Sunday, May 11, 2008

Underground Jazz Club in Tauranga, circa 1962

In 1962 I was 4 years old when Ken Hayman (trumpet) and Ken White (reeds) Stan Day, and Del Peterson and a bunch of other Jazz and big band enthusiasts started the 17 piece Bay Big Band in Tauranga, and which is still going today!

They already had a 4 or 5 piece band regularly playing at a venue in town which had attained for itself the grandiose title of “The Starlight Ballroom!” Rumour has it that this name came about because Ken White imported from America a kit to make the first mirror ball ever to make an appearance in Tauranga.

Nobody had ever seen anything like it before, and you can imagine the impact it would have had at the time. The venue was the St John ambulance hall which was in the building on Cameron Road where the YMCA is now.

Anyway, these guys thought is would be a good idea to put a Glen Miller style swing band together to play the dance music of the era, and this was the seed from which our present jazz festival blossomed into!
The Jazz Society itself was started by Dave Hall, and was inspired by the movie “Jazz On A Summers Day” and the very first Jazz Society gig was actually called “Jazz On A Summers Day” and then continued on to become the Tauranga Jazz Festival more or less like we have it today.

This is just one of many intriguing little stories I listened to, sitting down over a beer or two with Dave Proud and his neighbour Brian Geoghan recently.

Now, I have been a party to a great many of the musical (and otherwise) escapades associated with the music business in these parts, but just listening to these two talk about the exciting stuff that was going on while I was still in nappies brings into perspective that what I was doing a few years ago, and what some of the kids are doing today has all been done before!

For example, In the late 80s I had a band called Austin Texas, and we played the late shift downstairs at the St Amand, while Hard to Handle were playing upstairs.

When they had finished, they would come downstairs for a drink and a jam until closing time when Scotty, Wendy and Fraser (the Scots) would kick everybody out, and they would lock the place up.

Actually, while I am on the subject, of kicking out stubborn punters, Fraser Scott had a most unique and effective way of getting those last stubborn stragglers out of the bar. He would put on a cd of this insane whistling, which although was undoubtedly most skillfull, actually became unberable in a very short period of time, and the bar would clear as if by magic!

Anyway, once all the strays were on their way, the fun would really start - jamming until daylight, and then staggering out onto the Strand in bright sunlight early the next morning.

We had amazing and inspirational jams back then, and for the privileged few punters, hospitality staff and those in the “in-crowd, these times have left us with priceless memories (and hangovers).

These goings on though were nothing new at all in fact!
In the early 1960s, in a corrugated-iron shed called “the Sample Rooms” situated on the Strand extension, down towards the Harbourside - so called because this was previously where the commercial travellers stored all their samples - there was an illicit, underground jazz club happening.

All the local musicians would finish their gigs at about 12 or 1, and then make their way to this little den of iniquity, where they would often jam away till 5 or 6 in the morning!

They even sold their own booze at the club, which was stricly illegal of course, on top of the fact that it was 10 oclock closing in those days, and who was going to give a licence to a bunch of debaucherous, musicians of ill repute?

Now, I wrote a couple of weeks back about how Cloud - a 70s band got their gig closed down because the music they were playing was “too way-out” well, this was 10 years earlier, and this was pretty much the same view that respectable folks had of the Jazz musos at the time!

There was nothing “too dodgy” going on in here (well, not that these two characters would admit to anyway) just a bunch of grown-ups pushing the boundaries of respectability, playing music and having a whale of a time.
This early Jazz club went for some time, and was the regular haunt of members of all the trusted and vocations lawyers, accountants, police, car dealers, you name it - they all turned up here to let their hair down (and all of whom shall remain anonymous - all cash deposits gladly accepted!)

Anyway, one night some guy was too drunk to be served any more drinks (how about that? - people used to be responsible without all the bureaucracy of today!) and was told to be on his way.

This guy went and made a nuisance of himself at the local pie cart, (remember the pie cart on the Strand?) so they called the Police, who immediately came and arrested him, took him back to the station, where they asked him to empty his pockets before they gave him a bed for the night!

He proceeded to empty a handfull of green tickets onto the table, where upon questioning it was discovered that these were drinks tickets from the “sample room!”
Word got back to the organisers that the police inspector had got wind of their little operation, and that they had better put a stop to it, as they (the police) were planning a raid. (spoilsports!)

In those days, the police were a respected and feared institution, and as these were all mostly respectable people, they didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the law, so they took this warning in and that was the end of that.

And mores the pity I say! I can feel the buzz right now and see the band through the thick haze of cigarette smoke jumping and swinging.

This would be as close to the real McKoy as you could ever hope to get - right here in Tauranga!


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