Photo of Don Harper

Don Harper

Don Harper was born in Melbourne and studied under Raymond Hanson at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. A jazz violinist and conductor, he went on to become the leader of one of Australia’s most successful big bands, and a successful composer of music for film and television.

Harper travelled to London with the aim of broadening his experience of the music industry. During his time there he appeared frequently on British radio and television, and performed at clubs and hotels such as the London Palladium, the Savoy Hotel, Talk of the Town, and the Windmill. He also recorded for Pye and Nixa.

Having passed seven successful years in the UK, Harper returned to Australia where he toured the capital cities with Dave Brubeck’s Quartet, before settling in Sydney. He spent the next four years in the recording studio, and performing on television, radio, and in hotels and jazz clubs around the country.

Returning again to London, Harper turned to composition. He achieved great success in this field, writing theme and background music for many programmes produced by BBC TV, including Dr Who, Champion House, Sexton Blake, Devil in the Fog, and The Inside Man. He held the position of Music Director for London Weekend Television’s popular World of Sport and wrote all the music for this series for fifteen years.

Harper left Britain to return to Australia in 1983, whereupon he took up the position of Head of Jazz Studies at the Wollongong University’s School of Creative Arts, a position which he held until 1990. Harper has also conducted master classes at Trinity College, London, and at the Conservatorium in Brisbane.

Harper frequently performed as a solo artist on luxury liners such as the QE2, and his cabaret performances took him to many parts of the world. He was a member of numerous famous jazz orchestras and big bands, and performed with many famous artists, including Dave Brubeck, Michel Le Grand, the Two Ronnies, John Denver, Vera Lynne, and Liberace.

Apart from jazz and film music, Harper composed a large amount of educational and religious music for the London publisher A. & C. Black. These publications included a book and LP record of Harper’s musical settings of all the poems from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Don Harper died on 30 May 1999.

Australian Music Centre