Missing jazz? Wait till Matariki!

Rodger Fox

OK! Orange is here and with it music and we are absolutely indubitably rolling again.

Some starts immediately, some will arrive after a predictable lag while bands and musicians rebook gigs. The most affected venues have been the smallest and largest, so this finally means a proper return for Baycourt, for Totara Street and for the Jam Factory.

Meanwhile, a few indomitable medium-sized venues, Jack Dusty's in Bureta most obviously, deserve a big pat on the back for keeping live music live throughout the past months and catering for hardy souls either unafraid of or who'd already had Covid. Wasting no time there's actually a big metal gig there at 7pm this Saturday (April 23) featuring Checaine, promoting their recent EP Black River, who will be supported by a Black Sabbath tribute show from After Forever. There is no charge.

But what I mainly wanted to talk about this week is the jazz festival or, more accurately, The Port Of Tauranga National Jazz Festival because, for the first time in several years, the jazz festival has scored itself a naming rights sponsor. This is, clearly, a very good thing. It should provide both finance and a little financial stability. There are very good reasons why council should contribute to festival costs - it brings a lot of dosh into the city for a start – but it is much easier for organisers when they're not dependent on the whims of changing councils. (Not, admittedly a problem right now but, hey, a council will return one of these years!)

Think jazz

With the jazz festival absent last weekend it was hard not to notice the hole it left. Think Easter, Think Tauranga, Think Jazz was once the slogan for the festival and we've all become used to having music around every corner for the long weekend.

But, never fear, jazz returns at Matariki. Last week I reported that festival boss Marc Anderson is “excited about the possibilities the new dates bring” and I must say I am too. Because the change has allowed organisers to go back to the future.

Those with longish memories will remember that the festival has been through several iterations. It spent a while at the old Town Hall on Wharf Street before migrating to the racecourse for many glory years which saw stars such as Don Borrows and George Golla fly in from Australia. After that it settled into the Otumoetai Trust for a few years before the radical reshake in 1998 saw things revamped to something like their present form, with concerts at Baycourt and the bulk of the festival in the CBD.

The “Downtown Carnival” started with bands in individual bars but after a few years crowd sizes had grown so much that the only option was the current outdoor stages. But what with the Covid-enforced move to Matariki we are seeing a return to those glorious 90s...

A new look

This is what Marc told me: “Due to the weather in June, we will be hosting the Downtown Carnival, not on the usual five outdoor stages in the CBD, but in many of the bars and restaurants in Wharf St, Red Square and The Strand.”

That sounds pretty cool. At the same time, recent festivals have featured jazz down at the Historic Village but that will now be moving across the water: “Mount Maunganui is the site for our New Jazz at the Mount,” says Marc, “an all-day programme of musical acts coming from all around New Zealand performing Porotakataka Park.”

And what some people regard as the most important and vital legacy of the festival, The Youth Jazz Band Competition, has also been rescheduled for June. The competition, which has introduced the likes of Nathan Haines and Grant Winterburn to the world, kicks off the jazz festival week, on June 20 and 21, with more than 400 students gathering in Tauranga to perform.

And remember, tickets are now on sale for the Baycourt Concert Series, which comprises eight remarkable shows from exclusively Kiwi performers. It really is going to be a fantastic Matariki. I suggest you head on-line to jazz.org.nz and check out the full programme!

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