An important aspect of music fan activities is the publication of music periodicals. Magazines help to connect fans with musicians, composers, etc, giving fans insights into their favourite artist and making suggestions about how to further their interests through the promotion of new artists and further listening or reading. In New Zealand locally produced music periodicals have unfortunately had a chequered history, but here I detail two short–lived, but important local jazz magazine from the 1940s.
During World War Two, swing fans in Wellington attempted to produce what was New Zealand’s first jazz periodical. Entitled Swing!, the publication was entirely organised and produced by fans. As such, the quality of the production was enthusiastic, but amateur, but as the editor stated on several occasions the publication was never meant to be a commercial (i.e. profit–making) venture. The majority of the contents were record reviews of American (and occasionally English) bands, but there were also reports on jam sessions, and articles on topics such as how to start collecting jazz records. Unfortunately for New Zealand swing fans, its publication run was barely a year, lasting from September 1941 to August 1942. The shortness of its run was directly related to effects of the war: printing and distribution became difficult, and contributors were lost when they were called up for military service.
Despite its short publication run the popularity of Swing! gave some indication that there was an audience for a locally produced swing magazine. It was the example of Swing! that gave fans in Auckland the impetus to publish what would be New Zealand’s second jazz publication, Jukebox: New Zealand’s Swing Magazine, in 1946.
Jukebox was similar to Swing! in that while it was not a profit–making venture it was a magazine that was sold in newsagents and music stores. Where Jukebox differed from Swing! in terms of production was that it was a far more professionally produced magazine than Swing! had been. In the first issue in August 1946 the editor, Ernest J. Wansbone, stated that the publication staff had two main aims for the magazine. The first aim was to promote and critique local jazz talent, with the intent that any criticism of local musicians would be both constructive and fair, and based on the highest musical standards, rather than personal stylistic preferences. The second aim was to embrace all styles of jazz “from the new Woody Herman Band to Eddie Condon Dixieland Groups.”
The publication staff held to these aims throughout the publication run of Jukebox, with the majority of its content being reports of local jazz activities, across all different styles of jazz. The local content mostly focused on jazz activities in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, but occasionally mentioned other towns. Many items on local jazz activities were reviews of gigs, and the reviewing staff appeared to be scrupulously fair in their criticism. For example in a review of Ted Croad’s band at the Orange Coronation Ballroom in Auckland, the reviewers praised the individual abilities of many of the musicians, but lamented the dearth of modern arrangements. This could be remedied, stated the reviewers, if: “the Croad Band adapted itself in accordance with the spirit of the younger local musicians, who undoubtedly have the ability and who know how to phrase dance music the correct way.”
In addition to the reviews, and the content about who was playing with which band, and which band was playing where, Jukebox also published profiles of prominent local musicians and jazz fans/advocates. These profiles ranged from light examinations on a person’s jazz activities (musician or collector), to in–depth histories of their entire career. The profiles made observations on how musicians and fans came to be interested in jazz, which artists influenced their performing or collecting activities, and how they began participating in the local scene. In addition to the subject’s activities, these profiles gave an insight into the relationships between musicians and fans and the networking that occurred on the New Zealand scene, and between New Zealanders and fans and musicians in other countries.
Jukebox also had regular reports on the formation and activities of swing clubs around the country. These reports included detailed accounts of the club’s last meeting, or jam session, but also of events that involved the general public, such as dances. The reports of these activities demonstrated the breadth of activities that the swing clubs were involved in, and how they supported the local jazz scene.
The publication run of Jukebox suddenly ceased in April 1947. What happened is unknown, but the editor of Wellington Swing Club’s newsletter, Swing Session, stated in the October 1947 issue that a sudden drop in sales precipitated the cessation. The editor then proceeded to lay blame on the number of self–proclaimed swing fans who were “lethargic” in their support of the New Zealand swing community. Further the editor stated that a local swing magazine would never be successful until swing fans actively supported it. At the end of the editorial Swing Session‘s editor stated that true hot music enthusiasts “will be the poorer for its demise.”
Though vitriolic in tone, the editor of Swing Session made an important point about publications such as Jukebox requiring a high level of fan support to continue publishing. Jukebox, like Swing! before it, was never intended to be a profit–making venture. The small amount of advertising paid for the basic printing and distribution costs, but the staff were all volunteers who contributed their own money towards the publication of the magazine. Without fans consistently purchasing, or subscribing to Jukebox, it had no chance of success, and as was noted, the fans that did support it were not numerous enough to assist its continuation. Also noted was the fact that fans were the poorer for the loss as this was the only local music publication devoted to jazz, which helped connect jazz communities in different regions together.
It is a curious dichotomy in the jazz fandom in New Zealand during this period that there were large numbers of people ‘involved’ in the fan–clubs (or at least members of them), but they were unwilling to support an aspect of local jazz such as Jukebox. Swing Session‘s editor noted that out of the 240 people that made up the membership list of the Wellington Swing Club, only about 80 of them were such mad–keen fans that they would attend all, or almost all, of the club meetings. If this type of behaviour was indicative of the rest of the country’s swing clubs (with less than half of the membership regularly attending), it is unsurprising that a local jazz publication would be unable to flourish.
While a sad indictment on the wider jazz fandom, the editorial in Swing Session regarding the demise of Jukebox was an accurate assessment of music periodical publication in New Zealand. New Zealand simply did not have a large enough, and dedicated enough audience of jazz fans to sustain a jazz periodical.
I speculate that the reason behind these failures is due primarily to the lack of support from fans. The lack of support may have, in part, come from the lethargy that was noted by the editor of Swing Session: New Zealand fans were essentially lazy in appreciating local aspects of their fandom. Related to this lethargy is possibly the fact that there were a number of excellent international publications readily available for purchase in New Zealand. For jazz specifically there were the Australian publications Music Maker, Tempo, and the Australian Jazz Quarterly all of which featured columns devoted to New Zealand jazz. There were also American (Downbeat) and British (Melody Maker and Gramophone, which at that time had a significant jazz section) publications that were regularly imported to New Zealand. The choice between international, professional publications and local, less professional ones may have persuaded fans to adhere to the larger international publications because their visual presentation gave an aura of authority on the subject.