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Wal Gregory (1938-2018) : Associate Artist

Random Audio Sample: Slow boat to China (big band with soloists) by Wal Gregory, from the CD Alma

Photo of Wal Gregory

Wal Gregory was born in Bathurst, NSW, on 26 October 1938. He gained his love of classical and jazz music from his father, who had been a semi-professional musician in Sydney before moving, for work reasons, to Bathurst, where he soon became an active and respected part of the musical scene. In his teens, Wal was able to start playing with his father, receiving encouragement and advice from him and his musician friends. As music wasn't available as a subject at school, Wal learnt music from books, scores, by listening and from friends.

After leaving school, in 1958, Wal Gregory moved to Wollongong and got involved with its then limited jazz scene, arranging and composing music for himself and his friends to play. In 1962, he ended up giving up music for seven years, in which time he got married, had four children, graduated as a surveyor and got involved in contemporary art.

He was enticed back to music in 1969 and played in club bands and in a big band in the 1970s, contributing arrangements for the bands to play. In 1977, the self-taught musician decided to improve his arranging skills and attended a course of jazz studies at the Sydney Conservatorium, writing arrangements for big and small band under George Brodbeck.

A happy coincidence at the end of the same year was the formation of EROS Big Band where Wal began using his new skills. EROS continued to be a supporter of Wal's compositions and arrangements from then onwards, and when the founder of the band passed away in 2007, Wal took over his position as musical director, a position he retained until his death. As a trombonist, he also mentored many young musicians in the band and attended a training band each week to assist in any way possible.

Wal also composed for a variety of local groups including the Belmore Basin Jazz Band (which he joined in 1985), the Wollongong Conservatorium Big Bands, various school groups, a small classical ensemble and even a church choir. John Morrison's Swing City Big Band also played his music.

Today, Wal Gregory's compositions and arrangements are synonymous with the Wollongong jazz scene, with many bands, including EROS, the South Coast Big Band and the Wollongong Conservatorium Jazz Orchestras, playing his repertoire. He was a big supporter of other composers' music and almost always in the audience of every jazz performance in Wollongong. He continued arranging and composing all through his life, with a 2017 composition entitled Frog Island among his last pieces.

Of his earlier works, Five Islands Fandango gained second prize at the 1984 Australian Jazz Convention. In 1996 Wal Gregory took redundancy from his work as a registered surveyor and was able to devote more time to music - Pannowonica (1999) is a good example of his work around this time.

Wal Gregory said of his music, "I try to make my music interesting (sometimes challenging) to play and to listen to. Sometimes I am guilty of adding a bit of deviant humour. I believe music is meant to be enjoyed (even the so called heavy classics like Wagner) and those who play my music all do that."

Wal Gregory was a member of APRA and the Music Arrangers' Guild of Australia and an Associate artists with the AMC since 2001. He passed away on 30 June 2018.