Paul Atherstone Grabowsky AO (born 27 September 1958) is an Australian pianist and composer.
Born in Lae, Papua New Guinea, Grabowsky is a pianist and composer of music for film, theatre and opera. His father Alistair had lived in Papua New Guinea with his wife Charlotte since the 1930s working on oil rigs, building roads, flying planes. Grabowsky described his ancestry as "failed Polish aristocracy". His older brother Michael took great interest in the young composer and later worked with Paul co-ordinating and producing many of his television and film scores in the 1990s.
Grabowsky grew up in Glen Waverley, Melbourne, Australia, and began piano lessons when he was five years old. He studied the classical repertoire with Mack Jost, senior lecturer in piano at the Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne from the age of seven until his university years. He attended Wesley College and it was that school's jazz band which introduced him to the genre.
Immersing himself in jazz, Grabowsky left the conservatorium in 1978 to pursue musical studies at the Juilliard School in New York and then embarked on extensive travel in Europe. 1980 he worked in the Melbourne cabaret/comedy scene where he began his relationship with Steve Vizard and Robyn Archer. He flew in 1980 to London where he travelled via Spain to Germany; he lived there in Munich until 1985. He had been back in Australia for Christmas 1982 when, on the invitation of Red Symons, he co-composed his first film score, the first of many. In Europe he played with many musicians including Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin as well as influential European artists. In 1983, Grabowsky formed the Paul Grabowsky Trio with Allan Browne and Gary Costello. The duo recorded the album Six by Three, which was released in 1989 and won the trio an ARIA Music Award at the ARIA Music Awards of 1990.
After his return to Australia in 1986, he played in various jazz ensembles. Grabowsky produced Vince Jones' ARIA Award-winning album It All Ends Up In Tears. In 1987, Grabowsky formed the Wizards of Oz with Saxophonist Dale Barlow, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck. Wizards of Oz recorded Soundtrack and won the ARIA Award for Best Jazz Album at the ARIA Music Awards of 1989. During this time, he also wrote the score to the film The Last Days of Chez Nous and for television shows Phoenix, Janus and Fast Forward.
Grabowsky and the Groovematics were the innovative house band on the Seven Network TV show Tonight Live with Steve Vizard from February 1990 to November 1993. This show was live five nights a week. Grabowsky also continued to compose scores for feature films many of which won awards.
In 1990 he was commissioned to write several pieces for the Munich-based jazz/contemporary-music group Die Konferenz. One group of these was based on songs of Édith Piaf ("Et les Affaires Piaf"), while a second group was based on songs from German UFA films from the 1920s to 1940s ("Es wird einmal ein Wunder"). With the support from its artistic director Richard Wherrett, this led to the formation of the project Ringing the Bell Backwards at the Melbourne International Arts Festival and eventually to the Australian Art Orchestra in 1994. That year, Grabowsky wrote a piano concerto for Michael Kieran Harvey.
He is married to Margot Salomon and in 1991 their first child was born; Isabella Grabowsky. Their son Guy Grabowsky was born in 1995..
In 1995, the Australian Art Orchestra toured Europe, and later India in 1996. Grabowsky directed the Victorian Arts Centre's Summer Music programme. Late that year he was commissioned to front the 14-part ABC TV series Access All Areas. As Commissioning Editor for ABC Television Arts and Entertainment (1996–1998), he commissioned the documentary series Long Way to the Top. During the late 1990s, Grabowsky concentrated on writing music for film and television: Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999) and Innocence (2000) by Paul Cox, Siam Sunset by John Polson, the NBC mini-series Noah's Ark, the UK production Shiner. Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) commissioned his first opera, The Mercenary with a (libretto by Janis Balodis).
In 2000, the project The Theft of Sita (a collaboration with Wayan Yudane) came to fruition; it combined jazz elements, Balinese gamelan music and puppetry. The piece premiered in Adelaide, and has since toured worldwide. In that year, Grabowsky was also involved in the writing music for the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics and the Paralympics. Since then, he has written the opera Love in the Age of Therapy (libretto by Joanna Murray-Smith) commissioned by Melbourne Festival and Sydney Festival, and the symphony Streets of Hurqalya (26 June 2002), commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Among his recent film scores are Fred Schepisi's Last Orders and It Runs in the Family, The Eye Of The Storm, Empire Falls (HBO)Paul Cox's The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, and Disney's The Jungle Book 2. From 2003 to 2007, Grabowsky was commissioner at the Australian Film Commission. In 2004 he became involved in Charles Darwin University's Remote Indigenous Music Program.
