Palmy, the swing city of NZ

The Tribune (NZ) - - ENJOY -

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.

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