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Jam session

December 17, 2015

Jam session xerox

I loved what AUP’s designer Katrina Duncan did with the photo I provided that became the frontispiece of Blue Smoke. It showed a jam session that I now know to be at the Auckland College of Music on 14 August 1945. The photo was horizontal, but she needed it to be vertical. So she cropped it, cutting out the back view of a trombonist wearing saggy arsed pants. It’s one of the only photos cropped in the book, and her eye made it a much better photo.

BS frontiscpieceIt turns out there were several photos taken that day. I got mine, left, from two sources – Bennie Gunn and Niel Randrup. Shown above is another shot from the same session: it’s not quite as intense, because the drummer’s eyes are not locked into the bass player’s. But there’s more idea of the intimacy of the session, and how focused the audience was on the playing (except for the guy looking back at the photographer).

The musicians are, from left: Dale Alderton, Cliff Russell, Gordon Hall, Bruce McDonald, Thomson Yandall and Frank Gurr. The latter became a long-serving clarinettist with the NZSO.

The love of jazz was so intoxicating that there were many “official” jam sessions at the time, attended by leading musicians and the most dedicated fans. There is some terrific writing about these sessions in the quite professional New Zealand jazz magazines of the day such as Auckland’s  Jukebox and Wellington’s Swing. (Aleisha Ward has recently written about these magazines at Audioculture.)

In Blue Smoke  I quoted a description of a jam session in Wellington that took place in the ballroom of the Lyall Bay mansion of Hope B Gibbons. (This massive brick house, which looks like a gothic boarding school, was in the news this week, as it’s rumoured that Peter Jackson is buying it; from 1973 until 2012 it was the embassy of the Vatican’s representative in New Zealand.) Gibbons, a wealthy businessman – whose 1925 office building still looms down on Pigeon Park in central Wellington – had two sons, Barney and Don, who were hipsters and jazz buffs.

The session featured a who’s who of jazz musicians in Wellington in winter, 1942. Doug Gardner described the action in Swing of August that year, just as Freddie Gore stepped up. With his ebullient character, he seemed to dominate proceedings, on “tailgate” trombone or piano:

They played ‘St Louis Blues’, and Freddy lifted up his voice and bewailed the infidelity of his girl friend and his lack of success in affairs of the heart. However Freddy’s is apparently a very volatile temperament, for two numbers later he was vocally declaiming ‘It’s a Wonderful World’. He also produced some very creditable animal imitations with his trombone during the playing of ‘Tiger Rag’.

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