Got a Little Rhythm

This page is devoted to accompanying material for my article ‘Got a Little Rhythm? The Australian influence on swing in New Zealand during the 1930s and 1940s’ (Jazz Research Journal v. 8 1-2, and it will also be appearing in the collection Antipodean Riffs: Essays on Australasian Jazz ed. Bruce Johnson, Equinox 2016). I will be updating this page periodically with information about musicians and venues to further elucidate the information in the article. To make this page readable for people who have not read the article there is some overlap for the sake of clarity, and this page is designed to be enjoyed in and of itself as well as supplementary material for the article.

Contents

Musician Profiles:

W. Stan ‘Tut’ Coltman

Theo Walters

The sidemen and other influential musicians

What the papers had to say

Jazz on the Radio

Mt Maunganui: New Zealand’s Summer Jazz Mecca

Touring the Provinces

Jazz in the Theatre

Venue Profiles:

Adelphi Cabaret

Majestic Cabaret

Peter Pan Cabaret

Frascati’s Cabaret

Musicians Union: Australia versus New Zealand

Bibliography and Sources


 

Musician Profiles

W. Stan ‘Tut’ Coltman

W. Stan ‘Tut’ Coltman began his performing career in Sydney apparently immediately after leaving high school. His first known engagement began early 1926 when he joined Keith Connolly’s Syncopating Jesters while they were in Sydney before they embarked on a tour of West Australia on the Tivoli vaudeville circuit. How long he remained with the Syncopating Jesters is unknown, but it was likely until the end of the tour in September 1926.

Coltman’s next known gig was with Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band in the second half of 1927. From what I have been able to discover Coltman remained with Smith until Smith left the revue in late 1929, after which Coltman (and some of the other Smith band members) remained with the revue until the middle of 1930. During the 1920s the Smith band was considered one of the hottest jazz bands in Australia, frequently outdoing imported American bands at playing “the real thing…stimulating, seductive jazz”. During this period Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band toured primarily on the Fullers Vaudeville circuit around Australia and New Zealand and Coltman’s first tour of New Zealand with Smith came in May 1928. The period with the Smith organization introduced Coltman to many Australian and New Zealand musicians that would he would regularly work with after leaving Smith, including banjoist, Cluny McPherson, saxophonists Jimmy Coates and Tommy Stratton, and trombonist Frank Coughlan. The period with Smith also taught Coltman about the art of improvisation (as much of their act was improvised on stage), and would have improved his showmanship skills. By the time the band was playing in the revue Coltman was a featured soloist, and was being noted in the press independently of the band.

Coltman’s next known gig was with Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band in the second half of 1927. From what I have been able to discover Coltman remained with Smith until Smith left the League of Notions revue in late 1929, after which Coltman (and some of the other Smith band members) remained with the revue until the middle of 1930. During the 1920s the Smith band was considered one of the hottest jazz bands in Australia, frequently outdoing imported American bands at playing “the real thing…stimulating, seductive jazz” (Bourke 2010: 21). During this period Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band toured primarily on the Fullers Vaudeville circuit around Australia and New Zealand and Coltman’s first tour of New Zealand with Smith came in May 1928. The period with the Smith organization introduced Coltman to many Australian and New Zealand musicians that would he would regularly work with after leaving Smith, including banjoist, Cluny McPherson, saxophonists Jimmy Coates and Tommy Stratton, and trombonist Frank Coughlan. The period with Smith also taught Coltman about the art of improvisation (as much of their act was improvised on stage), and would have improved his showmanship skills. By the time the band was playing in the League of Notions revue Coltman was a featured soloist, and was being noted in the press independently of the band.

Coltman left the revue in Brisbane in 1930 and remained in the area spending the rest of 1930 (and early 1931) playing with a number of bands in cabarets and on the radio. He played with a variety of bands in Brisbane spanning vaudeville/light entertainment, dance and jazz bands including Frank Coughlan and Ernie Mitchell’s band, and the Tom Kane Band. It is unknown whether he formally or informally led any bands while he was in Brisbane, however, and his career to this point could be described as his apprenticeship period. During this period Coltman had risen from a ‘green’ sideman to an experienced soloist who had experience in a wide range of musical situations, and who had worked with a wide range of musicians. It is unknown how deliberate a choice Coltman made in leading a band (whether this was the next logical step in his career, or whether it was the right opportunity at the right time), but his first known experience was to occur not in Australia, but across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.

