Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Bay Big Band and Ken White. The Right Note Column

I recently spent an afternoon talking to Ken and Margaret White at their house in the Whakamaramara Hills, and I left the place many hours later under the cloak of darkness thinking that somebody needs to cordon the house off, and register it as a house of historical importance!

Not because of its architecture, or its physical location (although you can just about see China from up there!), but because Ken has 3 or 4 entire rooms busting at the seams with shelves and boxes of historical video footage of local bands and jazz music (amongst other things.)

An archive the national jazz community would be very wise to have documented for its hisorical importance.

You see, not only does Ken - an alto sax and clarinet player, once documented as the youngest big band leader in the UK - go way back in the local music scene, and who can be credited as one of the originators of the Bay Big Band, and the annual Tauranga Jazz Festival, but he also completed a historic video and documentary on their conception, (which is available from the Tauranga Library on DVD should you wish to view it).

The White’s have lived such an interesting life that it was hard to keep them on the topic of music for long before the tale evolved into some other equally interesting, mind boggling adventure or piece of historical revelation. At one stage, Ken asked me “what ever became of the Orange Festival Parade?” - an important, annual event of huge community spiritedness - and recalled how their float would stop at the Tauranga hospital, and his jazz band would walk through all the wards playing jazz, so that those unfortunate enough to be bedridden at the time would not feel left out of the community celebration!

I suggested that there was probably a law against that kind of voluntary gesture these days, and that the council department of community spirit would have to organise and approve of it now! (at a charge of course!)

Another fascinating story Ken told me was that he imported a series of records entitled "Music Minus One," which were rehearsal records of jazz standards for musicians, and of which you could purchase different series depending on which instrument you played. One series would have the entire band minus the trombones, or another minus the sax or melody line, or yet another minus the bass guitar, or drums.

These were designed for the musician to practice and jam along to. Ken took these records to yet another level and recorded them to tape. He would then hire his services out to venues as a one man band, playing his sax or clarinet, along to his backing tracks, and which he continued to do into the 1980’s! And who thought playing along to sequenced music or backing tracks was a relatively new phenomena?

The photograph above was taken of the Bay Big Band in 1958 at one of a series of concerts held in the Town Hall, one of which was broadcasted live - a great honour at the time - on local radio.

The 16 piece band consisted of 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, Piano, and a 4 piece rhythm section, and shown here conducted by an Englishman by the name of Stan Farnsworth.

Stan was a child prodigy, and had been a professional musician from a very early age. Unfortunately his playing career was cut short after suffering a heart attack whilst playing in the Covent Garden Opera orchestra, and his doctor advised him that he should not perform, playing a wind instrument anymore (remind me not to go to that doctor!) and so he came to live with his daughter in Tauranga where I believe he taught music, and did the odd bit of conducting (if the picture is anything to go by!) Ken White is pictured front centre, on sax. Other members of the band incled Gordon Sutherland on Piano, Alby Rawhiri (who owned the local fish and chip shop) on guitar, Paul Gillett on Bass.


Blogger Stefaan said...

thats my grandad! :) Now i play alto sax too, and Blues guitar - of course.

7:31 pm  
Blogger johnp said...

The photo of Tauranga Swing Band is from 1963.
My name is John Pickworth(born& grew up in Tauranga)
That was part of a "Music For All Concert"put together by Stan Farnsworth.
I have a photo of me playing piano with violinist Wilfred Jones,Paul Gillet(Bass)& Nibs Morris(Drums)
Stan Farnsworth also taught me clarinet!
I ended playing piano with the Big Band until I moved to Auckland in 1965,and then to Sydney,Australia in 1969.

10:51 am  

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