Well, the time has come- I have discovered the first errata in my thesis. I guess I should be glad that I found it rather than someone else, but still, in the immortal word of Homer Simpson: D’oh!
I discovered this in the course of my latest piece of research, which was tangentially related to my thesis work: the influence of Australian jazz musicians on New Zealand jazz during the swing era. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was enthusiastically wading my way through the run of Australia Music Maker and Dance Band News, and this is the research that was related to that endeavour. I have been trying to track the Australian activities of the Tut Coltman and Theo Walters Bands, band that had a profound influence on the performance of swing in New Zealand. I had thought when I was doing my thesis research that Theo Walters was resident in New Zealand entirely between 1937 and 1941, but alas, it turns out I was wrong. Now to be fair to myself, I was unable to consult the full run of Music Maker magazines at that time, and I had to make to with excerpts and a few full issues that are held in the Dennis Huggard Jazz Archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington- and to be fair to that collection there was plenty of information there, but it was New Zealand based and only rarely mentioned the bands activities back in Australia. What I have discovered (so far) is that the Walters Band actually returned to Australia in December 1937, beginning a new gig at the Ginger Jar in Sydney in January 1938, and remained in Australia (primarily New South Wales, but the band also held residencies in Melbourne) until November 1939. The December 1939 issue of Australian Music Maker had a small announcement stating that Walters “sailed suddenly for New Zealand last month…”
Now, how did this mistake come about? Well I suppose I was relying on the usual celebratory press reports that were commonly printed about arrivals and departures of bands. In the majority of cases there were substantial reports in New Zealand’s print media about the activities of international bands. Usually they were welcomed and farewelled in the press with great ceremony, but for whatever reason, the exit and return of the Walters band occasioned no fanfare. Unravelling why that was is going to have to wait for another time. It seemed to me, at the time, that if they were welcomed with great fanfare they would be farewelled with equal fervour, and so I missed it completely. Such is research life- it’s never really finished, and there’s always something new that brings to light new information, or changes the way you think about things. As I said above, it’s better that I find the mistake and correct it, rather than someone down the track stating that I got it wrong!
On the balance of probability, it really is not that bad, and in contrast I did manage to clear up a few commonly held myths/misconceptions regarding the history of jazz in New Zealand, such as that multi-instrumentalist Walter Smith performed with Paul Whiteman in New York. That story has been floating around for decades now, and is a combination of one part truth and one part wishful thinking. Smith was part of a group of Maori Mormon missionaries who went to the United States in 1893, when he was about 10 years old. As a consequence he grew up there and studied music at Brigham Young University before becoming a professional musician on the vaudeville circuit, initially with Ed Montgomery’s Royal Hawaiian Quintette (who toured the continental US). In 1910 Smith formed his own group, the Hawaii-Maorian Quartet and toured on the vaudeville circuit until the Mormon Church recalled him to New Zealand in 1913. Now, while it’s entirely possible that Smith and Whiteman crossed paths at some point, Whiteman did not begin to lead ensembles until after Smith had returned to New Zealand.
There is one other big myth that I was able to clear up, but I’ll save that for another post.