Let’s talk about jazz

Jazz Jam Band: Jeff Baker, Liam Ryan and Mose Allison.Wayne Melville. Right:

It seems a long time since I mentioned jazz in this column.

Let's rectify that. This week I have a jazz initiative that's about to start, and another obituary. Because what would 2016 be if someone famous and influential that I admire hugely didn't die each week? First of all the practical bit. A regular jazz jam. Excellent I say, and about time. Tauranga has developed a very peculiar relationship with jazz. We are, of course, home to the National Jazz Festival, the longest-running jazz festival in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy, and a source of great pride for the council. The jazz festival sprang, half a century ago, from the enthusiasm of Tauranga's jazz community. There were several prominent jazz players living here and the city had a reputation as a hot-bed for the music. And up until not long ago between festivals there used to be regular jazz nights, whether with Dixie Jazz (members of Dr Jazz's old band), or Woody Woodhouse's quartet or The Trevor Braunias Trio, who held monthly nights last year at Mount Maunganui's Hop House. There were also regular Jazz Society Club nights with a band or three playing. All that has gone. The society even terminated their monthly nights, leading to the formation of the Entertainers Club. There seemed to be a philosophy that the Jazz Society existed purely to keep the festival going.

New beginnings

Fortunately, since this year's AGM, a slightly new direction is emerging, and two of the committee members have taken it upon themselves to do their bit to rev up the currently somnambulant jazz scene. Starting next week on Wednesday, November 30, at The Mount Social Club there will be regular jazz jams, led by a house band of Liam Ryan on keyboard, Wayne Melville on bass and Jeff Baker on drums. I need hardly say what a great band this is: the opportunity to hear a couple of ex-Torch Songers laying into a few tunes will be worth it in itself. But this is a jam. Who knows who will turn up? Bring an axe, or contact Jeff Baker if you are keen to play, on 021820513 or jazzyjeff@thebakers.co.nz More info? It's free and runs from 6.30pm-9.30pm. That's about it really – see you there.

The mighty Mose Allison

And, hopefully, at the first night there'll be the requisite number of Mose Allison tunes. Because Mose Allison died last week. Mose was a jazz singer and keyboard player who recorded about 40 albums from the 1950s to the 1990s. He was 89. You might quite possibly not know of the mighty Mr Allison, but he really was the missing link between jazz and blues. The Who grabbed one of his songs ‘A Young Man's Blues', John Mayall and many others borrowed Mose's ‘Parchman Farm', Bonnie Raitt did ‘Everybody's Cryin' Mercy' and even The Pixies wrote the a tribute song ‘Allison'. The Yardbirds, The Clash, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Georgie Fame and more recorded his songs. And what songs! Mixing blues chord changes with hard modern jazz, he also had an absolutely singular sense of laconic wit and subject matter, often taking on big cosmic themes with a sceptic's absurdist humour. Check out songs such as ‘Monsters of the Id', ‘Hello There, Universe' or ‘Ever Since the World Ended', or his very funny and peculiar “love” song ‘Your Molecular Structure'. He was also delightfully po-faced when addressing his own career, whether on ‘The Getting Paid Waltz' (all musicians should know that one!) or a song like ‘I Don't Want Much' where he opens with the lines: “I don't want much out of life, just the simple things I treasure/Till I die I will get by on fame, fortune and sensual pleasure”.  Mose was wonderful. I've been a fan since his 1982 album ‘Middle Class White Boy'. He was a complete original, one of the greats. So if you're looking for a little wisdom to finish the week, Mose's thoughts on jazz? “As far as I'm concerned, the essentials of jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing, and instrumental personality.” Sure nuff.    



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