Auckland’s Jazz Heritage

This page is devoted to the jazz scene in Auckland from the earliest days of jazz to today. On this page you will find links to articles/blogs that have been written on jazz in Auckland (both by myself and other people), recordings, and films. I will also include profiles on people and places that haven’t been written about elsewhere. While this page was created specifically to accompany a talk on Auckland’s Jazz Heritage that I did for International Jazz Day and New Zealand Music Month, I envision that this page will be updated with other bits and pieces as I do more research.

Note: You don’t need to have attended the talk to enjoy this page!

Note 2Since it’s sometimes impossible to keep things on a regional scale some of the articles have a more national focus.

The Jazz Age

Jazz Venues:

The Dixieland Cabaret:


Dixieland-1922- interior

The Dixieland Interior


Jazz Fans:


Jazz People:

Vern Wilson:

Linn Smith:

In the 1920s and 1930s most of the jazz bands that toured New Zealand would tour on the vaudeville circuits rather than organising residencies at cabarets as Tut Coltman and Theo Walters did. The majority of the jazz bands on the vaudeville circuits would only tour New Zealand once, although some, such as Australian Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band would tour repeatedly. As well as playing as Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band in the vaudeville shows on both Fullers and J.C. Williamson circuits they put their reputation to good use when they appeared in the revues Good Morning Dearie, and Kid Boots produced by J.C. Williamson in New Zealand. The Linn Smith Band had a significant impact on New Zealand jazz through their repeated tours and through alumni Dave Meredith and Tut Coltman who would lead important bands in New Zealand during the late 1920s and 1930s.

According to Australian press, Linn Smith was one of the first Australian musicians to be able to challenge the American domination of Australian jazz scene in the early 1920s. In Australia Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band was considered on a par with the American jazz bands on the Australian scene playing “the real thing…stimulating, seductive jazz.” His Royal Jazz Band made their first appearance in New Zealand as part of Fullers Vaudeville in late 1923, and this debut was considered a great success by the local press. This tour would be the first of many throughout the 1920s, with the band appearing in vaudeville and revue shows on both circuits until approximately 1929.

One of Smith’s contemporaries, Australian jazz brass player and bandleader Frank Coughlan, described the band’s vaudeville acts as being “the epitome of jazz,” which was “the popular music of the day jazzed up.” According to jazz historian John Whiteoak this was jazz in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band tradition, where the ‘jazz’ came primarily from instrumental effects, and secondarily from improvisation. As neither Smith on piano, nor his drummer, could read music the bands’ act apparently changed infrequently. New Zealand saxophonist Abe Romain, who joined Smith in the late 1920s, stated that the act was developed around a ‘loop’ score: a descriptive score that had a sequence of short musical sections, which could be reorganised at will during the course of a performance. Because of the use of such a score, and the infrequency of change, Smith’s musicians were able, over time, to add embellishments to the arrangements and to hone and perfect their improvisations within the act.

The Linn Smith Band was widely admired in the press for their showmanship, and for their ability to create wild improvisations, while retaining the tempo and melody of the music they were playing. However, the press reaction was not uniformly positive with some reviewers longing for “the real cornet and trombone tone, instead of the muted ‘squeak’ and the lugubrious saxophones.” By this they meant the tones of the brass band as opposed to jazz, which was considered to be derivative at best and an atrocity at worst.

According to reports in the press, the Smith band was enormously popular with New Zealand audiences. However, it is unknown how much interaction they had with local musicians. Chris Bourke states that they made a “lasting impact on the dance scene,” but does not discuss how the band affected the scene. The fact that the band toured New Zealand repeatedly meant that there were many opportunities for musicians to hear about them and their performances, but no contemporary reports from musicians remain extant. Smith’s sidemen would tour with other bands (either as sidemen or as leaders) after their tenures with Smith, so if nothing else there remained a connection with the New Zealand scene.