In April 1931 (Easter weekend) Coltman embarked on a residency at Wellington’s Adelphi Cabaret with Cluny McPherson (banjo), Jimmy Coates (saxophone), Jimmy Downes, Bill Thompson, and Frank Chapple. The residency lasted eighteen months during which time some of the original musicians were replaced by locals, including his former Smith bandmate Tommy Stratton and Syd French on saxophones, and Alan Brown on drums. In addition to their residency at the Adelphi the band regularly performed for charity or private balls, such as for the Unemployment Benefit’s Cinderella Ball, but they also performed on stage for theatrical events One such was the J.C. Williamson Christmas film programme, performing in the interval as Tut Coltman’s Royal Melodians.

After the residency ended in November 1932 Coltman took the band on a tour of the lower North Island- as far north as New Plymouth on the west coast and Napier in the east. The tour consisted primarily of one-night-stands in small country towns for local dances, giving the provinces a taste of the latest jazz from Wellington that they would usually only hear on the radio. Coltman returned to Wellington for the Christmas season and an engagement at The Ritz before returning to Australia early in 1933.

On his return to Australia Coltman settled once again in Sydney and was employed by his former sideman Jimmy Coates for a residency at the Empress Ballroom. Coltman would remain with the Coates band until 1937. In early 1937 Coltman toured New Zealand with Coates, and likely set up his next tour of New Zealand during that tour.

In September 1937 Tut Coltman once again returned for an extensive tour of New Zealand with his new band the Swingstars. During this tour the band resided at the Majestic Cabaret in Wellington from September 30 1937 to July 1938, and regularly broadcast from the cabaret via relay on station 2YA and in-studio for the light entertainment programme Revudeville and Rhythm on 2YD. A mix of Australian and New Zealand musicians the Coltman band quickly proved itself to be popular among dancers and musicians, and Coltman was noted for encouraging the arranging abilities of his musicians. By the end of their residence at the Majestic in 1938 the Coltman band featured a number of Wellington jazz musicians, including saxophonists Bob Girvan (also one of the band’s arrangers) and Tiny McMahon, pianists Noel Fields and Claude Bennett, and drummer Allan Brown. The Coltman band concluded their contract at the Majestic in early July 1938 to be replaced by another overseas band: Sammy Lee and His World Famous Americanadians the first American swing band to tour New Zealand.

In August 1938 Tut Coltman and his Swingstars, which now mostly consisted of New Zealand musicians, embarked on a tour of New Zealand. As can be seen in the timeline above, the band started by touring the lower North Island, until October, before moving on to the middle North Island then onto the upper North Island in late 1938, before heading back down to Mount Maunganui and Tauranga for Christmas and New Year gigs. Most of these gigs were one-night stands in small towns, with occasionally longer engagements (two or three nights) in larger towns. In 1939 Coltman took the band down to the South Island, again touring mostly small towns, before taking a residency at Frascati’s (a restaurant/cabaret), in Christchurch in mid-1939. The Coltman band remained in Christchurch, except for summer engagements in Mount Maunganui, until Coltman decided to return to Australia early in the war.

Coltman’s influence on the New Zealand jazz scene was primarily in bringing swing to the masses. The Coltman Band toured extensively, and importantly, took swing out of the urban environment. Music Maker praised Coltman for including small towns on his tours, taking the time to introduce swing to the locals and making it accessible to a wider audience (rather than just to jazz fans). Tut Coltman was also strongly influential in encouraging the New Zealand musicians in his band to compose and arrange. I believe that this had a direct effect on the increasing importance of arranging and composition to New Zealand jazz musicians throughout the 1940s.

Theo Walters

Saxophonist Theo Walters began his performing career in Perth circa 1928 in small dance and variety bands. As a sideman he played mostly in cabarets and for charity shows, and by late 1928 Walters began leading a band at Perth’s Luna Park’s Palais de Danse Walters remained in Perth playing in and leading bands (occasionally also substituting for other leaders) until 1932 when he moved to Sydney and began leading the first incarnation of his Personality Band at the Croydon Palais. This band gained significant local media attention with sellout crowds, and by early 1933 Walters had come to the notice of Australian Dance Band News who profiled him, noting that he had the only ten-piece band in Sydney at that time, which was proving a hit with dancers, as much for their showmanship as for their music.

