Cabarets and Clubs: 1920s

This is going to be an ongoing series of posts about the venues for jazz in New Zealand, some are going to focus on a general time period and a number of different venues, and others will be focused on specific venues, or spaces, where people made and listened to jazz. In this first post I’m excerpting part of a chapter from my thesis in which I discuss two of the most prominent jazz venues of 1920s New Zealand: The Winter Garden in Christchurch, and the Dixieland Cabaret in Auckland. Both of these venues were famous past the 1920s (especially the Winter Garden- the Dixieland came to a sad end which I’ll describe in another post), but in this post I will focus on their foundations and earliest hey-days.

The explosion of the craze for dancing in the 1920s was the impetus of the establishment of many dance venues throughout New Zealand. In all the main centres clubs and ‘cabarets’ (in reality mostly sophisticated dance halls rather than cabarets) were opened to cater for the hundreds of dancing fans. It should be noted that the venues for dancing (and jazz) were geographically spread across the central city and surrounding to outer suburbs in each of the main centres. This was common throughout New Zealand during the interwar period, and in turn meant that patrons’ would rarely attend more than one venue in the course of an evening.

Connected with the dance craze was the burgeoning phenomenon of jazz. While there were many commercial venues for dancing that included jazz on a regular basis, there were two that were specifically opened because of, and for, jazz during the 1920s: Christchurch’s Winter Garden and Auckland’s Dixieland Cabaret.

The Christchurch Jazz Club (founded in 1920 for lovers of jazz dancing) established the Winter Garden in 1921 in order to have a “quality jazzing venue.”[1] It quickly became the hub of jazz activity in Christchurch, and playing at The Winter Garden became known as one of the most prestigious gigs for musicians. The opening season (September through to December) saw Havelock Williams’ jazz band as the main house band.

Situated in Armagh Street central Christchurch, the Winter Garden was not originally a commercial venue: it did not have regular public opening hours initially, and outside of the club’s dances catered mostly to private functions. This would change in the 1922 and the venue was opened for public dancing two or three nights a week, but it was more of a dance hall than a cabaret in that it did not have floor shows, or any other entertainment for the patrons.[2] When the Christchurch Jazz Club ceased in July 1926, all assets, including the Winter Garden were sold and the proceeds given to charity. In November the last public dance was held at The Winter Garden, though private functions continued through to the end of the year when the venue was handed over to the new owners P. Burke and Co. and it was closed for a short period (approximately three weeks) for renovation. It reopened early in January 1927 with Charles Aves Cabaret Orchestra in residence.

From its reopening in 1927, the Winter Garden became one of the most prominent cabarets in Christchurch. As a commercial venue it catered for a variety of dance styles, but in keeping with its origins, the Winter Garden remained the best–known jazz venue in Christchurch. From about 1928 the Winter Garden was known as one of the most prestigious gigs in Christchurch for jazz musicians as the new management had quickly gained a reputation (which would last into the 1950s) of hiring the best jazz bands in town to play there.[3]

Auckland was not far behind in having a dedicated jazz venue:  the Dixieland Cabaret opened on April 11 1922.[4] Situated at the corner of Queen and Waverly Streets (where the music store Real Groovy now sits) it quickly became the place to jazz in Auckland. Opened by Canadian dentist/businessman/financier Dr. Frederick Raynor and his heiress wife Ethel, the Dixieland Cabaret evolved out of their own desires that Auckland have a sophisticated jazz cabaret. This was a reflection of their background and their experiences in exclusive cabarets around the world as much as the desire for their new home–town to have at least one cosmopolitan venue, such as they had experienced in New York or Paris.

The Raynors spared no expense in fittings and decorations for the Dixieland Cabaret. The New Zealand Herald review of the opening night dedicated an entire paragraph to interior decoration, mentioning specifically a dance floor of 3000 square feet, electric chandeliers, lamps on each table, the opulence of the furnishings and carpets, and in particular, the raised lounge area where chaperones, or those not wishing to dance, could observe “the gay throng below.”[5]

dixieland cabaret

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the first house band for the Dixieland was imported from Australia. The decision by the Raynors and the venue manager Del Foster to import a jazz band from Australia rather than use a local band can be viewed as a response to the Raynors’ own experiences both within New Zealand and overseas. Their desire to have a sophisticated venue in Auckland required that they acquire the ‘best’ of appointments for their cabaret, including musicians. Although there were a number of jazz bands in Auckland by early 1922 the quality of these bands apparently did not meet the Raynors (or their manager Del Foster’s) requirements for the Dixieland.

From circa mid–1923, however, the house bands, the Dixie Five, and later the Dixieland Internationals, were composed primarily of local musicians. This move implies that the management of the Dixieland thought that New Zealand jazz musicians were now of a standard to perform there. Although the Dixieland house bands were rarely mentioned in the Auckland press there does not appear to have been any negative reports about the standard of the locally created band compared to the Southern Dixieland Band.

In October 1925 the Dixieland moved from its premises on Queen Street to larger premises on the waterfront in the suburb of Pt. Chevalier. The second incarnation of the Dixieland Cabaret was reportedly just as lavish as the original Dixieland, but much larger: Dixieland Pt. Chevalier could accommodate up to six hundred patrons and the dance floor had been increased to 3600 square feet. The house band consisted of mostly New Zealand musicians, and was again called the Dixieland Internationals. As with the early bands, little was written about the personnel or their sound and style. However, press reports do include mention of the hot qualities (syncopation, improvisation, et cetera) of the music they played, and how good they were as an accompaniment for dancing.

These and other venues became the backbone of the burgeoning jazz scene in New Zealand. They were places of employment for incipient jazz musicians, and places for jazz fans to gather to dance, and maybe to listen, to locally created jazz. The dancing venues for jazz would increase in importance during the 1930s to become the centre of the jazz scene in New Zealand, and cementing, at least for a time, jazz as dance music.

Jazz had many definitions and perceptions during the 1920s, both musical and extra–musical. It was also a controversial phenomenon garnering both praise and censure from many different sections of society. However, the excitement of the jazz phenomenon plunged globally with the United States stock market crash on October 29, 1929. The crash signalled a dramatic turning point in musical tastes, which would dramatically affect the New Zealand jazz scene for the next six years.


[1] ‘Winter Garden’ CP 3/69/1921, 2.

[2] ‘Women’s Corner’ CP various dates 1921–1926, 2.

[3] Doug Caldwell interview with Aleisha Ward (2010); Doug Caldwell My Life in the Key of Jazz, Christchurch: CPIT, 2010,  64, 66-69.

[4] ‘Dixieland Cabaret’ AS 12/4/1922, 10.

[5] ‘Dixieland Cabaret NZH 12/4/1922, 10.

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3 comments

  1. Dr M R Evans · · Reply

    I am trying to track down Charles James Aves – does anyone have a picture?( This might solve an old family mystery)

    Thank you

    1. Hi,
      I can’t say I’ve ever seen a photo of Aves or his bands. Sadly a lot of the jazz bands from the 1920s in New Zealand never had publicity photos taken of them- some of the very well known ones did, or the cabaret they were working for would pay for publicity photos. However, you could get in touch with the Christchurch public library as their local history division might have something in one of their collections, or they might know of other local history collections that you could try. Let me know if your search gleans anything!

      Aleisha

      1. Dr M R Evans · ·

        Thanks Aleisha

        I’ll try the library and let you know if I turn up anything

        Marion

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