Bert Ralton and his World Famous Savoy Havana Band:

Bert Ralton was an American saxophonist who formed the Havana band at the Savoy Hotel, London, in 1921. The Savoy Havana Band was formed primarily of British and American musicians, who were all reputed to have extensive international experience. Although officially a part of the J.C. Williamson Super-Vaudeville tour, they were clearly top of the bill. The band arrived in Auckland December 1924 to begin their tour of New Zealand.

The Auckland press were extravagant in their praise, occasionally going as far as stating that they were “the world’s greatest jazz band,” and calling Bert Ralton the “most truly musical of all dance leaders.” Getting past the extravagant praise the Havana band seems to have been an excellent band with a fantastic stage presence and a wide repertoire.

By the time the Havana Band finished their tour with a dance at the Dixieland Cabaret in Auckland in early 1925, the band had given Auckland the widest exposure to jazz thus far. The Havana band also made a unique contribution to New Zealand music history after returning to Britain by including Pokarekare Ana in their Maori-Hula Medley circa 1925. The inclusion of this piece in the medley fascinating as it is perhaps the first time that a Maori song, sung in te reo Maori, was used in a jazz type context. In the medley Pokarekare Ana was presented ‘straight’ with no attempt to syncopate or use any instrumental effect, which might constitute jazz, though they did manage to turn it into a foxtrot.

Depression to War

Jazz Venues:

Show Boat Cabaret:

Orange Coronation Hall and Ted Croad


The Orange before the recent ‘redevelopment’ into apartments


The Ted Croad Band at the Orange Hall

Peter Pan Cabaret

Peter Pan space       Peter Pan-Montmartre copy

The space that used to be the Peter Pan Cabaret

The Peter Pan Cabaret was opened on August 21 1930 in the Campbell Buildings on the corner of Lorne and Rutland Streets in the Auckland central business district. This would be the first large stand–alone cabaret (unlike the Civic Wintergarden) to be opened in the central city since the Dixieland Cabaret moved from their Queen Street site in 1925. One of the Peter Pan’s unique features was the bandstand, which was originally situated in the middle of the dance floor so that there would be “uniform volume of sound” for the dancers. While the central bandstand idea did not last very long (it seems to have disappeared after a few months), the cabaret quickly became popular on the Auckland scene. The Peter Pan soon gained a reputation for having the best bands in Auckland. Among musicians the Peter Pan was considered a top job because of this reputation. It was also considered a great job because the managers wanted steady bands to play long residencies and were willing to pay much better than the union rate to get top calibre musicians.

The Peter Pan became the place for hosting a ball during the season (April to October) and was also a popular venue for people celebrating their 21st birthdays, engagement’s, wedding’s or any other event where you wanted to dance the night away. Some of these were private bookings, but many were just parties of people who decided that the Peter Pan was the place to be. Newspaper reports almost always mentioned the high quality of refreshments and decorations as well as bands that played the latest in dance music.

The best- known house band was that led by Lauri Paddi who reined supreme there for most of the second half of the 1930s except when he and the Peter Pan band became the Majestic Cabaret house band in 1937, when Theo Walters’s band resided at the Peter Pan (as a side note- Lauri Paddi would lead the house band at the Majestic throughout much of World War Two). The Theo Walters Personality Bands had three significant residences at the Peter Pan Cabaret (as detailed above)- two short residences in 1937 and an extended residence from late 1939 into 1941. This last residence saw Walters taking over the existing Peter Pan House Band from New Zealand’s Swing King singer/drummer Johnny Madden.

During World War Two The Peter Pan crowd was something of an inadvertent witness to one of the first major (local) acts of war. On the evening of June 19 1940 a rather bedraggled man staggered into the cabaret and up to the bandstand. The musicians (Theo Walters’s Personality Band) soon realised it was Pat Watters a well-known local saxophonist and brother to Jim Watters one of their saxophonists. Although puzzled by this appearance the band carried on with their duties. It was only later that they found out that the HMS Niagara, the trans-Pacific liner that Pat Watters had booked a gig on, had been sunk by a German mine off Bream Head in Northland that morning. Watters (and everyone else- except the ship’s cat) had been saved and had spent the rest of the day returning by boat to Auckland. Pat had gone to the Peter Pan that night to see his brother to get a bed for the night.

