Several New Zealand musicians have achieved international renown. They include pianist Mike Nock, who fell in love with the sound of Charlie Parker’s saxophone as an 11-year-old in the Waikato town of Ngāruawāhia. Although largely self-taught, Nock was playing professionally by age 16 and in the late 1960s became a prominent figure in the US modern jazz scene, playing alongside Chick Corea, Miles Davis and other legendary musicians. Nock taught himself to use synthesisers and other electric keyboard instruments and, with his band The Fourth Way, was a pioneer of jazz-rock ‘fusion’. In the 2000s he continued to play, record and teach music, based in Sydney. He received an ONZM in 2003 for services to jazz.
Still a Kiwi
After 40 years living and working in the US, Auckland-born jazz musician Alan Broadbent was still regularly described as a New Zealand pianist. In that time he worked with many of the greatest names in jazz, such as Woody Herman, Charlie Haden and singer Diana Krall. He also led the touring orchestra for Krall’s husband, rock musician Elvis Costello. Broadbent has received seven Grammy nominations for his recordings and an MNZM for services to jazz. In 2008 he remarked that ‘this is the only profession I know where you can be internationally famous – and broke.’1
By the 1980s jazz had lost much of its mainstream New Zealand audience and become a minority musical taste. It then revived somewhat in popularity as a younger generation of performers introduced jazz influences into both rock and experimental musical groups. These included the Auckland-based From Scratch (known for playing unique home-made instruments such as banks of PVC pipes struck with jandals), and the Wellington bands Primitive Art Group and Six Volts.
In the 1990s an entirely original and indigenous element entered New Zealand jazz through the use of traditional Māori musical instruments (taonga puoro). The 1999 Wellington Jazz Festival featured famed British reed-player Evan Parker improvising with Richard Nunns, an expert taonga puoro performer. Their recording Rangirua was released internationally on a British label, to admiring reviews. Taonga puoro were also a central feature in the sound of the 18-strong experimental jazz orchestra Urban Taniwha.
Local jazz recordings
The long-running New Zealand record label Ode has been one of the few to consistently include local jazz musicians in its roster of artists. In the 21st century Ode began re-releasing classic jazz recordings from past eras, including a record of Auckland’s first jazz concert in 1950. A more recent label, Rattle Records, records ‘contemporary art music from Aotearoa/New Zealand’ including jazz artists such as The Troubles, Lucien Johnson, Jonathon Crayford and the Wellington Jazz Collective.
NZ Jazz Foundation
The non-profit New Zealand Jazz Foundation (NZJF) was formed in 1980 to encourage education in, and appreciation of, jazz. Its objectives included:
- creating public awareness of jazz music through the organisation and promotion of jazz performances
- running workshops and other educational events
- promoting the appreciation and teaching of jazz.
In 2014 the NZJF ran the annual New Zealand Youth Jazz Orchestra and a National Jazz Workshop for high school students, and supported the Ken Avery Memorial Award, named for a renowned band leader, which offered scholarships to promising young performers.
Many high-school music teachers have formed their students into big bands, which competed annually for places in the New Zealand Youth Jazz Orchestra. However, until the 1990s, New Zealand’s tertiary institutions were slow to offer courses in jazz. Stalwarts such as Rodger Fox and Colin Hemmingsen filled the gap by training young students to become accomplished players.
Eventually, several universities provided degree courses in jazz, sometimes in combination with other musical genres. Since 2006 an undergraduate degree in jazz performance and composition has been offered at Wellington’s School of Music, run jointly by Massey and Victoria universities.