Queenstown is known for its outdoor activities and it is the home of the bungee jump. It is not known for culture and music. Dunedin, the provincial capital of Otago, is the home of music and culture there. However, the Queenstown Jazz Festival is now a mature 30 years old. From small beginnings in smoky local pubs (weren’t they great?) it is now a festival of over 50 events performed at outside venues, pubs in Queenstown, and Arrowtown. The Memorial Hall was decked out to resemble a Harlem or Chicago club. It worked well.
I caught two acts there on Friday. Erna Ferry, backed by band leader Roger Fox and the NZ School of Music. In tribute to Peggy Lee, the woman and her music, Erna gave a tight and at times passionate rendition of Peg’s hits. She also gave a narration of Peggy’s life and loves.
Saturday I saw a Queenstown singer Kiri Winders who paid tribute to the 1940’s. YES! Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. Life did seem more interesting before TV! Winder is more than a competent jazz singer or diva. She was part of the famous Dunedin sound in bands Valve and My Deviant Daughters.
I concede I’m a sucker for big bands and jazz. Perhaps having a father who jumped ship in San Francisco to see Dinah Washington, Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington and his band at the Coconut Grove instilled some passion in my veins.
Kiri Winders and her 1940’s Jazz Club. Her show radiated energy from the first minute as she slipped the faux mink off her shoulder. As it slid down her body the influence of Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Munroe felt real. She carried it well all night long. Her jazz club were all veteran players and never missed a note. Even the festival organizer Simon had a part in the show. After the third costume change he was definitely part of the show ‘Hey Big Spender’, 'New York, New York' and ‘Its Amore’. He was hot! I am a fan of cabaret and am a sucker for a show. Tonight was a great night for Jazz. Ronnie Scott would have been happy if this was his club. Ardie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington would have been happy to have this Jazz Club as their band. Actually Roger Fox would be happy too. I met my old doctor Denise and her husband, we spent the evening together all of us totally captured by the show.
Jeff Bradley and the Delta Swing were my personal highlights. They opened for Kiri and from the first notes from Jeff's clarinet the audience knew they were in for something special. These men, like all the musicians I watched over the weekend, had a real love for their music. Jeff and his band lifted the quality of most and equaled the other big bands. Yes they too would be at home at Ronnie Scotts – A truly world class band!
Saelyn Guyton Quartet is a much understated name for an exciting band. Saclyn is a recent winner of the’ world famous in Gore’ Gold Guitar. This is no mean feat. She performed in the warm afternoon sun at the Village Green. A great venue and a good time to play. Many of the young people who work in the local hospitality scene are South American and European and before they started work, they hung out. So the crowd was young, well travelled, and hip. What an audience to play to! Jaclyn and her band were a little like Mike Frost and The Icemen, with Mojo Webb who also played in this slot really hit the spot with the audience. It might be a very nice outdoor spot, not the house of the rising sun, but this green lived on as the sun moved over the southern sky.
It seems impossible not to include in a jazz festival performers from Auckland. I caught up with, and shared a glass with Nigel Gaven, Richard Adams, and Caitlin Smith. We were all going to catch the blues acts, Nigel lamenting that 20 years ago Auckland was full of blues bands. We talked of great Kiwi Bluesmen Hammond Gamble, and Midge Marsden. We caught up with King Leo of Dunedin, a native of Virginia. He has been in New Zealand for six years and has developed a justified following in the south.
The imported stars were Mike Frost and the Icemen, with Mojo Webb from Queensland. Their bassist couldn’t make it so local, hip young, blonde, Shelly Osland fitted in with the band of hard nosed Chicago influenced bluesmen. I caught them twice on Friday, at the Village Green, and down by the lake at Earnslaw Park.
An emerging talent, was Sacha Vee, I tried to catch at Pog Moghones Irish Bar but the venue was unsatisfactory. Better suited to a singer/song writer rather than a rocking band such as Sacha Vee's. I also caught another Auckland singer Josephine Costain, like Nigel, a regular at Ponsonby 121 Café. She performed in the afternoon singing some very reflective songs in a 100-minute set.
I caught for half an hour the James Annesty Quartet, a Melbourne based quartet playing contemporary jazz with palatable influences of folk and rock. This made for an inclusive sound that invited the audience to enjoy, almost like a conversation.