Vintage Jazzmen take to the lake
Former New Zealand Prime Minister, the late Sir Robert Muldoon, used to refer to the Society Jazzmen as ‘‘his boys’’ whenever he saw them playing in Auckland. Rotary Matamata’s David Hulme caught up with the Society Jazzmen’s trombonist/vocalist Bob Dougl
With a combined age of more than 450 years, the Society Jazzmen have become somewhat of an institution, or as trombonist/ vocalist Bob Douglas jokes ‘‘museum pieces’’. However, their desire to play music hasn’t dwindled in the slightest.
The Society Jazzmen will be headlining Rotary Matamata’s Concert by the Lake, along with Kiwi songstress Jamie McDell and local talent Bryan Rawiri on Sunday February 22, playing on a specially designed lakeside pontoon at 162 Jondor Rd.
Formed in 1969, the band features two ‘‘originals’’, Bob and trumpeter Arthur Cummings, with saxophonist/clarinettist Bob Borland, guitarist Colin Crook and drummer Owen Kneebone all having played with Society Jazzmen for more than 30 years while bass player Bert Penney is the newest member of the sextet, having notched up six years.
The Matamata show will also feature a special appearance from Bob’s grandson Jesse, who performs on guitar and banjo.
Their services at the Matamata concert were donated by a Rotarian and his wife who heard them perform at last year’s Morrinsville Jazz Festival – a venue the Society Jazzmen will again play this year in a busy Waikato fortnight featuring three gigs in eight days.
And with most of the band members now getting on in years, Bob says the mix of English and American influences still provides the basis for their longevity.
‘‘We all really enjoy playing the music – we pick the numbers to suit the mood of the crowd. You have to play something that when you start people look up
Sunday, February 22 1pm-6pm Private property, 162 Jondor Rd Featuring: The Society Jazzmen, Jamie McDell and local musician Bryan Rawiri. BYO picnic and drinks. There will be some non-alcoholic drinks and food available for purchase on the day (cash only)
Tickets: $40 or $30 for secondary students with ID. Available now from PaperPlus, Colourplus and Visique.
and ask ‘ what was that’ and once they are livened up you can play whatever you like,’’ Bob says.
In the early years several gigs stand out for Bob – the time they played at the Toyota workers’ function in Thames, where the crowd was not a usual jazz following.
‘‘ We were struggling,’’ Bob admits. ‘‘Then I told the boys to play Baby Face and I went down off the stage and sang to a rather large lady, she grabbed me in close and we were then marvellous and the whole mood of the night changed.’’
On another occasion, Bob found a green stage door prop behind the curtain, inspiring the playing of Green Door.
‘‘I was dancing around with this prop, got too close to the edge of the stage and took a tumble onto the table below but everyone thought it was part of the act,’’ Bob laughs.
It would be fair to say things have toned down a little since those days in the 1970s and 80s but one thing has not changed – the Society Jazzmen still love
what they do.
‘‘ Recently we were performing for a swing dance group and someone said ‘ take a look at these guys – it looks like they can hardly walk but boy can they kick it’’’.
While Bob admits jazz is not everyone’s cup of tea, he says younger people are now taking an interest when they see the Society Jazzmen play.
One ‘‘ claim to fame’’ the Society Jazzmen have is having won the groups’ section of The Entertainers, a 1970s television talent show, the same year a young Suzanne Prentice won the solo section.
‘‘ It was quite something really,’’ Bob says. ‘‘We were performing against rock bands and still won.’’
For close on half a century, the Society Jazzmen have entertained audiences in parks, bars, hotels, festivals, cruise ships, and now Matamata will host their unique talents for the first time.
Bob says their blend of jazz with swing, featuring music from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and the New Orleans’ influenced style provides the perfect backdrop for audiences to enjoy performances.
And their performances were seemingly good enough to impress Sir Robert Muldoon. Why not come along and check them out at Rotary Matamata’s Concert by the Lake for yourself?
PERFORMING: The Society Jazzmen are headlining this month’s Concert by the Lake, a fundraiser for Rotary Matamata.
READY TO PLAY: The Society Jazzmen are looking forward to playing in Matamata for the first time.