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Video Jukebox

May 7, 2011

Untitled-Scanned-01Even more rare than audio recordings of New Zealand musicians prior to 1949 is film footage. Throughout the research and writing of Blue Smoke I made note of any clips that I read about or discovered. Reading the short-lived late 1940s magazine Jukebox – devoted to the Auckland swing scene – I noticed this news item in its September 1946 issue.

Paydirt, I thought. Turning to an online index of the National Film Unit’s newsreels and documentaries, I found a listing for Power From the River, released in 1947. (The same database enabled me to pinpoint the release of ‘Blue Smoke’ to June 1949, not the February 1949 date of “processing” mentioned on the Tanza label.)

This week, two fortuitous discoveries. Many of the NFU’s newsreels are now online, and among them is Power From the River. The documentary is about 22 minutes long, and shows – like Al Hunter’s great song, ‘The River’ – the power of the mighty Waikato, on its journey from Mt Ruapehu to its final destination visiting farms, factories and living rooms in the form of electricity.

Untitled-Scanned-02At the 11 min 5 second mark, the documentary visits the Peter Pan Cabaret, Auckland. On stage is the Art Rosoman Band. A Canadian musician who lived in New Zealand for 10 years, Rosoman played his tenor sax Lester Young style (note the angle at which he holds his instrument). Sadly the clip only lasts 35 seconds, but you can see on stage with Rosoman the British-born drummer Wally Ransom, pianist Nancy Harrie, trombonist Dorsey Cameron, and the luscious Christchurch vocalist Coral Cummins. The guitarist looks like Thomson Yandall, who usually played bass.

And yesterday, going through receipts to complete my GST return, I found an old boarding pass. On it I had scribbled the words, “The Sound of Seeing. Tony Williams 1963. Crypt Nightclub.” (I think  I have Dave Ross to thank for this tip.) Googling these words, they led to a film on the NZ On Screen website: a documentary by Tony Williams for Pacific Films, showing ways in which sight and sound are linked. Just out of school, he borrowed a 16mm Bolex windup camera and put himself and his motor scooter on a train to Auckland to film his bohemian mates. Stockhausen scholar Robin Maconie provides the original music and the credits say that Dave Fraser and Dan Mori also contribute some music. (Williams went on to direct the TV ads “Dear John” for BASF tape, the “Crunchie” train ad, and “Bugger” for Toyota.)

At 1 min 36 sec we hear – played on piano – the famous bass riff to Miles Davis’s ‘So What’ (from Kind of Blue). Then, more treasure: we see pianist Nicky Smith, playing with his rhythm section. Apart from long shots of the bassist, most of the clip is of the crowd, more than one of whom my father would have described as an “arty cuss”. The Crypt was on Auckland’s Queen Street and run by Phil Warren.

Unfortunately, neither doco can be embedded, so you will need to click through to another browser window. Both are worth watching in full but if you’re impatient, get them started then hit “pause” and wait for the entire clip to download so that you can fast-forward to these brief moments of New Zealand jazz history. Power From the River is here, and The Sound of Seeing here.

It is obvious that a documentary film should soon be made about this period, but usually when I mention it to filmmakers you could see their eyes glaze over, their interest inhibited by the restrictions television programmers place on themselves. They don’t want old people, too many talking heads, or black and white footage or stills if they can help it. Never mind that Ken Burns’s award-winning Civil War series covered a period before film cameras were invented. Luckily Maori Television doesn’t share this limited vision, as exemplified by Armand and Phil Crown’s excellent music docos such as Unsung Heroes of Maori Music.

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