Back in 1996, I was a self-employed (self-unemployed, more like) radio producer. I’d quit my job at talkback station Radio Pacific after five years making ads for retirement villages, incontinence pants, the Mad Butcher and horse-racing events. Along the way, I’d learned how to make radio programmes and had developed a focus on jazz.

My first proper commissioned show as an independent (funded by New Zealand on Air) was a series called Off The Record: The Kiwi Jazz Show.

It was a simple idea – veteran jazz drummer Tony Hopkins would talk to a noteworthy New Zealand jazz musician about their career in music and some anecdotes about the past – and then together with a band of their choosing (and, generally speaking, Tony on drums) they would play some music. That was the whole show.

Well – I say “the whole show” – of course, what went on behind the scenes was a lot more complex and involved than that, and I was lucky to be involved with some really talented, respected and connected individuals. It’s fair to say that Tony organised the musicians, took the role of musical director, picked the guests and house musicians. Studio owner Tim Gummer pushed the buttons to make the recordings, and engineer Cameron Fisher ran around setting up mics and plugging stuff in. I was the “producer” in the sense that I was in the room while these things all happened…

Apart from anything else, it was a great way to get the cream of New Zealand jazz into the studio and record them (that’s Mike Nock at the piano in the picture above) – which, let’s face it, was pretty much my ideal way to spend my workday.

Each session consisted of at least five pieces of music – and there were over fifty shows, so along the way, we made at least 250 new recordings of NZ jazz. It’s about time some of that stuff saw daylight.

Outtakes and bonus material
Studio manager and engineer Tim Gummer suggested it might be a good idea, time permitting, to record an extra track with some of these people. A bonus piece of music that we could then use to put together a companion album. We recorded quite a few of these, but for whatever reason, we never ended up putting the album together.

Along with lots of other things that went astray in all my house moves, career change, and our eventual shift to the UK, the master DAT tapes of all those sessions were lost… until I went on a serious hunt when I was back in Auckland last month.

I have most (though not all) of the radio shows, and I’ve started going through and lifting the music off those, because for a lot of those artists, those recordings really stand up and deserve to be heard again – certainly more than one single broadcast back in the mid-90s. Some of the musicians have still to this day never released records, despite active careers playing live – and so these recordings are the only document of their contribution to the local music scene.

I’m also archiving the shows themselves in a more permanent digital form (DAT tapes fall apart – and sadly, some of them already have). But I’m starting with these extra recordings. The bonus tracks. What I think of as the “lost tapes” – because not only were they misplaced – I’d totally forgotten they even existed.

Detective work
These outtakes really intrigue me. The tape we found was unlabelled and the songs unidentified – and so with all those sessions being that long ago, I have limited recollection of who played on what tune.

Legendary NZ film sound recordist and jazz enthusiast Mike Westgate helped me restore and lightly remaster these recordings. Really pleased with how they sound. Now all I have to do is find out who they are and what they’re playing.

Have a listen. If you happen to be one of those artists, or know who they are, helping me identify the musicians on these tracks would be really massively helpful. I have some clues of course. Certain of the musicians are really identifiable by their playing style, and I do remember bits and pieces (as well as just knowing some of the songs) – but I thought I’d start with a blank slate.

Any information at all you can give me would be hugely appreciated.

Restoration project
There are 16 ‘lost tape’ tracks here in all. Some simply didn’t make it – and parts of some of the songs that did survive have been cleaned up and edited to compensate for dropout and tape failure. But what remains does provide a really nice snapshot of some of what was going on in that scene in that place at that time.

Have a listen. In the meantime I’ll start working on the rest of the archive. Luckily, on the radio shows themselves, the musicians are introduced and the songs are named as part of the conversation, so that will make life a bit easier.

But this “lost tape” is full of mystery right now.