94-year-old jazz pianist plays piano for first time in years since his stroke

3 December 2020, 11:45

Jazz icons Julian Lee and James Morrison play piano and flugelhorn
Jazz icons Julian Lee and James Morrison play piano and flugelhorn. Picture: James Morrison/YouTube

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

When you’ve lived and loved a life in music, that’s a joy that will never leave you.

This is the moment a jazz piano legend took to the keys again for the first time in years, for a duet with an old friend.

The musician is New Zealand-born Julian Lee, who was 94 years old at the time of this video. Lee survived a stroke some years before, and had put a pause on his music practice.

But here, as a visit from old friend and Australian jazz icon, James Morrison, turns into a jam session, music flows from his fingertips once more.

Morrison, who posted the video on YouTube, writes, “[It’s] special being with my mentor Don Burrows and our great mate Julian Lee for the day in Mossvale.

“Jules hasn’t played for years since his last stroke… he turns 95 this year and we share our birthday… music is such a joy.”

Morrison plays the flugelhorn in one hand and a bit of walking bass on piano in the other to help his friend out, as Lee’s wife, Val, enjoys the show in the background.

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Don Burrows, Julian Lee and James Morrison - After You've Gone

Contemporaries of Lee, who has been blind since birth, will also know him by the nickname ‘Golden Ears’. In his heyday, Lee played live in LA’s biggest jazz venues, arranged music for industry greats like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and flautist Sir James Galway, and wrote and arranged for two great Antipodean orchestras, the Sydney Symphony and Auckland Philharmonic.

He also performed with The Don Burrows Quintet, fronted by his late friend Don Burrows, an Australian jazz and swing musician who’s seen dancing along in the chair next to Lee and Morrison in this video.

“Yeeeaah!” Lee grins, as their duet on Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘After You’ve Gone’ ends.

A second video from Morrison, in which the duo play ‘The Nearness of You’, is captioned: “This is what friends are for... I am so grateful to my old mates Julian and Don for all the lessons learnt over the years... life is music.

Read more: Pianist plays 7 levels of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with increasing virtuosity >

Julian Lee James Morrison & Don Burrows - The Nearness Of You

“Julian has been blind since birth – what he can’t do on a piano though!

“He hadn’t played for quite some years since his stroke, so it was a pleasure to visit and take a keyboard and once again watch those hands on the keys.”