On the evening of March 27 1960 the Dave Brubeck Quartet arrived at Whenuapai Airport, Auckland, New Zealand after a tour of Australia. Although there was no formal welcome that evening, a local jazz band and singer Kahu Pineaha performed for the Quartet as they exited the plane on the runway. Later, during the airport press conference, Brubeck stated that he was intending to look for new compositional material while in New Zealand and it was suggested that he examine translations of Maori poetry for ideas. This suggestion proved well timed as the next morning on arrival at Wellington Airport the Brubeck Quartet was given a Maori welcome performed by the Te Pataka Concert Party. Fortuitously the welcome was recorded and a copy was given to Brubeck when he expressed interest in the music performed.
The tour was a brief stopover between engagements in Australia and Europe. The Brubeck Quartet played two concerts in one night in Wellington and then repeated the same format in Auckland over two nights. Their first concert was at 6.15 on the evening of March 28 at the Wellington Town Hall.
Opening for the Quartet was the Crombie Murdoch Octet, who had the difficult task of trying to keep crowd entertained before the main event. The Octet was chosen by Kerridge Promotions (the New Zealand tour promoter) after consultation with the New Zealand Broadcasting Service about the best bands currently in their roster. The Octet played a set of 11 songs, lasting about half an hour, that were arranged by Murdoch, saxophonist Bernie Allen, and trumpeter Lew Campbell. These arrangements were mostly pre-existing from their radio work, with the exceptions being those for their guest artist Australian jazz singer Patti Brittain. Owen Jenson for the Evening Post believed that having the Murdoch Octet open was unfair to both audience and the Octet as their jazz was far more conventional than that of the Brubeck Quartet. However, reviewers for Auckland papers had undiluted praise for the Octet, with John Berry for the Auckland Star noting that they also won praise from Brubeck who apparently stated: “You don’t need to worry about importing jazzmen. You’ve got the talent right here.”
The Brubeck Quartet’s sets lasted about an hour. The Quartet would change portions of their repertoire for each concert, but according to Bernie Allen, much of it was dictated by their current hits. Thus Take Five was a feature at each concert, and Blue Rondo a la Turk, Brandenburg Gate, and Pick up Sticks also featured prominently in most of their concerts. Allen recalls being slightly disappointed that none of their earlier repertoire was performed because he particularly wanted to hear some of their earlier pieces live. Reviews of the concerts rarely mentioned individual pieces by name, but one review mentions a series of waltzes that included the superimposition of 4/4 over the 3/4 base, while another mentions “a Disney tune” (probably Some Day My Prince will Come) that became the “opportunity for a dazzlingly beautiful pattern of variations.”
The reception to the Brubeck Quartet’s music was varied. Bernie Allen told me that although he was very interested in Brubeck’s approach to jazz there was a section of the jazz fraternity in New Zealand that did not recognise Brubeck as a true jazz musician. While other members of the Quartet were considered jazz musicians by the majority of the New Zealand jazz fraternity, the views that the locals had through recordings was, according to Allen, that they were alright, but a bit weak and soulless. Even Allen who admired Paul Desmond was surprised at the first sound check at how big a sound Desmond had on his alto saxophone.
The divided opinion of the local jazz fraternity was reflected in the concert reviews in the Auckland and Wellington papers. While the reviews were mostly positive, many questioned whether what was played was jazz. In particular the Auckland Star reviewers, whilst praising the Quartet and the jazz that they played also pondered whether they were, in fact, a jazz group. While this seems contradictory the music that they played was, quite frankly, unlike anything local audiences were used to. John Berry and D.J.C.M both noted that the Quartet treaded the line between classical and jazz producing both melodic and rhythmical counterpoint with results that were technically astounding. However, both critics believed that the Quartet left the audience bemused and ‘lukewarm’ over the music.
In contrast, Owen Jensen of the Evening Post believed that the music the Quartet presented was “jazz rinsed of its vulgarity” and “shorn of its clichés”. In his view this, along with “conservative harmonies”, is what drew the audience in. Jensen’s interpretation of the concert was that the audience was completely wrapped up in the Quartet’s spell and slightly disappointed that some of that time was taken up with the Murdoch Octet. The anonymous concert reviewer in the Dominion appears to have been like-minded, claiming that what the audience responded to was the discipline and control of the group.
While the tour was short there some interesting outcomes. As I noted at the beginning of this post, Brubeck was interested in using Maori source material as the basis for a composition. This did occur with the composition Maori Blues, which appeared on the Quartet’s 1961 album Time Further Out: Miró Reflections. The genesis of this composition is particularly interesting, and I will detail it specifically in another post.