jo 'doc' rosenberg and boo theory

by boris v.weingarten
from the international jazz journal

in today's world of packaged easy listening it is hardly surprising that some of the major innovators of 20th century music slip through the information net - particularly if they don't live in the northern hemisphere. take jazz music for example. a careful perusal through leonard feather's encyclopedia of jazz reveals absolutely no mention at all of the legendary australian jazz violinist jo doc' rosenberg . first, a few biographical notes -
his birth date is not sure, but he reckons to be in his middle 70s and was born in wagga wagga, new south wales. he was the younger of two very talented brothers - the other, johannes, went on to become a famous violinist and composer. their father was thought to have been a zeppelin sales representative who emigrated to australia in 1918 - a somewhat depressed personality .

while his brother was building an international reputation, doc' stayed home and practised his scales. he was first employed as a camel consultant for qantas (queensland and northern territory air service) - at this time camels were used in australia rather like hire cars today. it was with this means of transport that rosenberg escaped to the northern territory in the early 40s to avoid military service. he took his violin with him and was soon transcribing complicated rhythmic passages from the aboriginal musos (musicians). by day he developed his unique spiccato bow strokes (later used in boo rhythmics and by night he played in a country and western band, the howling crocodiles . until recently jazz always considered itself as primarily an oral tradition with great emphasis placed on the practice of improvisation. australia can boast the (just about) continuing tradition of the world's oldest oral music tradition - that of the aborigines. and what perhaps is the most important component of an improvising tradition? probably memory. it has been recorded that some aboriginal elders in the early 1800s had a repertoire of over 7,500 songs (cf. early contacts' j.hudson). this ability to store and recall information in the brain is clearly a lost technique. of course, our personal computers can do it for us now - however, we find it almost impossible to function without our information technology. it was the technique of aboriginal memory that became the basis for rosenberg's boo theory .

in the northern territory, in the late 40s, rosenberg spent a lot of time with jimmy mobano , an aboriginal elder. he learnt that song memory relied on the ability to locate each song under a certain rock (or other geographical feature). it was by going walkabout' in the brain that each singer could enjoy a huge repertoire. this concept went hand in hand with the full realisation that the history of music was not developmental and linear in structure, but was linked by a network of geographical addresses. speed and reliability of finding each song depended on brain weather and not chronological time. in this way it was quite with the realms of possibility (if not to say probability) to access the work of other musicians from other times. the greeks would have us believe that simonides invented the art of memory' - but those in the south know different!

what rosenberg needed for his theory though was some kind of cosmic glue that would be flexible and elastic enough to bring the location principles of boo into any defined musical language - no matter how trivial (eg the western diatonic tone system). scale, then was the immediate problem. for many years, rosenberg had been fascinated by the similarities between the violin bow and the boomerang. as the sassel's new english dictionary states - boo'me rang : a native australian missile weapon, consisting of a curved stick up to a metre long so constructed that, thrown forward, it takes a whirling course upwards, returns with a swoop, makes a weird buzzing sound, and eventually hits the thrower right on the nose if it hasn't been correctly thrown in the first place, (fig.) an action, speech, or argument that recoils on the person who makes it. just like the violin bow, rosenberg had realised. successive experiments and substantial measurements on the ground and in space gave the violinist a workable formula with which to take any perceivable music language forwards, backwards, upwards, sideways and yes, around in circles. in 1957 rosenberg had boo theory broken down into 1040 more useful formulas. on a bright clear day, with a north east wind, he decided to concentrate on one which he kept under a large monolith rock called mooloo near ula ula. by chance it dealt with a relatively short period of chronological time called modern jazz. he decided that this style of music was as good as any to test the boo . in the 50's, like all jazz musicians in australia, rosenberg worked in restaurants and clubs for a living (a tradition that continues to this very day). recordings from this period show that the violinist had no trouble jumping forwards and back over three or four decades (one can hear, however, a few bowing uncertainties when travelling in the direction modal to bebop to mainstream to free). but leaving the uncertainty principle' aside, it is obvious that boo melodic (as it became known) out-theorises all the later theories such as the lydian chromatic and the harmolodic -indeed all of them can be accommodated under any monolith in the northern territory. a good example of early rosenberg can be heard on the album forward of short leg (dossier st 7529) - a version of blue moon' recorded live at the blacktown workers' club. this is an excerpt from the national sound library, canberra - one wonders how much more of this rare material actually exists!

with rosenberg's blacktown workers' club appearances, there started an endless succession of legal battles with the musician's union and the keep music live' campaign. after a period of confinement with hard labour', the doc' found employment at don's restaurant in broken hill. for his next term inside prison, the violinist put boo melodics into an interesting variation form. the walkabout' this time involved the violinist going from restaurant table to restaurant table - each table in a different time and place - but all inside his head. by the end of this third term inside prison, rosenberg had memorised 4,190 restaurant tables - an extraordinary feat of self discipline and brain management well beyond the powers of the average jazz practitioner. some of these tables can be heard on a recently released c.d. violin music for restaurants (rer megacorp, london.)


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