Australian jazz drummer Louis Burdett gives his first interview outside of a police station
9th November 2019 by Will Stewart
Loiuis burdett is an Australian Jazz drummer who was originally inspired by Afro-American funk music of the 1960’s and 70’s. He was born in Adelaide but it wasn’t until his return trip from a year spent at boarding school in England that he fell in love with music. Speaking to Convicts, Louis says, “I got trumpet lessons but then I switched to drums, auditioned for the navy band and became a full time percussionist. Two years training in the Navy, I learnt timpani and vibraphone and did the whole Australian Music Examination Board and then went to sea. It was not until I joined the Navy that I discovered other music because Australian radio was very white dominated. I heard no black music until I joined the Navy and met this Sri Lankan guy who I formed a band with.”
Louis Burdett hated the navy, so much so in fact that the band he formed with the aforementioned Sri Lankan guy was called FTN, Fuck The Navy. But Louis found school to be too restrictive and conformist, all he wanted to do was play the drums. The navy was the only place he thought he could do that full time. Upon leaving the navy, Louis joined a group from Chicago looking for a drummer. This is where, Louis says, he really got his education. American musicians had more respect for drumming than Australians at that time, due to heavy musical influences from Afro-American and Latin culture.
Louis Burdett says that playing with the band from Chicago, and experimenting heavily with psychedelic drugs, taught him to be more experimental with his music. Eventually he went in pursuit of free form jazz, listening to the likes of John Coltrane and Sun Ra. But Australian audiences weren’t ready for such unconventional music, it’s not something they’d ever heard before. Louis recalls one experience playing at a jazz festival in Australia where the whole band were playing completely free form style. The crowd hated it, and responded with deafening boos, pelting the stage with water bottles and rotten tomatoes. But Louis says he didn’t care, he was high on mushrooms.
After some time spent in England Louis fathered a child, but things didn’t turn out well and he eventually came back to Australia alone. Unable to bear the pane of being away from his son, Louis went to seek peace in the Australian bush, where he found the ultimate in free-form music – the sounds of nature. Louis says that the sounds he’d been trying to re-create all his life were already being created by nature. The sound of the trees, the insects and the animal. If anything, Louis Burdett has become even more spiritual in later life, constantly seeking further enlightenment through the human experience. “nature has taught me so much. Nature is the healer. It is the ultimate healer.”
Click play on the video above to hear about Louis in his own words, or read the extended interview on convicts.nyc.