The birth of jazz in Tauranga

Robbie Laven, Brian Geoghan and Dave Proud

Tauranga is home to the longest-running jazz festival in the southern hemisphere. We all know that - it might even be true.

But whatever murky facts lie behind the claim, we can all be happy that every Easter, the streets are alive with the sound of music. It might even be jazz.

I do suspect more than a few people wonder how this happened. Tauranga does not appear, at first glance, to be a hotbed of jazz. Perhaps we're just undemonstrative types.

I notice the road signs which once proudly proclaimed Tauranga as “Home of the National Jazz Festival” have long gone. There are no weekly jazz nights where once there used to be a couple, and jazz does not feature heavily amongst visiting acts at Baycourt or elsewhere.

So why does the National Jazz Festival happen here?

And before I cause offence, I should mention there is a very good jazz jam at The Mount Social Club on the last Wednesday of every month, kicking off at 6.30pm.
Part of the reason, or quite a few parts, will feature next weekend at Hotel Armitage on Willow Street, when three of Tauranga's veteran bands perform at a concert called ‘The Birth of Jazz in Tauranga'.

The beginnings…

Primarily, New Zealand's National Jazz Festival started and still takes place in Tauranga because many years ago, in those long-distant mythical times we now call the 1960s, Tauranga boasted some of this country's finest jazz players. And many of them are still here.

There were names like Bill Hoffmeister, Ken Hayman, Jim Langabeer, Jack Claridge, Jan Kessel, Cedric Sutherland and too many others to count - people who made jazz history in this country, people who toured the world with top international bands and people who made a real difference to the music.

In the late 50s they congregated in Tauranga - in 1963, they started a jazz festival.
Three bands, each with members who were part of those merry times, will play at the concert next Sunday: The Woody Woodhouse Connection, Bay Dixie and The BBC.

Each deserve a full column from me – in fact pretty much every musician playing deserves a full column – but for the moment I'll just stick to the facts.

The idea for the concert came from the Tauranga Jazz Society, which suggests they have recognised both the demand here for traditional jazz and the quality of Tauranga's older players. Bay Dixie were stuck in an obscure street spot last Easter but the band was superb.

Maybe someone noticed?

The line-up

Rob Smith fronts The BBC (Bay Blues Company) and – ever the rebel despite pushing 80 – describes his band as playing “no style of jazz.” He says: “In our case, we will be doing a set of no standards and I have made a few notes about how/where/why jazz began. I think most people would be surprised that it's only been with us for a little over a 100 years, so that means the Tauranga Jazz Fest has been on earth for about 50 per cent of that time. Not bad!”

Rob, singing and playing sax, will be joined by Judge Jeff Smith on keyboards, drummer Jimmy Gibb, Dave Proud on trombone and Kokomo's Nigel Masters on bass.

His regular trumpet player is overseas so the inestimable Brian Geoghan will guest.

Brian and Dave also play with Bay Dixie, who are about as good a Dixie band as currently exists in New Zealand. They also boast the superb talents of John Nicholson on clarinet, tuba player Hans De Bere and Robbie Levan on guitar and banjo.

Brian might also add his cornet to the Woody Woodhouse Connection – a swinging mainstream trio. Woody doesn't play much these days, so it'll be a treat to once again hear someone who merited a full chapter in Graham Clark's comprehensive history of Tauranga music, The Right Note.

Things kick off at 4pm on Sunday, November 19 for the amazingly generous price of $10 ($5 for Jazz Society members). That's got to be the best deal on jazz since, oh, 1963.

watusi@thesun.co.nz

Tauranga is home to the longest-running jazz festival in the southern hemisphere. We all know that - it might even be true.
But whatever murky facts lie behind the claim, we can all be happy that every Easter, the streets are alive with the sound of music. It might even be jazz.
I do suspect more than a few people wonder how this happened. Tauranga does not appear, at first glance, to be a hotbed of jazz. Perhaps we're just undemonstrative types.
I notice the road signs which once proudly proclaimed Tauranga as “Home of the National Jazz Festival” have long gone. There are no weekly jazz nights where once there used to be a couple, and jazz does not feature heavily amongst visiting acts at Baycourt or elsewhere.
So why does the National Jazz Festival happen here?
And before I cause offence, I should mention there is a very good jazz jam at The Mount Social Club on the last Wednesday of every month, kicking off at 6.30pm.
Part of the reason, or quite a few parts, will feature next weekend at Hotel Armitage on Willow Street, when three of Tauranga's veteran bands perform at a concert called ‘The Birth of Jazz in Tauranga'.
The beginnings…
Primarily, New Zealand's National Jazz Festival started and still takes place in Tauranga because many years ago, in those long-distant mythical times we now call the 1960s, Tauranga boasted some of this country's finest jazz players. And many of them are still here.
There were names like Bill Hoffmeister, Ken Hayman, Jim Langabeer, Jack Claridge, Jan Kessel, Cedric Sutherland and too many others to count - people who made jazz history in this country, people who toured the world with top international bands and people who made a real difference to the music.
In the late 50s they congregated in Tauranga - in 1963, they started a jazz festival.
Three bands, each with members who were part of those merry times, will play at the concert next Sunday: The Woody Woodhouse Connection, Bay Dixie and The BBC. Each deserve a full column from me – in fact pretty much every musician playing deserves a full column – but for the moment I'll just stick to the facts.
The idea for the concert came from the Tauranga Jazz Society, which suggests they have recognised both the demand here for traditional jazz and the quality of Tauranga's older players. Bay Dixie were stuck in an obscure street spot last Easter but the band was superb.
Maybe someone noticed?
The line-up
Rob Smith fronts The BBC (Bay Blues Company) and – ever the rebel despite pushing 80 – describes his band as playing “no style of jazz.” He says: “In our case, we will be doing a set of no standards and I have made a few notes about how/where/why jazz began. I think most people would be surprised that it's only been with us for a little over a 100 years, so that means the Tauranga Jazz Fest has been on earth for about 50 per cent of that time. Not bad!”
Rob, singing and playing sax, will be joined by Judge Jeff Smith on keyboards, drummer Jimmy Gibb, Dave Proud on trombone and Kokomo's Nigel Masters on bass.
His regular trumpet player is overseas so the inestimable Brian Geoghan will guest.
Brian and Dave also play with Bay Dixie, who are about as good a Dixie band as currently exists in New Zealand. They also boast the superb talents of John Nicholson on clarinet, tuba player Hans De Bere and Robbie Levan on guitar and banjo.
Brian might also add his cornet to the Woody Woodhouse Connection – a swinging mainstream trio. Woody doesn't play much these days, so it'll be a treat to once again hear someone who merited a full chapter in Graham Clark's comprehensive history of Tauranga music, The Right Note.
Things kick off at 4pm on Sunday, November 19 for the amazingly generous price of $10 ($5 for Jazz Society members). That's got to be the best deal on jazz since, oh, 1963.                           watusi@thesun.co.nz



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