Walters remained based in Sydney until 1936 when he would tour New Zealand. Walters appears to have been very forward-thinking about how to gain the best exposure for his bands. In addition to the performances in cabarets, for private parties and for charity concerts, the Walters band regularly broadcast on radio (primarily relays from cabarets), and also regularly performed on film shorts and newsreel entertainment. The latter activity may account for his reception in New Zealand.

The Theo Walters Personality Band debuted at the Majestic Cabaret, Wellington, in September 1936 and quickly became popular with Wellington dancers and musicians. The band consisted of Walters on saxophone, George Dobson (trumpet), Geoff “Dutchy” Turner on trombone, Bernie Duggan on piano and accordion and Lal Martin (drums). During their residence the quintet regularly broadcast on radio, primarily via relay from the Majestic on 2YA. The New Zealand Radio Record and Electric Home Journal ecstatically previewed the band’s first broadcast in Wellington and included a selection of the music to be broadcast. The programme as noted by Radio Record appears to be a mix of popular songs (presumably swing arrangements) such as A Beautiful Lady in Blue, and original compositions such as Walters novelty song Woboididdy with only one piece that could be considered a jazz standard: Tiger Rag. The selections appear to indicate that the repertoire was chosen to appeal to a wide audience, and that Walters’ conception of swing was primarily in performance practice rather than repertoire.

In early 1937 the Walters band departed Wellington for a residence at the Peter Pan Cabaret in Auckland. Billed as ‘Australia’s Greatest Showman’ Walters had expanded the band to feature his original Australian musicians and New Zealand musicians Baden Brown and Jim Watters on saxophones, Vern Wilson and Phil Campbell on trumpets, and George Campbell (brother to Phil) on bass. The Theo Walters Band debuted at the Peter Pan on January 23 for a three-month residency. Their first Auckland engagement was not at the Peter Pan, however. They had been contracted by station 1ZB to play a starring role in the Community Sing at the Auckland Town Hall on January 22. The Radio Record article that announced this event concluded that the Community Sing, and its related broadcast would be good publicity for the band, gaining them a wide audience.

The Auckland correspondent for Australian Music Maker and Dance Band News noted that the Walters band was of great “educational value” for the local jazz scene. The band was known for their instrumental versatility, their emulation of the Benny Goodman swing style and, importantly, for their showmanship. This was dramatically different from many New Zealand bands in this period. According to contemporary reports, New Zealand musicians’ concept of showmanship was virtually non-existent.
Reports in Australian Music Maker indicate that the Walters band impressed Auckland musicians and dancing audiences with their musical and comedic presentations between dance sets. Reports in newspaper’s women’s columns also indicate that the columnists were extremely impressed by the band, calling them “masters of syncopated rhythm,” and praising their swing arrangements and musical versatility. Their repertoire, as published in the reports, appears to have been a combination of popular and novelty music such as We’ll Make the People Sway, and I Adore You.

After the conclusion of their Peter Pan residency in March 1937 Walters took the band on a short two-week tour of North Island provincial towns, returning for another residency at the Peter Pan from April 10. This residency lasted until September 18 when Walters took the band on a more extensive tour of New Zealand, which allowed their now extensive fan base outside of Auckland and Wellington to see the band before the Australian contingent returned to Australia at the end of the year.

Throughout their New Zealand tour the Walters band regularly broadcast on local radio, usually via relay from cabarets or theatres, but also in-studio, such as for the re-opening of stations 3ZB (in Christchurch) and 4ZB (in Dunedin) as part of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service in late 1937. These two radio performances firmly established the Walters band on the South Island scene.

After Walters returned to Australia he was soon engaged at the Oriental (formerly the Ginger Jar) in Sydney with a band that was almost identical to the personnel of his original New Zealand tour Personality Band. The Walters band soon re-established themselves on the Sydney scene and in addition to their cabaret/club work, they began broadcasting on station 2GB.

By the middle of 1938 Walters and his Personality Band formed the nucleus of American bandleader Jay Whidden’s band and were performing in Melbourne. The Whidden band remained in Melbourne for the rest of 1938. Initial reports indicated that Walters and his men were to return to the United States with Whidden. However in 1939 the Whidden band was taken over by American-British bandleader Roy Fox.

