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By India• 15 Apr 2019
Here's one reason to look forward to the beginning of winter. The Wellington Jazz Festival is on from 5 to 9 June, featuring laidback afternoon vibes, frenzied midnight jams and everything in between. We peek inside some of the venues playing host this year.
If you’re interested in the more avant-garde end of the jazz spectrum, this is the place for you.
“Pyramid Club is a space for experimental and creative music and sonic art, so its role within the Jazz Festival is to showcase that side of Wellington’s creative music scene,” says musician and venue director Daniel Beban.
The programme features Pyramid Club regulars doing something a bit different from usual: Saxophonist and clarinet player Bridget Kelly, for example, usually performs in other people’s bands but is leading a trio for the Jazz Festival. Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s chamber jazz group will be another highlight, Daniel reckons, but really you can’t go wrong with any of the Pyramid Club gigs, so long as you come with an open mind.
“The Jazz Festival is a chance for us to highlight that more improvised, free-jazz part of what happens here.”
The Jazz Festival is one of the busiest weeks of the year for Meow, says co-owner Rahine O’Rielly. “We get a whole range of people through the doors, and a whole range of musicians. It’s lots of hard work, but it’s also a big party to celebrate music.”
She hopes punters will come away with a new appreciation for jazz. “It’s not just the standards or the music you hear in the elevator or the foyer of a hotel. It’s being in a club and hearing people making original music.”
She’s excited to see Rafiq Bhatia of Son Lux, who is performing solo, and Australian trio Brekky Boy, who bring together a mish-mash of influences. In terms of Kiwi talent, she can’t go past Wellington supergroup the Mean Bones. “Every individual in that band is so talented, and what they do is just weird and wonderful.”
Havana is everything you want a jazz club to be: hidden away, atmospheric and intimate. “The musicians are almost within touching distance of the nearest seats,” says general manager Sean Atkins.
On the Wednesday and Thursday, you can get comfortable, grab a drink (Havana is designing a special cocktail for each gig) and soak up some top-quality jazz. If you come on Friday or Saturday, though, prepare to get wild.
“I love the big party bands, the weekend bands,” Sean says. “We get a big crowd in here and remove all the tables and chairs, and it’s straight from the musicians to our customers.”
This year, Sulco d’Alma and Cuba Libre will be leading the festivities. “They’re both fast-paced, energetic Latin groups but very different as well. They bring a lot of flair, and they’re always very fun to watch.”
Did you know that before Jimi Hendrix’s death, he and Miles Davis had jammed and were planning to perform together? That gig never took place, but you can get a taste of what might have been when Al Campbell and Lex French channel the legendary pair at the Third Eye.
More than a dozen gigs are scheduled at the venue this year, thanks to Jake Baxendale, who curated the programme and will also perform with his band, the Jac.
“The Third Eye is a really great space,” he says. “It’s intimate, it’s warm, there’s a lot of wood and good lighting and comfy chairs. It’s got good acoustics, and it’s a good size for a jazz audience.”
He also loves the fact that gigs are held in a separate space from the bar, so there’s no shouting and clinking to distract from the music. “It lends itself to active listening.”
“Jazz is our bread and butter,” says Rogue and Vagabond owner Gwil Waldren. “We do it all year round, all the time. Then, with the Jazz Festival, suddenly all these people come out and it’s got an amazing vibe, so we get to do what we love tenfold.”
The bar has become known for its live start-to-finish performances of classic albums: this year, Invisible Cinema by Aaron Parks, Black Radio by Robert Glasper, and Moanin’ by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, among others. Gwil can’t wait to see Scottish drummer John Rae perform Duke Ellington’s Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack, complete with visuals from the film.
Even if you’re revelling elsewhere, it’s worth making the Rogue and Vagabond your final stop of the night – once other gigs wind up around town, the musicians congregate there for epic midnight jam sessions.