Topic: A brief history of the Tauranga Jazz Festival

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The History of Jazz according to Tauranga. It started with a 50 pound overdraft at the soundshell in memorial park.

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History of Jazz

Jocelyn Buchanan, former Tauranga Jazz Society president, put together a visual history of the festival which showcased at Creative Tauranga from March 30 over the Easter period. The information and pictures below come from that exhibition with thanks to Jocelyn Buchanan, Arne Herrmann (festival director) and the staff at Creative Tauranga. 


The SixtiesJazz festival brochures


Playing for free, forty musicians perform in the first festival 13 January at the Memorial Park Sound Shell. A crowd of 1000 enjoy the jazz on a summer's day.


First festival appearance of the 16 year old jazz prodigy from Auckland Alan Broadbent. His sound introduces to the Festival a modern, progressive jazz. His depth and versatility culminates in an 8-minute-long version of Art Pepper’s standard ‘I love you’ which was twice the length of every other piece played that year.


Comfort and convenience saw the festival move from Tauranga’s Town Hall located on the corner of Willow and Wharf Streets where the I-site is located today. The Festival is picked up by sponsors Benson & Hedges.

1968the sixties - Tauranga Jazz festival

Jim Langabeer’s performance was credited with the ‘biggest musical innovation of the Festival’. His outfit, sandals, a flowing kaftan and a beret, were in stark contrast to the standard dress code of suit and tie. His new take on jazz challenged the established and was the beginning of the Tauranga festival being a hub for the new and innovative, an invitation to experiment.


By the end of the decade the Festival is a sell out with 250 musicians playing three concerts to a total attendance of 2000. Every bed in town is full.


The Seventies

The Don Burrows Quartet1970

Mayor Bob Owens becomes the Festival’s Patron adding his considerable enthusiasm and resources to the Festival. Sir Bob remains the patron until 1997 seeing off the threat that the Festival could move toAuckland.  


The atmosphere of the Festival changes as door sales make way for pre-sold tickets. Guaranteed audiences mean bigger budgets and Yamaha begins to ship equipment, including a grand piano, from Auckland each year.


The Community rallies behind the Festival purchasing a nine foot Grand Concert Piano for $5900. Initially paid for by Mayor Bob Owns, individuals and organisations give what they can. This includes a $500 contribution from the Tauranga Jazz Society. This piano is now housed in the Exhibition space at Baycourt. The Festival now has Benson and Hedges, NZ Breweries Ltd and Yamaha as sponsors.


Disaster strikes as Tauranga’s Festival moves to Anniversary Weekend in response to the decision to hold a Jazz Festival in Auckland over Easter. Held at the outdoor Sound Shell, rain means a washout and organisers find themselves with a $5000 debt. Tauranga’s leading businesses come to the rescue and cover the costs.


The Festival heads indoors again and is held at the Town Hall. Young people lead the way with the first Youth Big Band Competition organised by Jim Langabeer. Schools competing are from Dargaville, Wellington and Tauranga. Mana College under the leadership of Roger Fox comes out on top. While the Festival costs $7481 to stage, financially it is back on track.


The entire Festival moves to the Tauranga Racecourse where the Jazz Headquarters had previously been. This removed the fragmented feel of the festival venues and allowed more informality. There was room to rehearse, perform and jam.


The Eighties


Sold out! The Tauranga racecourse proves to be a great venue with performances staged concurrently in the St. Leger Room and the Members Dining Room on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and night. Youth Band Competitions keep the place buzzing during Saturday. Audience members wearing their ‘swingers’ were free to move from one venue to another.


Tauranga and the Festival share important milestones together. The city turns 100 and the Jazz festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary. Public concerts are held at the Town Hall on the Wednesday and Thursday preceding Easter before the Festival continues at the Racecourse. Dick Hopp and Malcolm McNeil are feature performers.


A new event ‘Jazz Goes Dancing’ gives festival goers Big Band music to dance to on Good Friday night. This incredibly popular evening played by one of the headline acts continues for the next 16 years.


Rodger Fox Big Band features as the headline act. Headline act performers are still unpaid but receive travel and accommodation expenses.


