The smoke curling from the tiny terrace in Erskineville might have resulted from some chemical reaction rather than cigarettes. Inside was Jackie Orszaczky’s crucible of music: relentless practising, composing, arranging and rehearsing. His influence continues to bubble away in dozens of acts including Boy and Bear, Petulant Frenzy, Lucie Thorne and Tina Harrod, nine years after he passed away
The name looked unpronounceable (Ors-ah-ski) but his grooves were irresistible. What set his funky soul apart was that he was no mere copyist. Elements of Orszaczky’s Hungarian background, both classical and Gypsy, informed his music alongside the gamut of African-American sounds – sounds that once symbolised freedom in an Iron Curtain country. He was also a shrewd talent-spotter who drew the best from people.
Drummer Hamish Stuart, whose list of recent credits includes Don Walker, The catholics, Thorne and Harrod, already had a serious pedigree when he joined Orszaczky in the mid-’80s. “But Jack’s thing was just more fun,” he says. “Back in those days we were doing five nights a week around Sydney. He was hugely focused on the music that he was creating, and that was an inspiration to be around.”
Beyond his composing, singing, bass-playing and band-leading, Stuart admired Orszaczky’s on-stage personality. “He really could read a crowd,” he says. “If there was a room full of people dancing he’d play all night.”
For Tina Harrod, who joined in 1993, Orszaczky not only changed her singing but her life, as they became off-stage partners as well. “It was just a whole other ball-game working for somebody as sophisticated as Jack was as a musician,” she says. “He was constantly saying to me ‘You’ve got to be yourself’. And when you’re young you don’t really know what that means, but he was giving me the freedom to just be a singer, and not be a sex object or a dancer or anything else. It was a combination of things that really helped me become what I am today.”
Guitarist Arne Hannah became a mainstay from 1989. “I’ve never seen anybody who was so good at leading a band,” he enthuses, adding, “I can’t really play a note on the guitar without having been influenced by him.”
Thanks to Orszaczky Hannah is now able to write arrangements of Frank Zappa’s notoriously challenging music for the exceptional 10-piece Petulant Frenzy. Among his other projects he plays in Nadya Golksi’s traditional Balkan band, which he feels shares something of Orszaczky’s attitude of making music being as natural as eating, and, like Stuart, is a regular in the Old School Funk nights at 505.
When Orszaczky turned from bass to piccolo bass around 1997 he picked as his replacement a teenaged Dave Symes, who would later become bassist in Boy and Bear. “I was at that age where I was completely hungry to be like him as a musician,” Symes says. “He was incredibly giving to me. It was like an apprenticeship in a way, and it gave me a discipline and a work ethic. It didn’t matter for Jack whether there were two people in the audience or a thousand: it was the same level of show in terms of the commitment to the performance. He just lived for it.”
While still with Orszaczky Symes began working with such pop acts as Sarah Blasko and Missy Higgins, using arranging skills he’d learned from Orszaczky as the latter’s musical director. Since 2012 Boy and Bear has been his main project.
Now Harrod, Symes, Stuart, Hannah, other Orszaczky alumni and singer Darren Percival have formed the Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, and while it lacks the man himself, Harrod appreciates the opportunity to share Orszaczky’s legacy.
“It’s kind of like he’s there, anyway,” says Symes.
Sydney Festival Village Highlights.
Tuesday 17 & 24, 6.30pm & 8.30pm: Orszaczky Budget Orchestra
Saturday 21, 12.30pm, The Spooky Men’s Chorale: what shed-less men do in their spare time
Saturday 28, 12.30pm, Old School Funk Band: the name says it all, and the players are the best in town