I’m giving an academic conference paper tomorrow at the Rhythm Changes jazz cultures research conference at Media City in Salford. My presentation’s centred around the Auckland jazz scene in the mid to late 1990s.
There are some interesting aspects to that scene: the cross-pollination between local hip hop and jazz, the influx of Australian musicians, the jam sessions at Manifesto wine bar, the radio shows, the clubs and DJs, the records that got released, and lots more besides.
The bit that I find fascinating – and it’s something I’ll talk about in my paper – is that all of these things were enabled and supported by a whole range of factors that have little if anything to do with music production, distribution and consumption cultures.
For instance, after the financial crash in the late 1980s, Auckland inner city office space vacancy rose from just 3% to over 25%, prompting a desire to fill those spaces with residential tenants for the first time. The influx of residents coincided with a rise of cafe culture in the CBD, the widespread adoption of the world wide web, the gentrification of the inner-city suburbs and other demographic shifts in Auckland’s population spread.
At the same time, radio (both public and private) was undergoing profound change, altering its relationship with both jazz and local music; and international movements such as Acid Jazz and Trip Hop were having an impact – as were international visitors, including Gilles Peterson, Massive Attack and Roy the Roach.
Young players were returning from formal jazz education in the USA at a time when the neo-classical agenda was almost at its peak, and they were dressing in suits and playing in art galleries – as well as taking this revisionist strain of music heritage into high schools. But these same players were, by night, collaborating with funk drummers, rappers, DJs and electronic musicians, guesting on local pop records and performing in multiple different combinations outside cafes, in parks and in bars.
CD sales – especially those that were about replacing existing vinyl collections – had started to hit their peak and the prices had begun to drop. So a classic Miles Davis record would sit on the shelf at Marbeck’s Records for a third of the price of a recent local release.
At the same time as the Auckland inner city jazz scene, as perhaps typified by Nathan Haines circa the Shift Left album, Sydney’s Jazzgroove movement was underway. Some of the artists visited New Zealand at the right time to intersect with it, and were exposed to some of the local conditions and frameworks. But what happened in Sydney was very, very different – and the music that resulted out of those two cultural projects was markedly so.
My point – and I do have one – is that these things are messy. It’s complicated. And so in a way, the Auckland example is entirely unique and unreplicable. And in another sense, it’s completely universal. These things are very different for all sorts of reasons. There’s never just one.
Looking forward to telling this story, drawing conclusions and maybe playing a little bit of kiwi music along the way.