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On Saturday morning I headed home from Northcote with a large tray of handmade dumplings some fresh noodles and the week’s supply of fruit and vegetables. The infectious sound of jazz music still rang in my ears.
Exploring Auckland’s multicultural retail hubs is fascinating. The Northcote Shopping Centre is one of my favourites. Here you can stock up on exotic and cheap groceries at the Asian supermarkets and feast on wonton soup, steamed buns and spicy foods. Tai Chi is performed and elderly men playing Chinese Chess under the trees. With a bit of lucky you may find a small treasure in the Op shop, or you can spruce up your wardrobe at Savemart.
This particular Saturday Tony Parker’s New Orleans Joymakers were playing a gig by one of the Asian supermarkets. Lindi Hoppers were swing dancing on the pavement in front of the band. When the band is playing they let the Lindi Hoppers know and they come along to join in.
The average age of the members of the band is about 70. Two are in their eighties and there are a couple of young 60 year olds. They include Tony Parker (drums), Bob Ward (trombone/vocals), Andy Massie (clarinet/alto sax/vocals), Les Sims (banjo/guitar), Arthur Cummins (trumpet) and Graeme Saker (Bass).
“Musicians can play to a ripe old age,” says band leader and drummer Tony Parker. “The Rolling Stones are a good example. They’re still going strong.”
Tony used to play modern jazz in Big Bands in England. After immigrating to New Zealand in 1964 he was asked to perform Dixieland. He’d never played traditional jazz but found he enjoyed it and has never looked back. He feels that modern jazz doesn’t swing as much and is not as ‘listenable’ as authentic New Orleans jazz.
Although he would have been better off financially as a musician in England, where there was more jazz going on, he settled down happily in New Zealand and raised his family here. In his time he has played with some of the greats in jazz: Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes and Monty Sunshine and played in concerts in many parts of the world. He still tours in England and in Australia.
He’s visited New Orleans (the birthplace of jazz). He advises that you won’t hear the best jazz in Bourbon Street, the main tourist street.
“It has become very commercialised with lots of strip clubs and bars. The best kind of jazz is to be found in the back streets. Some of the players, mostly black, are still going strong in their 80’s and 90’s.”
Tony loves playing jazz. “It allows you freedom of expression. Every other kind of music is highly organised. But in jazz the trumpet player learns the tune, the rhythm section plays the chords for the tune and the other guys have such good ears they can play by ear. That’s how it should be.”
Leading a revival of traditional jazz in New Zealand
It’s much more popular in England and Australia then here. He has mentored a few young players including a young man called Johnny Butts who finished up playing for Johnny Dankworth, the legendary English jazz player. But it’s not taking off again as much as he would like it to.
“The problem is that youngsters at high school are taught to read music. For jazz you have to be able to play by ear and to improvise.”
The New Orleans Joymakers play gigs in all sorts of places such as private functions and retirement villages. They play for tea dances at the Whangaparoa Peninsula Club. Sometimes they play at funerals for people who have followed bands and music. They try and do this in the New Orleans way by playing slow music in church and they sometimes lead in the coffin.
The Northcote Business Association hires them from time to time. It’s good to see that they are encouraging music and dancing in the streets. I do think that there should be more of it in other shopping centres and malls. It draws people in and makes shopping a much more enjoyable experience.