In 2004, Grabowsky visited the remote community in the Northern Territory called Ngukurr, in order to meet the traditional songmen. He met with the local elders and, after hearing two Wagilak songmen sing, asked permission to bring his orchestra on a return visit. When he returned in 2005, he brought singer-songwriters Archie Roach and his wife Ruby Hunter, along with 10 members of his Australian Art Orchestra. After working together for five days, the musicians staged a concert in the town. The European musicians learnt about the manikay (song cycles) and were led to experiment with whole new ways of exploring sound.
The resulting project, called Crossing Roper Bar, toured the Northern Territory, played at the Birrarung Marr park in Melbourne, the National Gallery of Victoria, Apollo Bay Music Festival and the Sydney Opera House. When the group travelled to Gulkula to play at the 2006 Garma Festival, the Yolgnu songmen from nearby regions were amazed, thinking that those songs had been lost long ago. In 2010 a Crossing Roper Bar album was released.
In 2005, Grabowsky was appointed Artistic Director for the Queensland Music Festival 2007. His song cycle Before Time Could Change Us, lyrics by Dorothy Porter and featuring Katie Noonan, was commissioned by the Queensland Music Festival and released in 2005 by the Warner Music Group. The album peaked at number 65 on the ARIA Charts and number 3 on the ARIA Jazz chart. He recorded an album of original jazz compositions, Tales of Time and Space, with Branford Marsalis (soprano sax), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Scott Tinkler (trumpet), Ed Schuller (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums). In 2007 he was appointed inaugural patron of the National Film and Sound Archive's project Sounds of Australia.
On 4 January 2008, the prestigious Adelaide Festival of Arts appointed Grabowsky as its artistic director for the 2010 festival, its 50th anniversary year. He was then asked to stay on and direct the 2012 Adelaide Festival.
In June 2012, Grabowsky was appointed Vice-Chancellor's Professorial Fellow in the School of Music at Monash University and in July 2012, he was appointed Executive Director, Performing Arts, Academy of Performing Arts, Monash University.
In 2014 Grabowsky was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) for services to music as an educator, a mentor composer and pianist. He won his 5th Aria Award in 2014 for his sextet recording of original compositions The Bitter Suite.
In 2015/2016 he wrote the music and songs for theatre work Last Man Standing performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company, words and play by Steve Vizard; the two teamed again to write another new music theatre work, Banquet of Secrets, performed by the Victorian Opera company.
Awards and nominations
The Australian Independent Record Awards (commonly known informally as AIR Awards) is an annual awards night to recognise, promote and celebrate the success of Australia's Independent Music sector.
The APRA Awards (Australia) are annual awards to celebrate excellence in contemporary music, which honour the skills of member composers, songwriters and publishers who have achieved outstanding success in sales and airplay performance. They commenced in 1982. Paul Grabowsky has won seven awards from twenty nominations.
The ARIA Music Awards are annual awards, which recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. They commenced in 1987. Paul Grabowsky has won seven awards from seventeen nominations.
Australian Jazz Bell Awards
The Australian Jazz Bell Awards, (also known as the Bell Awards or The Bells), are annual music awards for the jazz music genre in Australia. They commenced in 2003.
- 1988 & 1989 Rolling Stone Magazine (Australia) Jazz Artist of the Year
- 1989 AFI nomination (Best Original Music Score) for Georgia
- 1991 AFI nomination (Best Music Score) for A Woman's Tale
- 1992 AFI nomination (Best Music Score) for The Last Days of Chez Nous
- 1994 AFI nomination (Best Original Music Score) for Exile
- 1995 AFI Award (Open Craft Award) for The Good Looker
- 1999 Australian Guild of Screen Composers nomination for the film Siam Sunset
- 2000 The Age Award (Best Production) for The Theft of Sita
- 2001 Sidney Myer Performing Artist of the Year Award
- 2001 Helpmann Award (Best Original Score) for The Theft of Sita
- 2003 World Soundtrack Academy nomination for The Jungle Book 2
- 2004 AFI (Open Craft Award) nomination for Jessica
- 2006 AFI nomination for Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst
- 2007 Melbourne Prize for Music