fair'. Then the genius of Tommy Tycho appears. The main theme of 'Waltzing Matilda' in the style of Mozart, which then develops into a swing number. After this episode a fugue (in the style of Bach ) appears and each instrument of the orchestra intertwines and builds to a big theatrical version of the piece. Check it out here:
Begin The Beguine- Tommy Tycho’s Night with Cole Porter
One of the most singular musical deceives that Tommy is renowned for is his adaptation of classical and popular music. This music is often called ‘light music’ and Tommy was Australia’s leading figure in this genre. Aside from his classical quotations (which were fun for the musicians playing in the orchestra and the clued in audience members), Tommy would often take a famous classical music idea and incorporate a popular song into this. A great example of this is Tommy’s arrangement of Begin the Beguine by Cole Porter in the style of Ravel’s Bolero. These two pieces work very well together, the respective melody ideas over Ravel’s hypnotic rhythmic figure create a world class musical arrangement.
The Cole Porter Concerto
In 1975 Tommy composed The Cole Porter Concerto based on the Cole Porter theme 'Night & Day'. The work was first performed as part of 'Tommy Tycho's Night with Cole Porter' at the Sydney Opera House. Tommy performed and conducted from the piano. Here is a rendition that he later performed on Television in the 1980s with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on National Television. When I asked Tommy why he composed a Cole Porter concerto he said 'Because Gershwin had written one, so I wanted to write one in a way that Cole Porter might have composed a concerto if he had done so.'
Strike Up The Band
Strike Up the Band is an arrangement that has 'Tommy Tycho' written all over it. Here, he takes the main musical idea and expands it and develops it through a theme and variations style. Not only do we hear 'Strike Up the Band' as we know it, but also as a waltz, a fanfare and a slow lyrical section, as well as the high energy up tempo section. Tommy pulls out all the bells and whistles here (and there are some famous musical quotations peppered throughout, can you find them?).
Tommy Tycho Orchestra and Billy Burton (Trumpet)
Tommy Tycho Orchestra with Billy Burton (Trumpet) performing a stunning rendition of Richard Rodger's ballet piece, Slaughter on Tenth Ave on Australian TV in the late 1970s. There is a second piece, One for My Baby (And One More for the Road) after the first one. This is a great orchestration and brilliant solo.
Tommy opens the Sydney Entertainment Centre
In May 1983, The Sydney Entertainment Centre was opened. This multipurpose venue was constructed the replace the Sydney Stadium which had been demolished in the 1970s to build the rail line in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. It was one of Sydney's largest venues and can accommodate 13,000 audience members. Tommy conducted the orchestra, wrote the arrangements and orchestrations and was integral part of the grand opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Tommy reflects on this moment in his memoirs:
“The opening of the EntertainmentCentre was another highlight in my career. It was an enormous show and I still regard it as a major achievement: a three and a half hour performance, with a big orchestra and almost 2,000 people on stage at the finale. It was simply enormous.” (The Tommy Tycho Story, page 138).
Tommy says that one of his happiest moments in his career was performing as a piano duet with his daughter, Vicky. They undertook national tours and released an LP record on the K-Tel records, called Duelling Pianos. The record was released in 1982 and contained Tommy’s arrangements. The tracks include ‘Tico Tico’, ‘Send in the Clowns’, ‘Warsaw Concerto’ and the ‘Australian Trilogy’ (which is a medley of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘Five Miles from Gundagai’ and ‘Road to Gundagai’. The orchestra on this recording included some key names in the industry including Della Woods (a violinist who got Tommy his first gig at the ABC), Martin Lass (who went on to be a soloist with the talking violin show). On trombones there was the legendary Bob McIvor, Dick Montz on the trumpet (who was head of jazz studies at Sydney Conservatorium of Music) and Tommy’s manager, Ken Laing on percussion, and of course Tommy and Vicky Tycho on the two pianos.
Tommy Tycho in the Media
Tommy Tycho Interviews
With Margeret Throsby:
With Richard Fidler:
Read an article about Tommy's violin concerto, premiered in 2010 by Violin soloist, Maria Lindsay and the Lurline Chamber Orchestra: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/maestro-takes-a-bow--and-violin--for-his-next-milestone-20100416-skpr.html
Tommy teams up with Anthony Warlow
In 1993 Tommy paired up with Australia star of stage, Anthony Warlow. At this time Warlow had been through a hard time with his health and the album he wanted to make was to reflect the other side of the journey and into recovery. Back In the Swing is a celebration of the golden era of swing. With the lush arrangements by Tommy and performed by the Melbourne Symphony orchestra, there are some world-class orchestral treatments of classic songs such as ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’, ‘Skylark’ and ‘Autumn Leaves.’
This was one of Tommy’s favourite projects. He writes in his memoirs:
‘After a long process we came up with a plan that suited his (Warlow’s) record company, his manager, himself and me. It was complicated, and the title was to be ‘Back in the Swing’, a reference both to his being back from illness, and also the type of music he wanted to sing. We then spent a lot of time planning the songs and orchestrating them and rehearsing, and it was recorded in Melbourne with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and a big jazz band, with over 110 musicians combined.’ (The Tommy Tycho Story: Music, Maestro Please)
Following the success of this album, Tommy and Anthony paired together again to record Midnight Dreaming , an album of mellow moods containing songs from Broadway, motion picture and featuring mostly ballads. Here, Tommy writes stunning arrangements and orchestrations that heighten the emotion of these songs and surpass their original orchestrations, elevating them to a high level of suave and sophistication. These arrangements show Tommy at his best, lush, tender, to surmise, perfect. These arrangements beautifully support and compliment Warlow’s voice.
It would be another decade before Tommy and Anthony joined forces again for Face the Music, an album that features songs that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here Tommy displays his versatility in writing for every style of music, orchestral and big band with such ease and affinity in any genre. This album was also the first to be recorded on Warlow’s new record label, aptly titled, Skylark Records. It features some hip big band arrangements by Tommy that are superbly performed by the Sydney All Star Big Band.
Remembering Tommy Tycho
Sadly, the Maestro passed away in 2013. In dedication to the memory of the Maestro a number of musicians who had long associations with him appeared on a tribute special at Fine Music 102.5. Bernard Walz, Maria Lindsay and Gregg Arthur discuss their association with the Maestro and how his music was a part of their lives. Here is the audio of that feature:
Advance Australia Fair
Since his arrival in Australia in 1951 Tommy always felt proud and happy to be an Australian. He was certainly one of us. Nearly forty years later Tommy would arrange and orchestrate the National Anthem, 'Advance Australia Fair'. It seems it would take someone who had arrived here from Hungary to capture the spirit and essence of what Australia means to so many. This begins with an orchestral fanfare, the brass proudly announcing that something big is about to happen. The woodwinds are scurrying in anticipation. In contrast to the punchy brass fanfare, is a more lyrical and tender approach that demonstrates another side to the spirit of Australia (through Tommy's eyes, or ears I should say). This arrangement was first performed by Julie Anthony and the Sydney International Orchestra and televised all around on Australia on Australia Day, 1988. It was later recorded and sent to nearly every school in the country so that they too could have Tommy's glorious orchestration at their own events. It is still used today at all major sporting and cultural events.