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Fox/Houstoun Masterpiece Reaches Hamilton

It’s taken longer than expected, but a world premiere featuring two of New Zealand’s pre-eminent musicians is worth waiting for.

Classical pianist, Michael Houstoun, and jazz impresario, Rodger Fox, were working on new arrangements of music by Canadian great, Gino Vannelli, when New Zealand went into lockdown last year.

It was a stressful time for both musicians as they balanced performance opportunities with self- isolation and the need to stay safe. But after phone calls and emails, Michael and Rodger agreed the world premiere would go ahead with its first Waikato performance this month.

The acclaimed concert series, entitled The Houstoun-Fox Project, will be presented as part of the Hamilton Garden Arts Festival on Sunday, February 21. Michael, Rodger, supremo blues vocalist, Erna Ferry, and the Rodger Fox Big Band will showcase the premiere on the Rhododendron Lawn at the Hamilton Gardens, at 7pm.

While Fox and Houstoun have both performed together in the past, there’s something very different and special about this concert. Instead of playing jazz adaptations of classical pieces, Michael will perform the premiere of music written especially for him.

When he confessed that one of his favourite artists was Gino Vannelli, Rodger asked internationally acclaimed composer/arranger, Bill Cunliffe, to arrange two of Gino’s most enduring numbers, Brother to Brother and Storm at Sunup, for him.

The concert is the first occasion the arrangement with Big Band accompaniment will be heard. Michael will also play Warriors, a Bill Cunliffe original, and feature on piano in a rhythm/vocal version of Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love, sung by blues vocalist, Erna Ferry.

Erna will also present an awesome version of Mike Farrell’s Carry My Blues Away which can be found on the Rodger Fox Big Band New York recording, You Gotta Know, a stellar version of Gershwin’s Summertime and a mash-up of two tunes, Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder and The Beatles’

I Feel Fine.

In January last year, the Rodger Fox Big Band with Erna Ferry gave two standing ovation concerts in New Orleans and New York followed by a recording session. The stand-out numbers chosen for this tour are a result of that recording session.

There’s a further reason why the concert series is a must. Michael Houstoun has indicated retirement isn’t too far away. This musical masterpiece will be one of the final times New Zealand audiences will experience his exceptional talent.

Classics and jazz have occasionally come together through the genius of George Gershwin, but what Rodger and Michael are doing with this world premiere is, by far, the next step. “Our concerts are crafted especially for piano and big band. This is a total creation for ourselves. It’s the first time in New Zealand to my knowledge,” Rodger Fox says.

The Houstoun/Fox Project plays at the Rhododendron Lawn, Hamilton Gardens, February 21 at 7pm.

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