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Swingin’ the Blues

June 13, 2012

Crombie and MavisA classic New Zealand recording has just become available again, and it’s been properly produced for the first time. Jazz Concert 1950 is a 2-CD set that captures an event that is both historic and deeply satisfying on a musical level. If one recording sums up much of the story contained in Blue Smoke, it is this one.

The concert that took place in Auckland’s Town Hall Concert Chamber on 7 August 1950 was billed as “Auckland’s first jazz concert”: that meant jazz for sitting and listening to, rather than dancing. The band and soloists were the cream of the musicians playing in Auckland in the late 1940s and early 50s. Among them were Mavis Rivers and Crombie Murdoch (pictured here), multi-instrumentalist Julian Lee, saxophonist Colin Martin, guitarist Mark Kahi, bass player George Campbell, trombonist Dale Alderton and trumpet Murray Tanner. Tin whistle virtuoso Hughie Gordon wasn’t there just for novelty value: he plays a mean ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, accompanied by Thompson Yandall  on guitar.

This is the recording with the notorious introduction by the gaseous MC, Peter Young: “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be happy to introduce a female vocalist.” Then Mavis Rivers comes on and slays everyone with a stately, soulful version of ‘I Can’t Get Started’. All the musicians are playing at the peak of their game: Mark Kahi on ‘Caravan’, Colin Martin on ‘Don’t Blame Me’ and ‘September Song’, Rivers with Murdoch on ‘How High the Moon’. The recording was made by Tanza stalwart Noel Peach using a landline – ie, the telephone line – running from the Town Hall to Peach’s Astor studios on Shortland Street.

The next day, the Auckland Star’s reviewer DFT wrote that inside the Concert Chamber “the air was heavy and tense with concentration. The audience was fairly young, mostly in pairs paying no particular attention to each other.” Throughout his review, DFT affected a naiveté:

At intermission I spoke to a foreign expert from the country where they know about these things. He told me that this was the best jazz I would hear in New Zealand, and that it was very creditable.

‘They seem extremely flexible,’ I said.

‘They are relaxed. That is the great thing. They are relaxed.’

In 1993 Jim Sutton of Newstalk ZB’s Nostalgia show found the original 1950 recording on two brittle tape reels stored in a garage; the Scotch Tape boxes just said “jazz concert, 1950”. He then restored it with the help of Peter Posa, and it was first issued by Ode in 1994. Inexplicably, it was released on cassette only, even though the format was already regarded as a turkey, and CD players were in so many homes. So, despite lots of support from the press and radio, few heard it.

Now, the concert has been beautifully restored and released by the new owners of Ode (an old name in Auckland music: Roger Marbeck), and it testifies that Auckland jazz musicians of this period were world-class. My only quibble is that, while the track listings are thorough, there are no liner notes to put it all in context. Those who want to know more can search out the press coverage that appeared in 1994: Graham Reid in the NZ Herald (15 Sept 1994, updated and republished here), Duncan Campbell in the Listener (8 Oct 1994), and Bruce Morley in Music in New Zealand (Summer 1994-95). Or, page 170 of Blue Smoke. After hearing the recording, you will want to. Jazz Concert 1950 (CDODE 467) is available through Ode Records, Auckland:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2012 9:06 am

    Thanks Chris,

    I was fascinated to hear Hughie Gordon on Nat Radio yesterday afternoon and then hear the commentator express surprise that the recording was made by use of a telephone line
    and then admit that he knew nothing about Astor Studios.

    To be fair it sounded as though he came from the UK but I would have thought that he could have been better informed.

    To be fair Jim was away sick and Findlay McDonald may well have been a late fill-in.

    Maybe you could do a special on Astor & Noel & Vida so that they could be better known than they seem to be, Stebbings were mentioned in the article and they do seem to be better known, maybe because they are still extant.

    I am also interested technically re the acknowledged quality of the recording as in 1950 NZPO landlines were not suitable for distance transmission of music hence the regional stations when TV was first introduced. Maybe the short distance from the Town Hall to Shortland St was OK of Noel had arranged something better, and that wouldn’t surprise
    me. Ode have no doubt enhanced the original for the CD as one would expect in 2012.

  2. Kevin Bowen permalink
    June 18, 2012 12:44 am

    HI Chris and John,
    It is great to hear that a CD is now released of this 1950 Jazz Concert. I only have the cassette version of it, so I will definately be ordering the CD which has been corrected and cleaned up. I heard a segment of the CD played on the Concert Radio Station on Sunday 17/06.
    Incidentally, I was very kindly given recently a 12 inch 78 recording of a jazz concert recorded on the 20th November 1950 of Mavis Rivers singing “Stormy Weather,” which is about 4:30 minutes long and is quiet sensational. It is the only know recording of Mavis singing this song and she never recorded it in America or elsewhere.


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