The Art Rosoman Peter Pan Band 1946:

Civic Wintergarden

Crystal Palace

Ye Olde Pirate Shippe

Pirate Ship

On Milford Beach

Ye Old Pirate Shippe in Milford was one of the main entertainment attractions on the North Shore. In the days before the bridge going to the North Shore was a day trip- people would go to the beach, to the movies at the Picturedrome, Victoria Cinema, or one of the other beachside theatres and then go dancing. During the day Ye Olde Pirate Shippe had tearooms, a saltwater pool in the lagoon for people to splash in, and donkey rides on the beach.  There was a restaurant for evening meals and there would be dancing in the main ‘cabin’ with the bandstand placed in the ‘prow’ against a backdrop of what looked for all the world like the ship was actually sailing.

Bands would come over on the ferry from the city for the Saturday dances, which were naturally constrained by the sailing of the last ferry back to the city. The Pirate Shippe bands were generally hired for short periods of time and were regularly rotated to keep the patrons interested. As a side note there were many a young unmarried couple who would ‘miss’ the ferry and have to stay the night on the Shore!


(A history of the Picturedrome and the Speedy family in Milford)

Trocadero Supper Lounge 380-390 Queen Street (opposite the town hall)

Cabaret Metropole 506 Queen Street

El Rey

Jazz Fans:

Jazz People:

Pat McMinn:

Frank Gibson Sr:

Artie Shaw:

Epi Shalfoon and NZ’s first jazz recording:

Esme Stephens:


Esme Stephens and Friends

Theo Walters:

One of the few recordings of the Theo Walters Personality band:

Jim Warren:


Yankee Invasion:

290th Band- opening American Expeditionary Forces Auckland radio (AES Auckland- run out of the 1ZM facilities at 1YA on Shortland Street)

(No recordings sadly, but it does have the programme from the opening)

Post-War to the Swinging Sixties

Jazz Venues:

Hi Diddle Griddle:

Jazz in the Park:


Paul Lestre Goup- A Nite at the Hi Diddle Griddle


New Peter Pan

Cafe Montmatre

IMG_4371    Peter Pan-Montmartre copy

Right next door to where the ‘old’ Peter Pan cabaret was


Jazz Fans:


Jazz People:

Bernie Allen:

Alan Broadbent:

Al Paget:

Frank Gibson Jr:

Bob Gillett:

Nancy Harrie:

You can also here her accompanying (early) Mavis Rivers, Esme Stephens and Patt McMinn. Harrie is also the pianist in the long running Geddes Dental advertising jingle (along with Pat McMinn and Lee Humphries- Harrie’s husband- on vocals and George Campbell on Bass):

Tony Hopkins:

Julian Lee:

Benny Levin:

Bruce Morley

Mavis Rivers:



Brian Smith:

Mike Walker:


Jazz on the Radio- The Dance Band System

The origins of the Dance Band System came during World War Two when it became apparent that relay broadcasting was becoming dangerous. Between various personages letting slip military information in prayers and young conscripts grabbing microphones at cabarets to tell their families where they were, radio engineers had to have their fingers hovering over the off switch at all times. Until that point most of the live jazz broadcast in New Zealand had been relayed from cabarets rather than performed in the studio. The dangers from the naïve, exuberant or unconcerned had the Ministry of Broadcasting facing some difficult questions about the safety of New Zealand. At the same time there were talks between the New Zealand Musicians Union and the National and Commercial Broadcasting Service about the development of a national radio orchestra, and other prestigious radio groups. This also coincided with the American Expeditionary Broadcasting Service taking over Auckland station 1ZM, which meant the groups that performed in studio or via relay for that station lost their gigs and needed to be reassigned to other stations. The result of these events was the ‘Artists, Orchestras, Dance Bands, Instrumental Groups System’, which covered all genres of music, but was known colloquially by jazz musicians as the Radio Dance Band System.

