Every Easter Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, hosts what is now known as “The National Jazz Festival”. 2015 was the 53rd National Jazz Festival and Diane Hume-Green of Scene About Town took in some of the music and performances on offer.
Big Band Night on Good Friday at Baycourt:
I can honestly say that I have seen the Tauranga Big Band along with its predecessor, the Bay Big Band, dozens and dozens of times. My father was a long-time member of both bands and my mother received a QSM for services to the community, including services to the Jazz Festival committee. Sir Jerry Mateparae, Governor General of New Zealand, was very interested in the history of the Jazz Festival and spoke to her at length about it at her investiture ceremony.
On Good Friday at Baycourt, the band did us proud. They were on fire from the minute they took the stage. The saxophone section was one of their best combinations I’ve heard in ages. Murray Mason chose a set of tunes that showed off the powerful section work of the trumpets, trombones and saxophones. It was so good. Two vocalists rounded off their set including a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World’ sung by Barry Spedding. The audience wanted an encore but they were in for more great music with The Royal New Zealand Navy Band. Sitting behind members of a couple of the high school bands it was evident how they are influenced by watching great musicians playing live. They were in awe at some of the soloists and appreciated the talent they were listening to.
The Royal New Zealand Navy Band is a professional full time concert band of 28 members. As they play a wide range of music, all members of the band are highly proficient musicians. They played some technical jazz arrangements without skipping a beat. Brilliant soloists, a sense of humour and fantastic music made for a memorable evening. Finn Scholes was their guest trumpeter and he has such a cool style. He must have finished Easter with a long sleep as he played in the Navy band, his own band, Carnivorous Plant Society and the high energy Hipstamatics.
The Navy band Jazz Combo played a set during the show which was a nice change from the dynamics of the big band. The combo consists of drums, double bass, guitar and saxophone. The skill of Johnny Miller on soprano sax came to the fore with his solos on some beautiful tunes. The Jazz Combo is just one of the splinter groups made up of members of the concert band. Some of the other groups include the rock band, a woodwind ensemble and a Dixie band who have entertained at the Napier Art Deco weekend many times. I felt very patriotic seeing the Navy band in their uniforms on stage. No wonder people get teary eyed when they march in parades.
Downtown Carnival on the Waterfront:
I also caught the Navy Jazz combo at the Downtown Carnival on Saturday afternoon. Met them in the carpark later when they were dressed in civilian clothes and they were very friendly and appreciative of the praise the audience had given them.
The Queen City Big Band had a crowd at the waterfront stage and crowds danced and sung to the classic jazz tunes by Shaken not Stirred and the funky soul music of the Hipstamatics. I think that band were even more high energy than last year if that is possible. Classy music from the Richie Pickard band, very cool and sophisticated, the four piece band consisted of Richie on double bass, guitarist, drums and award winning keyboard player, Kevin Field. There was a style for everyone at the Strand and more room between stages.
THE JAZZ VILLAGE
The highlight of the 53rd National Jazz Festival for me was seeing Fantine sing at the Historic Village. More on that later.
We arrived at the Village around 3pm and the place was packed. Condensing the main acts to the cobbled streets will be a love or a hate thing. Some people will love the village atmosphere and the buzz of the crowd and some will hate it and pine for the space of the Village park area with the shady trees.
The weather was hot and steamy a la New Orleans style after a downpour in the morning. The New Orleans Music Factory hosted Kevin Field’s band, Dog, who were playing with Chris Cody from Australia. Dog were the winners of the Tui Award for Best Jazz Album of the year with their album ‘Dog’.
One of the coolest spots in the village on a hot day is under the beautiful trees next to the LaFayette Church (as it’s known during the Jazz Festival). Some seating and an outside speaker there would be great as the church is always full and a lot of people listen outside. Dee DeLuca sung with guitarist Dixon Nacey with a laid back set. I had only seen her previously with a larger band singing more upbeat numbers. The next act, Radius, Justine and Harry from Christchurch, had just recently returned from a trip to Europe playing their way around with their unique musical style. Harry on guitar, banjo and slide guitar and Justine played a variety of saxaphones and flute. Their original tunes are sort of celticy, jazzy, bluesy, groovy style of music. Very enjoyable and they seem like the kind of people you would love to have dinner with.
Between acts people sat on benches, steps of buildings, in groups on chairs on the lawns between buildings, ate, drank, chatted with family or complete strangers and just enjoyed the sun and the atmosphere. My only comment is with so many people in a small area, employ students to clear tables and get more recycling stations organised. Oh and a big screen so people at the back of the street can see what is on stage not just hear it.
The Big Easy Outdoor Stage came alive with the foot stomping music of The Wellington Shake-’Em-On-Downers. A young group from Wellington playing trad music. The female vocalist had a really vintage tone to her voice and also played the accordion. The brass section helped with vocals as well and they had the crowd dancing and clapping their hands. Great music for the late afternoon.
Then the act so many people stayed to watch. The Richie Pickard Band set up and Liam Ryan introduced Fantine. She is an Australian based singer of Dominican and Russian descent and had just come from Miami working with Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s band. I recently saw a documentary about the Estefan’s hotel they own in Miami, the Cardoza Hotel, known as an Art Deco jewel. Fantine came on stage and she looked so exotic and sexy with her gorgeous dress, high heels and fabulous smile. Then she sang C’est Ce Bon in French and the audience swooned. What a voice, powerful, husky, soulful, controlled. The band was superb with some beautiful guitar solos and she acknowledged how good the band was too. She sang two songs in Spanish and some in English, with a stunning version of a jazz standard, A Foggy Day. One of her own compositions showed off her contemporary style as well. After demanding an encore the crowd were thrilled with her choice of La Vie En Rose in French of course and then one more encore. We could have listened to her sing many more songs. www.facebook.com/FantineMusic
The last act of the evening was Joel Shadbolt with his band. I remember him as a young kid jamming with bands on the Strand. Now he is a seasoned performer and his guitar playing is still brilliant. He had the task of saying the fireworks had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances which was a shame as the evening was lovely. He sang as well as played different guitars. Loved the sound of the organ playing in his band and the crowd loved his blues songs as well as a rendition of George Benson’s song ‘On Broadway’.
With my Tect card free pass I had enjoyed a musical feast in a great social setting.
Jazz Evening at QV Eatery
QV Eatery on Cameron Road and 18th Ave corner have special themed event nights such as French, Italian, Kiwi and the next one coming up is Indian.
Easter Saturday was Jazz night with a five course meal and entertainment from NZ’s own crooner, Aaron Bloomfield. He had been singing downtown outside The Med café earlier in the day which he said was his warmup performance. He entertained us during the meal with some great jazz standards. Dinner was followed by dessert and dancing and trust me, any current or cool old song he can sing with his mellow voice and laid back style. He has the patter of a seasoned entertainer and his playlist is extensive as you can see on his website: www.aaronbloomfield.com
The atmosphere was convivial and it felt like having a dinner party and dancing in your own house
Diane Hume-Green. Diane Hume-Green a regular contributor to ARTbop with Scene About Town is a member of a long-standing Tauranga jazz and musical family. Her wide knowledge of music and musicians make her reviews and comments more than interesting.