Sweet Lowdowns is ostensibly a swing quartet hailing from Melbourne, Australia; having met in Canberra in the late 20th Century. It consists of Sandra Talty (vocals, drums), Michael McQuaid (reeds), Liam O'Connell (guitar) and Richard Mander (string bass).
Perhaps imagine Lester Young, and Billie Holiday traveling to Paris and jamming with a stripped down hot club-style rhythm section. Or Mildred Bailey sitting in with Edmond Hall; Charlie Christian on acoustic guitar. This may give an idea of the influences, but the music is truly the result of the harmonious balance of the personalities that comprise it.
The band's name refers to the Gershwin tune and the Woody Allen film of the same name, "Sweet and Lowdown".
The musicians have played jazz with a number of prominent Australian jazz musicians, including Len Barnard, Graeme Bell, Bob Barnard, Geoff Power, Graeme Coyle, John Morrison, Steve Grant and the late Tom Baker, to name just a few - and are now honoured to regularly join such great performers on festival bills around the nation.
The Sweet Lowdowns recently played at high profile events such as the 2007 Noosa, Newcastle and Devonport Jazz Festivals, where they were received with great enthusiasm.
Sandra began her musical career when she started learning orchestral percussion at the age of 9, as part of the Canberra Youth Orchestra Society (CYOS)(now Canberra Youth Music Inc.). For seven years she played in percussion ensembles, concert bands and orchestras, and toured with various groups to Sydney, Melbourne and Japan. She also sang with the Canberra Children's Choir.
While competing in the Big Band section of the Australian National Eisteddfod in 1996, Sandra heard the Jubilee Jazz Band playing trad jazz, which was quite different to the jazz she had so far experienced playing. She had inherited her mother's love of jazz, and although she had not heard much trad-jazz before, this sound immediately appealed to her. After she expressed an interest in the music to the leaders, Kurt Hahn and Michael McQuaid, they invited her to join the band, which consisted entirely of people aged 13-20. As they didn't yet have a singer, and already had a drummer, Sandra was asked if she would also like to sing with the band. Towards the end of 1996, Jubilee Jazz were asked to open a show for the Len Barnard All-Stars. At this concert Sandra made her public debut as a solo vocalist, singing "St James Infirmary".
Jubilee Jazz went on to play at various NSW and ACT jazz festivals, and Sandra was soon sitting in with other bands and meeting other jazz musicians. She was welcomed by most of the musicians she met, and was especially encouraged by drummers Len Barnard, and Neil Macbeth, and pianist, Graeme Bell.
In early 2001, Sandra moved to Melbourne to pursue a career in Industrial Design. Soon after moving to Melbourne, Sandra became involved in the Australian Youth Band, a marching and concert band for musicians aged 13-25. She soon became the band's premier vocalist and is also a member of the 16-piece marching drum line. One of the highlights of her musical career was in July 2002, when Sandra performed with the band at the Melbourne Concert Hall, with special guests including Frank Holden and John Morrison.
Sandra continued to play at jazz festivals in NSW and Victoria, winning the John Ansell Youth Encouragement Award for 2001 at the 7th Annual Wagga Wagga Jazz Festival. It was at this festival that she also had the pleasure of playing in a band with the great Tom Baker. Later that year Sandra also won the Victorian Jazz Club's Youth Encouragement award for 2001. Since then she has been playing and singing with many of Australia's finest jazz musicians and bands both in Melbourne and at jazz festivals around Australia, including Stevenson's Rockets, the Maple Leaf All-Stars, Tailgate Seven, the Fireworks Jazz Band and the Creole Bells.
Liam O'Connell has been playing guitar (his first instrument) since age 10. He is deeply in love with all the styles and colours of jazz guitar from the late 20s and 30s, such as Eddie Lang, Carl Cress, Oscar Aleman and Django Reinhardt up to the modern day, also drawing inspiration from Martin Taylor and Tchovolo Schmidt.
Swing guitar and early jazz have taken him around Australia and keep him busy in Melbourne , playing clubs and festivals with the Sweet Lowdowns and various small groups.
He is a multi-instrumentalist, teacher, composer, producer and promoter who loves all styles of music from folk to reggae and hip hop.
Richard has been playing double bass in jazz bands since the tender age of 25.
With a childhood littered with different musical instruments (violin, clarinet, saxophones, recorder, vocals...), Richard finally found his true calling as a bass player in 2000 when he met Sandra who introduced him to jazz. Within a couple of years, he had acquired a bass and furiously started learning the instrument (wih the help of bass player/teacher Dean Addison) and the styles (assisted by Sandra, Liam and Michael).
Richard has since developed a keen affection for a large range of jazz music. He takes his influences from such great bass players as Louis Vola, Wellman Braud, Pops Foster, Ray Brown, Milt Hinton and many more.
Nowadays Richard plays with various jazz and swing bands on a permanent or ad hoc basis. In Michael McQuaid's Red Hot Rhythmakers he also doubles on tuba, which he took up for the band in late 2004.
Michael is a twenty-five year old jazz musician from Canberra who relocated to Melbourne in July 2003. He took up classical clarinet around the age of 10, but didn't take his music seriously until his clarinet teacher played him a jazz recording. Since then he has been passionate about the music of the 20s and 30s, and soon formed the Jubilee Jazz Band with others around his age (including Sandra and Liam) to play the music of such jazz legends as King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly-Roll Morton. As well as specialising as a clarinettist, Michael also plays saxophone and trumpet, thus providing further kindling for his insatiable desire to collect vintage instruments, as well as recordings and sheet music. He joined well-known Canberra band the Black Mountain Jazz Band at the age of fifteen, and has played with Steve Waddell's Creole Bells and a variety of other groups since moving to Melbourne.
Michael has been playing with the members of the Sweet Lowdowns since the beginning of his professional career (his first-ever gig was with Liam as a duo), and has a particular love of the band's laid-back, swinging sound.