The Festival celebrates its 25th Anniversary and features Phil Broadhurst’s ‘Sustenance’ as a headline act. Other feature performers include NZ world class jazz musicians Jim Langabeer, George Chrisholm, Frank Gibson Jr and Rodger Fox. Air NZ flies in from Australia, George Golla and his family to take part in the festivities. The Youth Band Competition gains its first sponsor with Books a Plenty, and Northcote College wins the Best Big Band trophy.


The Festival continues to nurture new talent with Youth Band individual winners. Grant Winterburn (piano), Damian Forlong (trombone) and Nathan Haines (saxophone) going on to become professional musicians.


The Nineties


It’s official! The Festival is granted national status by the 1990 Commission. However organisers experience difficulties in attracting sponsors as Auckland again starts a simultaneous jazz festival of their own.


Jazz and rock go head to head at the first annual cricket match played each Easter Monday – Jazz vz Rock ‘n Roll. The teams are led by Neil McKenzie ‘Dr Jaz’ and Richie Pickett. All proceeds are donated to the Children’s Ward of Tauranga hospital.


The Festival moves to Otumoetai Trust Hotel to cut costs and save time. At the Racecourse volunteers took a week off work to build stages and backdrops as well as have sound systems and chairs brought in. The Trust had most of these facilities available in two separate rooms so two stages could continue to run concurrently. The Festival is located at the Trust for the next five years.


Major sponsorship becomes difficult to find. Local business leaders are no longer a part of the organising committee. Musicians keep the festival going.


Baycourt now has sound proofing between the Exhibition space and the Main Theatre. So with the need for a larger venue, the Festival moves back into town with two venues. Baycourt and the ‘Jazz Carnival’ on the Strand.


A big year for the Festival as it goes online with its first website. A record-breaking number of bands, twenty-three compete in the Youth Band Competitions. Montana Wines become the naming rights sponsor and this alliance remains until 2007. And it’s all held together by volunteers.


The Noughties


The Youth Band Competition remains an exciting part of the competition and is now held over two days with 25 bands competing for the trophies. The Festival places bands in bars in downtown Tauranga and later expands into Mount Maunganui.


Think Easter, Think Jazz, Think Tauranga becomes the catch cry of the Festival with merchandise sold bearing the slogan. Merchandise sales always ran at a lost and ceased in later years.


The city recognizes the Jazz Festival as a flagship event and funding is provided. The Youth Band Competition celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Northcote College winning the Best Big Band Trophy yet again.


The Festival is recognized twice with the Bay of Plenty Tourism Award and also wins the Innovator Award. These achievements help renew Montana’s sponsorship.


The breadth of jazz is expanded as gospel concerts are held at Holy Trinity Church on Good Friday. The growth of the Festival necessitates employing a paid administrator and Jo Bond (2006-2010) fills the position. In the age of the Internet becomes the official website.


As Montana ends its sponsorship of the Festival and volunteers are lacking, a smaller festival takes place. Streets are closed downtown to accommodate bands which appear on five stages. This shares the performers with all patrons and allows the bars and restaurants to provide food and beverages service. To control the ‘Downtown Carnival’, bars and restaurants require a special liquor license to take part. This action ensures they contribute to the event as well as taking great profits over Easter.


The Festival has grown to such an extent that it can no longer be run by volunteers. Arne Hermann is appointed by the Tauranga Jazz Society as the Festival’s first professional Director. He in turn appoints an Artistic Director and project managers. Exciting new innovations include jazz on a steam train, river boat and the jazz village. Headline acts such as Blind Boys of Alabama, Dr John and Shorty Trombone  bring performers to Tauranga that most kiwis would not expect to see live. Over 60,000 attend the Festival.


The Festival celebrates a historic milestone, the 50th, with a birthday concert featuring Earth, Wind & Fire, Keb Mo and Patti Austin at the Tauranga Domain. Audiences see the return and reunion of artists from the 60’s and 70’s at Baycourt and the Jazz Village. An exhibition tells the stories of 50 years of Jazz according to Tauranga.



This page archived at Perma CC in November of 2016:

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
A brief history of the Tauranga Jazz Festival by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License