3MBS Kapell special

16 Jan


Wreckage at crash site almost 60 years later.

Wreckage at crash site almost 60 years later.

Great fun was had last week by all — or at least Peter Green and I — when we recorded at the studios of 3MBS a two-hour radio special about William Kapell.

Dubbed America’s greatest home-grown pianist, Kapell was killed at 31 in an air crash in 1953. He had just completed a very tough concert tour of Australia when the BCPA plane in which he was flying barrelled into a low mountain range south of San Francisco. All 19 on board were killed, and Willy, as he was known, was the only passenger whose kith and kin failed to win compensation.

British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines was half-owned by the Australian government, and its shell was taken over by Qantas, which fought tooth and nail to stop Kapell’s widow Anna Lou and her two children from being compensated for the loss of Willy. In one of several court cases, an experienced flight engineer said two airlines — BCPA and Philippines — routinely took a short cut into San Francisco airport.

But Peter and I talked mainly about Kapell, the man and pianist, and his formidable technique, which was really only a tool for peerless musicianship. Despite dying so young, he remains one of the keyboard greats. Moreover, his playing matured enormously in the last months of his life, which were spent performing not just in Australian capital cities but towns such as Newcastle, Shepparton and Geelong. We interrupted the chat with quite a lot of Kapell’s playing.

The full story of this stupendous musician and a Melburnian’s amateur recordings that prove his genius is told for the first time in my book ‘A Lasting Record’, which is officially due out on 1 February. And that’s the date of my 3MBS Friday night special on Willy. Get listening please from 8pm.

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