Walters and his sidemen remained with Fox until February 1939 when Fox suddenly disengaged Walters. While Walters’ now former sidemen remained with Fox, Walters quickly organised a new band and engagements on the Hoyts Theatre circuit. However, Fox soon re-employed Walters as a vocalist and it was rumoured that Walters was to follow Roy Fox first to the United States and then onto. Unexpectedly however, Theo Walters (sans band) returned to New Zealand in November 1939, which surprised both his Australian and New Zealand colleagues and audiences. He began his second New Zealand tour by leading the house band at the Peter Pan Cabaret. Soon however, he was splitting this band’s time between the Peter Pan, and theatre and radio engagements.

By the middle of 1941 Walters negotiated a contract with Auckland’s 1ZB for his band to be the 1ZB house band. This contract had the music industry buzzing: rumour had it that this contract was the highest paid broadcasting contract in New Zealand. This was astounding to the musical community because the New Zealand Commercial Broadcasting Service was notorious for being parsimonious. The contract terms, according to the letter shown  here , were quite generous: for the initial 3 months contract the government would pay each musician 9 pounds per week. Walters also adds that he would be interested in having this band appear at ‘a cabaret’ likely the Peter Pan, which would be an additional 30 shillings per week for a total of 10 guineas, which in today’s currency means that each musician in the band was earning approximately 1500 dollars per week. To briefly put this into perspective the average weekly wage for a man in a skilled job in 1941 was approximately 6 pounds, while the average pay for a musician was between 1 and 2 pounds per gig. Further, under the Radio Dance Band system in 1949 the musicians would be paid 3 pounds 7 shillings and 6 pence per week.

For this contract the Theo Walters band not only became the house band for 1ZB (in the new Radio Theatre), but also possibly the most prominent swing band in New Zealand. The band’s primary programme was ‘Band Waggon’ on Friday evenings, which was touted as a half hour showcase of their abilities, but they also provided music for a number of other programmes during the course of the week. Unfortunately this did not last long as the war intruded and the band disbanded in late 1941 when Walters joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Walters remained with the RNZAF throughout the war, working his way up the ranks to eventually become the leader of their swing band, The Swing Wing in 1944. Walters was released from military service in early 1945 and returned to Australia. By April 1945 Walters was leading a band at the Cocoanut Grove in Brisbane. As Coltman had, Walters traded on his New Zealand activities and his military service, especially as leader of the RNZAF Swing Wing, to promote himself. Walters remained at the Cocoanut Grove for most of 1945 before transferring his talents primarily to radio in late 1945. Walters continued basing his career in radio with the majority of his live engagements being a result of his status as a radio star. However, it appears that Walters switched from being a bandleader to a musical comedian, with band work becoming a secondary function.

The sidemen and other influential musicians

Coltman and Walters were not the sole musicians to influence swing in New Zealand during the 1930s and 1940s. Their sidemen and other earlier musicians such as Linn Smith also played important roles in how New Zealander’s conceived of jazz. In this section I will give some short profiles of some of these musicians supported Coltman and Walters.

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.

 

Jazz on the Radio

I discussed the radio activities of the Coltman and Walters band above, but their activities did not occur in isolation. This section places their activities into the wider context of the broadcast of jazz in New Zealand during the 1930s and early 1940s.

The broadcasting of jazz recordings in the early swing era gradually became more inclusive. This inclusiveness was assisted by the appointment of jazz fan and former musician Bob Bothamley to the position of Programme Organiser for Dance Music and Jazz Broadcasts at the National Broadcasting Service [NBS]. The position was created to coordinate the relay broadcasts and recordings of all dance music across the NBS stations (the YA designations). As the programming organiser for dance music and jazz, a significant part of Bothamley’s role at NBS was the importation of jazz recordings. The NBS had standing orders with a number of record labels around the world, and head office in Wellington received new releases usually within two or thee weeks of a records release date in Britain or the United States.

The radio audience also heard foreign jazz in a live, local, context with the relay broadcasts of the Walters, Coltman and Lee bands from various venues around New Zealand. Both Walters and Coltman  were broadcast from venues in both the main centres and smaller towns. Lee, however, was based first in Wellington and then Auckland. All three of these bands made their first New Zealand swing era broadcasts relayed from the Majestic Cabaret in Wellington on station 2YA. Both jazz fans and general listeners enthusiastically received the relay broadcasts by all of these bands. The bands’ relay broadcasts were praised by listeners in letters to the editor, and in the New Zealand columns of the Australia Music Maker to be musically and technically excellent. In these letters the writers often compared the relays by the Coltman, Walters and Lee bands to local bands relay broadcasts, with the local bands usually bearing the brunt of listener criticism. The criticism was often because the local bands were less experienced in broadcasting and, except for vocalists, they were not used to dealing with microphones. Nor were they experienced in gauging the balance between instruments, except for in a wholly live setting. However there was also occasional musical criticism aimed at local bands for unimaginative arrangements or issues with musical technique.

