Gwin back to Dixie

Last Saturday night I listened to a live dixieland band for the first time in 45 years. The previous time I was part of the band, at a NZ Universities Arts Festival held in Palmerston North in my final year at Massey. Earlier in the evening I’d played piano in a low grade clone of the Benny Goodman Quartet. (I was Teddy Wilson while vet student Ken Cottier emulated Benny.)

Later in the concert we added local musos on trumpet, trombone and banjo, and attempted to blow the roof off the local opera house. It was a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight and great fun.

Me as the invisible piano player in a scratch dixieland band at the 1966 New Zealand Universities Arts Festival.

The previous year we’d played student and city gigs as a full trad band. Well…as trad as you can be with a saxophone in place of a trombone.  We had a great time though, in what was pretty well the last gasp of purely instrumental bands playing for public functions. Back then, people were capable of having a roaring good time even when there was no singer. Just a few years later, singers became obligatory and even a lousy one would do.

Back in the early sixties, before rock ‘n roll took over completely, dixieland bands like Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball were part of pop culture – they even came to Palmie and played sellout concerts.

But that arts festival concert was the end of Dixieland for me. I was already listening to modern jazz – Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue was wearing itself out on my primitive record player. So were LPs by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Wes Montgomery and Dave Brubeck. I wanted to play modern jazz. And I wanted to play rock ‘n roll. I moved to Wellington and did both.

Over the years since then, I’d hear traditional jazz very occasionally on record or on TV, but never live. Until last Saturday night, when Australian group Dixie Street played a concert in Martinborough.

Did I enjoy it? Yes – immensely. Any music is good when it’s played really well and those guys could really play. Yes, I was with them on the bandstand in spirit as they swung into those rambunctious final choruses. I know what that feels like.

The Dixie Street band in the Martinborough Town Hall. Personnel: Derek Dalton (trumpet, from Adelaide). Geoff Speed (clarinet, Bellingen, NSW), Gordon Coulson (trombone, Adelaide), Bruce Gourlay (piano, Tasmania), Kevin Findlay (sousaphone, Tasmania), Peter Milburn (banjo, Victoria), Rod Andrew (drums, Canberra).

Dixie Street played Martinborough as part of a 20-gig North Island  tour that included the Bay of Island Jazz and Blues Festival.

There’s talk of them coming back next year. I’ll be along. In the meantime, if I want to listen again there’s always a little video I shot at the concert. They’re playing Black Stump Stomp, written in 1990 by legendary Aussie trad jazz trumpeter Bob Barnard.


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