Industry pays tribute to Tommy Tycho

May 31, 2013

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The Maestro lives on through his music


Maestro Tommy Tycho ... lives on through his music.

“Tommy Tycho had the ability to bring out the best in performers and encourage them to rise above their abilities. He was the ultimate Musical Director, conductor, arranger, performer, composer and Maestro,” said Ken Laing, friend and manager for over 30 years.

Last Tuesday night the cream of the country’s variety entertainment industry gathered at the Bankstown Sports Club in Sydney for the 37th Annual Australian Entertainment `MO’ Awards. The special celebration is held each year to recognise and acknowledge excellence in performance in the variety industry.

This year’s event also paid tribute to a man who, for over 50 years, has contributed a great deal to both the `MO’ Awards and the nation as a performer, friend and mentor to some of the country's most revered entertainers … the unforgettable Maestro Tommy Tycho AM, MBE.

“Tommy was a musical genius who had the rare talent of being able to bring out the best in performers, allowing them to achieve more than they ever thought possible,” said Ken Laing, who first began working with Tommy in 1976.

In 1980 Ken, a talented musician in his own right, became his manager. “Our business relationship began with a handshake over a coffee – there was no contract – and that is how it remained for 33 years.”
Such was the bond shared by the pair … both musicians and both dedicated to presenting only the best in performance.“Tommy was definitely a perfectionist, as anyone who has ever worked with him would attest,” said Ken. “ And, he has worked with some wonderful performers throughout his long and illustrious career.

Ken Laing

Among them was Julie Anthony. “One of his greatest legacies was his arrangement of Australia’s anthem, Advance Australia Fair, for Julie Anthony back in 1988. Today, it is played at just about every major sporting and special event in the country including the Commonwealth Games and the AFL matches,” said Ken. “Just about every performer who sings it today, uses Tommy’s arrangement.”

World famous Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen so admired Tommy Tycho’s abilities that he enlisted his help whenever possible.

Maestro to the stars

During the 1980s Peter asked the Maestro to orchestrate his one-man show which was to be presented at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. Tommy obliged and then each time Peter returned to Australia he would call on him to write more orchestrations. This included a number of his most memorable performances including the Royal Command Performance in Australia in 1980 at which he stole the show with his first public performance of `I Still Call Australia Home’. And again, the two brilliant musicians teamed up at the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1983.

Sammy Davis Jnr, Olivia Newton-John, Anthony Warlow, John Farnham, Normie Rowe, David Campbell, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Helen Zerefos, David Gray were all among the huge list of Australian and international stars who worked with the Maestro.

He was a star among the stars but it never changed him. “Music was his life and he was a genius at it. When Tommy was involved in any performance no matter how difficult, he was in full control of every musical aspect of it. He was just brilliant."

For 10 years from 1983, Tommy and Ken also joined forces to present two major Senior Citizens concerts at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. “I was the producer and Tommy was musical director,” said Ken. “It gave them all so much joy.”

Hungarian-born Tommy was a child prodigy pianist who at the age of 10 played George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. At age 15 he was interned in a German forced labour camp and was lucky to survive. He returned to his first love – music – after the war and lived in Iran for three years as personal pianist to the Shah of Iran until eventually emigrating to Australia with his wife Eve in 1951. One of his first major roles was a musical director at the Seven Network for 15 years, 1956-71.

Music is his legacy

"The legacy that Tommy leaves behind is a music library of 3000 music arrangements, 1500 pieces of original compositions that he wrote from violin to trumpet concertos and music for movies and television series including the ABC series Anzacs and movies such as The Young Einstein, thousands of orchestrations and probably about 1200 recordings,” said Ken.

Tommy endured his first quadruple bi-pass operation in 1980 at the hands of the late Dr Victor Chang. In 1994 he was told to `slow down a little’ by doctors after he underwent a triple bi-pass operation, followed the following week by a prostate operation.

He said at the time: “I will have to pull back a bit on the performing side – and that won’t be easy!”

Three days after his heart operation he was walking and seven weeks later he was conducting performances for Julie Anthony and Anthony Warlow at the Sydney Opera House, such as the stamina and love for music of this Australian Entertainment icon.

Standing ovation

It was only fitting that at this year’s MO Awards, for which he had been patron for 25 of its 37-year history, a special tribute was presented to honour the man who had devoted his life to the world of entertainment.

The tribute, also attended by his daughter Vicki and husband David, began with these words from Ken Laing: `Today we celebrate the family man, the musician and the gentleman whose versatile and unique musical genius is unparalleled in our country.

“Tommy was the conductor who possessed a unique talent to bring out the best in every one’s musical ability. He transformed music notes, from manuscript to life – that rightly earned him the respected and revered title of `Maestro’. As musicians, we loved playing his music and vocalists loved singing his arrangements.

“Tommy created magnificent music for so many performers. He could write four, full orchestrations by hand in a single day. He encouraged everyone to give of their best and to develop their talents. Multi-talented Bernard Walz, who shared some memories of his time spent with the Maestro, was among them. Tommy called Bernard his protégé – his adopted musical son.

A performance by Julie Anthony, and tributes by musician Andy Firth and commentator Alan Jones added to the tribute which sparked a standing ovation.

Ken had the final word: “Tommy Tycho AM, MBE was a demure man who wore his genius lightly, preferring his astonishing musical talent and extraordinary career to speak for itself. He firmly established himself at the pinnacle of the Australian music industry and with such diversity that may never be seen again.”

A concert to pay tribute to Tommy Tycho and his music is planned for September, 2013.

Maestro Tommy Tycho with, from left, Anthony Warlow, Julie Anthony and John Mangos.

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