Thank you for the music, Rodger

Music Plus
with Winston Watusi

I was ready to review a couple of local albums today when I heard Rodger Fox had died.

I write in advance, of course, so by the time you read this it will be old news. But right now it’s kind of poleaxing.

I won’t, at this short notice, try to offer any sort of comprehensive obituary.

I absolutely lack the knowledge and resources to do someone like Rodger justice. Oh, the things he did...

Like taking his big band to Europe’s legendary Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980 - the first New Zealand band invited to play an international jazz festival - and later to the Monterey and New Orleans festivals.

In 2012, they flew to Los Angeles to record an album at Capital Studios, home of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.

That became the band’s 36 album.

Rodger Fox. Photo: Bob Hakins.

Sheer work rate 

I knew Rodger for some 30 years, and through all that time his sheer work rate never ceased to astound me: continually arranging tours, setting up festivals, looking for funding, for new projects, for new players, teaching in every setting imaginable, always on the lookout for a new collaboration, a new way to explore music in NZ - whether by bringing the best in the world here or by working with the best we have to celebrate the country’s artistic possibilities.

Just in recent years, there have been settings of Hone Tuwhare poems to big band music, and his project to arrange Dave Dobbyn’s music for big bands, resulting in musical charts which can be played by bands throughout the country in perpetuity.

The last thing I saw was his genre-bending mash-up with King Kapisi, which he was looking forward to bringing to Tauranga.

Then there were the overseas musicians Rodger lured to NZ. My life - and this is something many many people I know would happily attest to - was made richer by Rodger Fox, by the tremendous international players he exposed us all too.

Those players, let’s not forget, came here because Rodger was held, worldwide, in huge respect, both as an absolutely international-quality trombone player, and also because his bands were just that good.

Thanks to Rodger, we got to see the likes of Robben Ford, Chris Cain, Dennis Chambers, Gregg Bissonette, Peter Erskine, Louie Bellson, David Clayton-Thomas, Randy Crawford, Charlie Musselwhite, Ernestine Anderson, Diane Schuur, and Joe Williams.

And perhaps the one Rodger was most proud of, sax legend Michael Brecker, who joined the his big band to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Concerts and shows 

There were the brilliant concerts with pianist Michael Houston, and in earlier days the shows with Midge Marsden belting out Caledonia and taking the roof off. And so many festivals. Rodger organised, from the Manawatū Jazz Festival to the recent NZ Blues, Roots & Groove Festival, dozens and dozens all up.

Rodger’s passing leaves a gaping chasm in the music scene. And in many lives. Sorry if this was all a bit of a rant. Thank you for the music, Rodger. RIP.

Hear Winston’s latest playlist: