Australian Story: Apr 6

Monday’s Australian Story is a repeat episode profiling the friendship between the late Don Burrows and James Morrison.

It is introduced by Morrison.

The touching friendship between jazzman James Morrison and his long-time mentor Don Burrows is the focus of this week’s repeat program, The Two of Us, following Burrows’ death from Alzheimer’s disease in a Sydney nursing home last month.

Don Burrows took the young trumpeter under his wing when James was just 16 and studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. After Don was diagnosed with dementia following a stroke several years ago, they effectively switched roles.

James became Don’s legal guardian and took charge of his care at a nursing home on Sydney’s northern beaches.

“Now Don’s at the stage where he needs looking after, and it’s really lovely to be able to look after him, the way he did for me for so many years. It never crossed my mind that I’m not Don’s family by blood. We are his family and we needed to look after him.” James explains.

Don had semi-retired from performing and moved to the Victorian town of Paynesville to enjoy his other great love – fishing. But the stroke left him paralysed down one side and no longer able to take care of himself.

James made the decision to move Don back to the veteran jazzman’s hometown of Sydney after realising that music was the key to his recovery.

The realisation came when James visited Don in hospital two months after the stroke, and encouraged Don to pick up his clarinet.

“It was like a switch flicked, and suddenly he was Don Burrows again, he was playing just like he always did. It was like his mind snapped back into place. He didn’t get his short term memory back, but he got his personality back.” James recalls.

James and his wife Judi were convinced that the best medicine for Don was to be around music and the “family” of musicians he had played with all his life in Sydney.

“As we knew it eventually would, Don’s condition deteriorated, and a few weeks ago we were able to thank him for all the gigs, all the laughs and all the lessons,” said James Morrison.

“Don always had a saying that “if the fun goes out of it, I’ll give it up.” And now he finally has.”

Plans for a public memorial for Burrows have been put on hold because of the corona virus pandemic.

Producer: Ben Cheshire

8pm Monday on ABC.

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