Swingin’ the Blues
A 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: email@example.com