This system built on, expanded, and refined the pre-existing in-studio live music system that had been in place since the late 1930s. The standard of groups at that time, however, was variable, as is attested in the many complaints in the letters to the editor columns in newspapers and magazines about the lack of technical ability and limited repertoire. This is what Bothamley wanted to improve: to have consistent standards across all genres, and to have a wide variety of repertoire that fit appropriately into a variety of broadcasting situations.

In the early years of the system- until the 1960s- it appears that auditions were an invitation only affair. Musicians were approached to be bandleaders and to put together a band to audition. Occasionally individual musicians were auditioned to make a new band, or to fill a need in an existing band, but this was rare. The leader had to create a fifteen-minute programme of all original arrangements that might fit with what the selection committee might have in mind. This could be as wide ranging as providing incidental music for another show, accompanying singers who were not part of the auditioning group, or being able to sustain a spotlight musical broadcast.

The auditions were both live and recorded. The bands were judged on how well they worked as a group in a live in-studio situation, how they handled the recording process and if the leader could tell what was inherently a good take from a bad one- including being knowledgeable about recording engineering and being able to talk knowledgeably about levels and microphone placement. The leader was responsible for the bands arrangements and was also judged on his arranging abilities- the arrangements that succeeded had to be modern and interesting, but not too challenging for the listener and had to show off the side musician’s to the best of their abilities. Using stock arrangements resulted in instant rejection by the auditioning committee. These stringent regulations were instituted with the aim of making the local music content as good as anything that could be heard on overseas stations, and also balanced ‘improving’, but not intimidating the listener. This strict approach appears to have been successful and by the mid-1950s to merely be invited to audition for the Dance Band System bands was considered a compliment to a musician’s technique and professionalism.

Once selected bands would be given a period of time- anywhere from fifteen-minutes to an hour- and a number of broadcasts which could be limited rights (only broadcast in a certain geographical area for four broadcasts) or full rights (nationwide broadcast for eight broadcasts). This was usually no less that two limited rights 15 minute broadcasts and no more than eight full rights one hour broadcasts- so between two and eight different musical programmes. The music that was recorded was all original arrangements and spanned a variety of moods so the music could be inserted into other programmes or broadcast as a programme in isolation. They would also be required to do a mixture of live broadcasting and pre-recorded work depending on the situations that they were contributing music to and for repeat or delayed broadcasts.

This was not a permanent gig, and bands would have to re-audition once their contracted programmes ended. Nor would they necessarily be reselected. Many bands were turned down after having been employed several times for a variety of reasons- their standards slipped, their arrangements weren’t interesting enough, or were too ambitious for the band and so on.

The effect of this system was to create stars. Audiences would tune into particular programmes to listen to their favourite bands and would seek out particular groups live gigs. Vocalists especially went from being only the girl or boy singer to stars in their own right, being able to sustain programmes or entire gigs around them rather than being a novelty in a band. The Radio Dance Band System greatly enhanced musicians’ profiles and widened their audience across the country.




Jazz People:

Murray McNabb:


Murray McNabb Trio:

Martin Winch:

Frank Gibson Jr- bands

Dr Tree: Dr Tree 1976


Space Case: Retrospective



Jazz Venues:

The London Bar:

Live at the London Bar: Phil Broadhurst, Tony Hopkins, Kevin Haines

The Alhmabra:


Millennial Jazz

1990s Venues:

High Street and Lorne Street:


Jazz People:

Nathan Haines:




Mark de Clive-Lowe:



One Million Dollars:



Relaxomatic Project:



%d bloggers like this: