Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Right Note - 6 24/04/08

The Tauranga Jazz Festival

In 1986 I was working as a graphic artist, putting together the programme for the 25th anniversary of the Tauranga Jazz Festival.

For several years I had been working closely with 2 volunteers from the society. One was a musician himself, and the other was just a lover of music. The two gentlemen in question, were Paul Hills, and Brian Norman (both of whom I’m afraid to say are no longer with us) - Two of the nicest and most dedicated gentlemen you could ever hope to meet.

One day the jovial Mr Norman turned up, and he was beside-himself with anger. His curly, fair hair was almost bristling, and he was not a happy camper!

In between words that I will not put into print, I learned that the Council had refused to let the Jazz Society put banners up in town advertising this major milestone in the festivals history.

The festival had been drawing large numbers of people into the town for 25 years, and even back then (we are up to festival number 46 now,) this festival was a huge attraction, and becoming more successful by the year.

In those days the festival was run without major sponsorship, and without recognition, help, or support - financially or otherwise - from the council! In fact, it was almost as if the council were going out of their way to make things difficult for the organisers of this annual event. They weren’t of course, - it was just every-day bureaucracy at work [sic] but that is how it seemed.

These dedicated music enthusiasts of the Jazz Society Committee were busting a boiler to put on a huge event of international proportions and international stars that even in those days entertained thousands from all over the country, and some petty twit with a clipboard wouldn’t let them put up banners!

In these earlier days, the festival was held at the Tauranga Racecourse, and the jazz Society ran and operated the bars and the catering, which amounted to a healthy income, which in turn enabled them to pay for the impressive list of international jazz giants that they have featured, including greats such as George Gola (guitarist) Don Burrows (sax/clarinet), Bud Freeman (sax). Anyway a turn of events put a halt to this source of income, and the society had to find a new way to stay financial.

It was about this time that the society changed the venue from the Racecourse to the Otumoetai Trust Hotel.

One day a chap by the name of Trevor Graeme, who was a correspo ndent for Melody Maker magazine (Australia) turned up at Joyce Colour and Sound (the record shop on Wharf Street I wrote about recently) and asked Marion Proud who was working there, what the Jazz scene was like in Tauranga, and she put him on to Dave of course! Trevor had with him a bunch of records of the Denton Texas Lab band, which was like a university youth jazz band competition in America. Dave thought this was a great concept, and spoke to Jim Langabeer about it, and Jim grabbed the concept with both hands and just ran with it.

Over the 25 years the festival had been in operation, the committee and society members reconised that the players were getting older and older, and they needed some new blood. Some of the musos were a little posessive about their music, and about getting all these kids involved, but they were not so stupid as to not realise they needed a new injection of numbers. Little did they realise they had created a monster! - an amazing monster that at one time had over 200 new people playing jazz and bringing with them their families, supporters, teachers and old Tom Cobley and all! and anybody who has seen this youth jazz competition will tell you what a joy it is to hear, not to mention the outstanding talents it has produced. The Tauranga Jazz Festival Youth Competition is something schools all round the country now strive to attend and win.

Anyway, pushing s_ _t uphill with a sharp stick becomes tedious work even for such dedicated battlers, and from the position of my involvement, I felt the momentum of the festival falter for a few years, as some of these committee stalwarts passed away, and the committees changed, and the new recruits struggle to get to grips with the increasing demands this extremely popular and growing festival demanded.

Then, right out of the blue, two most unsuspecting youngsters by the names of Derek Jacombs and Demian Forlong (who were at least half the age of the previous organisers) got themselves elected onto the committee and in a manouevre that was not unanimously popular at the time, took hold of the festival by the scruff of the neck and radically changed the format by dragging it to the downtown bars and cafes, and in a brilliant turnaround of events even managed to get each of the venues to pay for the bands.

After a tentative first festival, the bands and public alike embraced this new concept, and that was the beginnings of the vibrant, hugely successful internationally recognised street festival we have today.

After years of hard-work and success against the odds by a gallant few, mayor Jan Beange came to the conclusion that as this festival was not going to go away, it could actually be a worthwhile event to support, and provided some council funding (yeuch - I hate that word!), and offered the councils co-operation in closing off the streets etc.

The next thing I read was the mayors introduction in the festival programme welcoming visitors to OUR JAZZ FESTIVAL!

I took exception to the council claiming the product of decades of blood, sweat and tears of “real” hero’s as “their festival,” and several interesting and passionate letters were exchanged in the BOP Times debating the subject.

Anyway, that is all water under the bridge, and the Tauranga Jazz Festival is now a destination event for musicians and music lovers from around the world.

A standing ovation is the standard response to an outstanding performance in our business, and to those early pioneers, originators and organisers of the Tauranga Jazz festival such as Dave Proud, Ken Hayman, Stan Day, Del Peterson, Ken White and all the committee members too numerous to mention, this is no less than they deserve.

On behalf of musicians and music lovers everywhere - Thank you.

On a final note, I must reinforce that I am not associated with the Jazz society in any way, and this column voices my own views and opinions, and not those of anybody else.

Today the festival is made possible by a team of mostly volunteers and passionate music lovers who make up the Jazz Society, and who are responsible for attracting millions of dollars worth of trade to the bars, cafes and businesses of downtown Tauranga over the easter period. If these businesses fail to recognise, reward or assist this goose that annually provides them each with a golden egg, instead of taking it for granted and taking all they can get while the going’s good - then they may find the festival choses to re-invent itself once again so as to benefit directly from the millions of dollars that it attracts, in order to become more financial and sustain the world-class event we have all come to look forward to every Easter.


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