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The Legendary Band That Hasn’t Been Paid For 40 Years

The Legendary Band That Hasn’t Been Paid For 40 Years

Wednesday, November 13

Supremo jazz trombonist Rodger Fox has led his nationally recognised big band for nearly 40 years without being paid.

The legendary big band celebrates its 40th anniversary with a triumphant national tour next year and a fervent wish for a pay cheque at the end of it.

Since 1973 all the income from concerts, gigs and public appearances has gone into a Trust Fund to pay for music, improve player performance and engage top artists.

“We get great audiences but, once costs are met, there’s never enough money to go round,” Rodger says. After 40 years he’s “sacrificed enough.”

As a result Rodger’s preparing a case to submit to Creative New Zealand and the government for a fulltime, paid jazz band.

“We have a fulltime symphony orchestra, opera and ballet companies and great armed services bands but no jazz band that receives government funding,” Rodger says.

Rodger loves leading the celebrated big band he established in Wellington back in 1973 but, to pursue his passion, he fulfils a day time job as Lecturer in Jazz at the New Zealand School of Music.

Jazz is vibrant and alive in New Zealand and no-one knows this better than Rodger Fox. As a former itinerant music teacher he can testify to its impact in secondary schools and now to the large number of students specialising in jazz at the New Zealand School of Music.

“We have as many musos wanting to learn jazz as there are classical musicians studying to play solo or in orchestras and yet there’s no fulltime big band,” he comments.

And he makes the point that an 18 piece big band can perform anywhere. “We can play in a pub one night and Carnegie Hall the next,” Rodger says.

Rodger will play, lead, tutor, compose and arrange while he has enough puff in his body but he wants the musical scene in New Zealand to change.

Meanwhile he’s seeking a sponsor as he prepares for a national 40th anniversary tour of New Zealand next year and the release of the CD recorded at Capital Studios in Los Angeles in July.

It’s going to be a celebrated tour of the main centres playing the sort of music that made the big band unique when it first assembled at the Wellington Musicians Clubrooms in 1973. Rodger was playing in the jazz/rock group Quincy Conserve when local enthusiast, Alan Nelson, asked him to direct an amateur group of jazz musicians.

Rodger loved the idea and brought with him Quincy Conserve players and other Wellington musos. They made their first public performance in the clubrooms and then took to the road and performed at the Manawatu Jazz Festival the following year.

“We had hair for Africa, floral shirts, bell bottoms and flared costumes. We were different and nothing like the conservative big bands still playing in a time warp around Wellington at the time,” he says.

“The biggest reason the band took off is that we played the music of the day in a style that people heard in the clubs. It brought in a new audience and we’ve attempted to be contemporary to this day.”

That doesn’t mean the Rodger Fox Big Band can’t revisit musical history and play the classics, the Sinatra era, Duke Ellington or Kings of Swing but Rodger always wants it to be relevant and meaningful.

The 40th anniversary tour is in the immediate future plus the smaller ensembles Rodger brings to festivals, wineries and gigs throughout New Zealand but this iconic trombonist has a longer vision.

Before he puts down his instrument and stops twitching his leg he wants to take his big band back to the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and stop over in England to record the next CD at the famous Abbey Road Studios.

And he might just be able to do it if business or the government steps in and pays him.


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