I may have become addicted to Jazz big-bands and so when the opportunity presented itself recently to sit in the fourth row at the Roger Fox – Alan Broadbent concert, I took it. I survived that proximity with surprising ease and it was inevitable that I would need a bigger dose next time. The sonic blast had not even wiped the smile from my face.
Now a month later I was attending a gig where the (AJO) ‘Auckland Jazz Orchestra‘ was playing and so I decided to test my limits. Knowing that I could tolerate the maximum levels of exposure I sat in the front row. So close in fact that the bell of Andrew Hall’s Tenor Saxophone was only half a meter away. This proved to be an excellent concert and to be that close was to feel part of the band by proxy.
The ‘Auckland Jazz Orchestra‘ is a collective; drawing on local talent who meet monthly to explore the Jazz big- band sound. While clearly in the tradition of the great rehearsal bands like the Thad Jones band, they also appear to have striven to create an authentic Auckland vibe. If this was their aim, then they have certainly succeeded.
Founding member Mike Booth (trumpet) is a Jazz veteran. He has recently returned from overseas and his presence is strongly felt. The other guiding presence is current conductor Tim Atkinson. Both have written and arranged charts (as have other members of the band). The ethos of this band is in fact to put a local stamp on the music and that excites me. The territory bands of the pre-60’s American scene were legendary and they grew in stature by creating unique geographical identities. Basie was identifiably KC, Goodman a Chicagoan etc. This territorial competition acted as a real stimulus to the bands. Originality and greatness grew directly out of that as they scrambled to make their mark .
The other vital factor was the schooling that the newer band members got from playing with the more experienced musicians. Bill Crow, famous bassist, tells of being gently chided (or alternately encouraged) between numbers and this hot-house learning on-the-hoof communicated what his band mates expected of him. He also recalls being schooled by members of the band between gigs. Amazingly he had only just picked up the bass months before. He soon attained iconic status and the big bands he worked in were part of his university. This on-the-road education system for Jazz musicians has been an essential part of the mix in developing good reading and tight ensemble playing skills. When the players solo, there is a cushion of warm sound embracing them and smaller groups seldom give that opportunity.
The band is: Alto saxes – Steve Sherriff, Theo Clearwater, Tenor saxes – Jimmy Garden , Andrew Hall; Bari Alex Churchill; Trombones – Merv Thomas, Mike Ashton, Mike Young, Steve Taylor; Trumpets – Mike Booth, Rowan Bolley, Jo Spiers, Pete Barwick; Drums – Cameron Sangster; Bass – Thomas Botting; Guitar – Andrea Groenewald; Piano – Adam Fuhr.
The opening number ‘Green Dolphin Street‘ was brilliantly arranged by conductor Tim Atkinson. The band quickly coalesced into a smooth unit as they moved into this and showed the skill of the band as a whole. The other tune that leapt out and grabbed me was ‘All things in 5 & 3’ (composed & arranged by Mike Booth). This was a wonderful number and it became evident that it had been written around the changes of ‘All the things you are’ – but in 5/4 & 3/4. With Auckland-referencing tunes like ‘Rangitoto‘ and ‘On the water‘ (Mike Booth – part of the Auckland Harbour suite) a picture was being painted note by note. Among the original tunes was the swinging bossa sounding ‘Lucky charms‘ (Tim Atkinson) and ‘Reservations‘ Andrew Hall. We heard great solos by (new friend) Andrea Groeneveld (g), Steve Sherriff (as), Mike Booth(t) and Andrew Hall (ts). It was also good to see the well-known Merv Thomas(tb) in the band among these considerably younger musicians.
The ‘Creative Jazz Club‘ is an intimate space and having a 17 piece band in that room made it all the more so. A famous precedent would be the even smaller ‘Village Vanguard‘ in NY, which hosts the Thad Jones rehearsal band each Monday night. The club was full and in Tardis fashion every new comer was able to find a space. More of that please; my tolerance is far from reaching its limit.