Today I want to do nothing but rave about The Jazz Festival. Because it deserves it.
The 57th Tauranga National Jazz Festival is about to kick off and even if you’ve never considered listening to jazz in any form, even if you’ve never enjoyed a note of whatever you imagine jazz to be, I would urge you to get out and get downtown and get a look at what’s happening.
Because it’s easy to take all this for granted. The festival has, after all, been around for a few years now. It’s been a while since a few intrepid, swing-loving, big band enthusiasts were optimistic and energetic enough to organise a small bash that they called Jazz On A Summer’s Day or somesuch innocuous name. That was in 1963.
Since then there’s been the Summer of Love, glam rock, punk, disco, new romantics, grunge, hip-hop, trip-hop, rap, drum ‘n’ bass, death metal, speed metal, every-other-damn-thing-involving metal, K-pop, J-pop, and an alphabet of music that no one can really define. But through all that we’ve had the National Jazz Festival.
It’s been at the old town hall and at the racecourse, and perhaps you can still hear the ghostly wail of a Dixie clarinet when shopping at the new supermarket in Bureta, since the festival spent a while at the old Bureta Trust. But it really began to connect with a wider, not specifically jazz, audience in the Bay when it went downtown, turning the city into a carnival for the Saturday and Sunday of Easter weekend.
First it was in the bars and restaurants, and for the past several years it has been on a series of stages stretching from Red Square down to the end of The Strand. With street performers, entertainment for kids and the whole family, and a plethora of handy eating and drinking establishments it has created an opportunity for the whole city to be part of one family-friendly event.
As one of my colleagues commented when the Downtown Carnival really came into its own: “I think I just saw an outbreak of community”.
But – and I suspect the organisers might be less than chuffed with this opinion – it’s not really about the jazz. Or should I say, it doesn’t have to be about the jazz. Which is a little perverse when I know Mandy Ryan and others in charge have sweated to put together a programme for downtown that is excellent in almost every way, presenting a glittering kaleidoscope of the many different music styles that roughly fall under the umbrella heading “jazz”.
But the jazz is there for music lovers and the Downtown Carnival is as much about the vibe and about being there and being part of an event that so many others are sharing. Of course, if you’re into music - music of pretty much any variety - this is nothing short of a bonanza.
There’s so much to recommend that I don’t know where to start. I have all of the following on my list of bands to see downtown: Neil Watson Trio (jazz guitar trio); The Afrolites (percussion-heavy afro-beats); Shaken Not Stirred (R’n’B / swing); Superhero Second Line (New Orleans grooves); Hipstamatics (big band funk); Nimbus (interesting modern); Brilleaux (maximum R’n’B); Kokomo (of course); Lewis McCallum Trio (jazz sax trio); and Kylie Todd & the Funkalicious Bandits (just for the name).
But there is also a bunch more, many bands that I’ve never heard of: Latin music, Dixie groups, organ trios, a fantastic variety. If you had the idea that jazz would be either really old-fashioned or incomprehensively intellectual then think again. All these bands are absolutely accessible, great on stage, and play music which is hugely varied.
And I must humbly apologise about what I wrote last week about the information on the Jazz Festival website. It is indeed comprehensive. There’s great info about the bands and what they do. Sadly my computer objected to some of the script and I didn’t see it. Totally 100 per cent my fault. Sorry, sorry, sorry to the organisers of the festival and the creators of the website.
Get along there right now – ww.jazz.org.nz - and enjoy Easter!