In addition to their regular Wednesday night relay broadcasts from the Majestic, the Americanadians and Tut Coltman’s Swing Stars both performed in studio for vaudeville/light entertainment programmes. The Americanadians were part of 2YAs Sunshine Show on 2YA and 2YC, while the Swing Stars were involved with 2YDs Revuedeville and Rhythm. Both of these shows appear to have been a mix revue or vaudeville style entertainment with interludes by a jazz band. Although little is known about the format of these shows, and how large a role either of these bands played in them they would have had the effect of bringing both of these bands to a wider audience.

Both the Walters and Lee bands spent a significant amount of time residing at Auckland’s Peter Pan and Cabaret Metropole respectively in the late 1930s. As part of their engagement contract both bands broadcast via relay regularly on Auckland’s 1ZB (Walters) and 1YA (Lee) stations. These broadcasts received a great deal of attention in Auckland and as with their Majestic broadcasts were very well received by fans and the general audience alike.

The Radio Record appears to have had a close connection to the Walters Band as the publication wrote about the band in detail. Unlike the bands of Coltman and Lee, Radio Record wrote about the Walters bands’ first broadcasts on 2YA and 1ZB. In addition to this there were items that mentioned when they were moving from Wellington to Auckland, where they would be playing and on when their next broadcast would be. This publicity was valuable to all parties concerned, and brought the band to the forefront of the radio audiences’ consciousness.

As mentioned in the section above, these three bands strongly influenced New Zealand jazz, and their radio work extended this influence. Commentators of jazz in New Zealand often remarked on the excellent microphone technique that these bands had on relay broadcasts, especially in comparison to New Zealand bands. While this was more a matter of practice, and becoming used to utilising microphones, it was a way that the Walters, Coltman and Lee bands stood out from New Zealand bands, and which made local musicians take notice.

The broadcast of swing records possibly began around the middle of 1936. By December 1936, swing records had a definite presence on New Zealand stations. However the trend for stating ‘dance music,’ for all of the dance music sessions (be they old–time or swing) continued in the Radio Record throughout the rest of the 1930s. There were two exceptions to this: the ‘artist hour’ programmes and the ten to fifteen minute Jazz Virtuosi programmes.

The ‘artist hours,’ were an hour devoted to the recordings of a specific artist, for example Bob Crosby. The Jazz Virtuosi programmes were similar, but on a smaller scale, usually fifteen to twenty minutes. Most of these programmes were devoted to a single artist, such as Red Nicholls, but occasionally the programmers would choose to focus on a broader topic, such as British musicians. Both of these programmes presented what was essentially a concentrated dose of a specific artist. For jazz fans these programmes would have been important, as they did not have to listen to other styles of dance music, as they did in the dance music programmes, to hear jazz.

In 1937 The Radio Record debuted a column on jazz called ‘Tempo di Jazz.’ This column was primarily about British jazz, and mostly about the older style of jazz. The column took the form of what might be called musical gossip: small two or three sentence items about a particular musician or band, recordings and tours. The column appears to have lasted little over a year, and while only slightly informative it would have helped readers, who were not necessarily jazz fanatics, connect with the wider jazz world, and perhaps to become jazz fanatics in the end.

The main point of dissemination of foreign jazz on New Zealand radio in the late 1930s was through the Friday night Modern Dance Music session on Wellington’s 2YA. From July 1937 this session was hosted by jazz fanatic Arthur Pearce who was already well–known in jazz circles for his knowledge of jazz, especially American jazz. Under his auspices the Modern Dance Music session soon began playing more swing and other hot jazz (as opposed to light or commercial jazz) records. Over the last years of the 1930s the session evolved into an hour of jazz recordings, the majority of which were American recordings.

