Palmy, the swing city of NZ
Palmerston North can proudly be called the swing city of New Zealand.
In May and June this year the city will celebrate the 50th Manawatu Jazz Festival with an incredible line-up of local, national and international artists.
The first festival was held at Labour Weekend in 1968 and, including this year, there have been 49 celebrations.
While there are festivals in other New Zealand cities, Palmerston North is unique through the length and breadth of its programme, the community involvement and the level of international artists performing.
Key to the success of the Manawatu Jazz Festival is artistic director Rodger Fox, pictured, supported by a talented and enthusiastic local team.
Fox sees a festival such as ours as only getting stronger and stronger. Jazz has permeated into many aspects of music and the 50th anniversary programme will feature blues, trad, Latin, bebop, jazz fusion, big band and swing.
Fox says the music of many of our current pop bands such as Fat Freddy’s Drop, Little Bushmen and Black Seeds are jazz based.
‘‘So much of today’s popular music has a strong jazz flavour because the musicians have come through the New Zealand School of Music jazz programme,’’ he says.
While there’s a crescendo of sound in Palmerston North and Feilding over Queen’s Birthday and the weekend before, Napier and Upper Hutt will be waking up to a symphony of saxes and barrage of brass at the same time.
‘‘Three festivals over the same weekend enable me to put a tour together of world-class players,’’ Fox says.
‘‘Nowhere else in New Zealand can you experience a top 20 drummer plus Santana’s lead singer.’’
In addition to the US drawcards, Fox has engaged some of the greatest acts in New Zealand plus the cream of local performers.
‘‘Watch out for an all-girls big band from Christchurch, the only one in New Zealand,’’ he says.
The festival begins with the free cafe scene in Feilding where up to 15 jazz groups will play while people enjoy a coffee or snack. The cafe scene then moves to Palmerston North the following week.
An influx of around 200 secondary school students sees groups contest the schools’ jazz competition and absorb the atmosphere of a vibrant city while the festival ends with a jazz gala where all the great acts will perform.
All this talent brings thousands of dollars of revenue into the city.
‘‘The local audience will receive a wonderful musical experience and be exposed to a wide range of sounds,’’ he says.
Rodger Fox’s mission is to be the driving force in keeping jazz alive and flourishing.
‘‘If people want it, I’ll put in the time to make sure they get it.’’
That might mean another 50 years of festivals.