By the end of the decade the programme, now known as Rhythm on Record, was the programme to listen to if you were a jazz fan or musician as Pearce not only had the latest jazz recordings, but also less known recordings and artists that were harder to acquire in New Zealand. Musicians and fans from this era credit Pearce, known on air as Turntable, for their knowledge of the minutiae of jazz, especially American jazz. The effect that Pearce had on the audience is evident in several tales of Rhythm on Record fans being in the United States and being able to stun American jazz aficionados with their intimate knowledge of American jazz. Rhythm on Record was the most influential programme in bringing New Zealand audiences foreign, particularly American, jazz. It was the most focused and knowledgeable jazz programme on New Zealand radio during the late 1930s. Pearce was insistent that there was an audible difference between dance music and jazz, and British and American jazz, and he would regularly present these differences to the audience.

Pearce’s passion for jazz shone through in the efforts he made in sourcing records and their accompanying information (side personnel, composition information, et cetera). His passion for educating the audience about jazz was aptly demonstrated through the political battles he fought to keep Rhythm on Record at the same time each week, and in convincing station and National Broadcasting Service officials to allow him a freer hand with music selection.

The broadcast of jazz in the late 1930s continued the (possibly unintended) educational aspects that musicians and fans had begun to use in the early 1930s. In the later 1930s however, there were more local broadcasts (both of records, and live bands either in studio or via relay) that would help them extend their knowledge of jazz. For musicians the broadcasts continued, and expanded the development local repertoire and the incipient localised jazz culture.

During the Second World War broadcasting in New Zealand was fraught with difficulties and, as a result underwent a number of significant changes. While many of these changes were short–term results of the war, some of them affected broadcasting throughout the war, and after it. Most of these changes affected the overall structure of broadcasting in New Zealand, but some impacted directly on the broadcasting of jazz during the war.

Mt Maunganui: New Zealand’s Summer Jazz Mecca

In the 1930s and 1940s Mt Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty was a favourite summer playground for North Islanders. The Mount, as it is affectionately known, also provided a lot of works for jazz bands from the 1920s into the 1960s with musicians and their families frequently setting up camp there or across the harbour in Tauranga for the Christmas/New Year season. Even though it was a mix of camping and baching and lots of fun in the sand and surf, the main evening events naturally included dances- frequently outdoors with the band in a sound shell or a rotunda.

Summer seasons at The Mount were very well paid- sometimes three or four times as much as musicians could get on a regular dance gig- making it very profitable for bands to arrange gigs there. This is also true of other popular summer spots around New Zealand, and there were many that were popular among musicians. What makes Mount Maunganui special though is the sheer scope and size of their season. The summer season would begin just before Christmas (usually around December 20) and would last until near the end of January, with multiple gigs to be had for bands. Even on Christmas Day (a day when everything traditionally shuts down) there were dances being held in the evening. From Boxing Day (December 26) through to January 3 there were carnivals of all descriptions during the day and into the evening (beach/surf carnivals and horse racing carnivals being two of the most popular), with music and dancing as popular entertainments.

Theo Walters’s bands never seem to have made an appearance at The Mount or any other summer spot- preferring to remain in towns while he was in New Zealand. However, Tut Coltman’s band performed seasons at Mount Maunganui during his late 1930s tour. Little was every written about the Coltman band’s engagements at The Mount- except for the usual social reports in the New Zealand columns of Australian Music Maker and Dance Band News. However it’s likely that they played the same types of gigs as local bands did since Coltman placed an emphasis on getting jazz out to the people rather than being famous himself.

Venue Profiles:

Adelphi Cabaret

Majestic Cabaret

The Majestic Cabaret a part of Wellington’s Majestic Theatre located at 100 Willis Street opened on May 13 1929. The cabaret was initially a lounge where refreshments would be served throughout the day and evening, and while they would have informal after theatre supper and dancing (initially two public evenings a week), they were not a cabaret.

Majestic Theatre Willis St Wellington 1930s cropped

The evolution from a Lounge with informal dancing to a cabaret appears to have occurred over the first three or four years of its operation. By the middle of 1931 the Majestic Lounge had a resident band led by Frank Crowther, and by the middle of 1932 the Majestic Lounge/Cabaret was used for cabaret evenings hosted by people or organisations that had hired the venue, but the public evenings run by the theatre management appear to have remained the informal dancing and suppers as originally advertised in 1929.

The beginning of 1933 saw both new management and a new band led by violinist Dennis Collinson, a former member of the Crowther band. The Majestic Lounge and Cabaret as it was now known expanded on the earlier activities by having dancing every afternoon and evening, and by holding regular public cabaret evenings. Over the next two years the Majestic Cabaret would have a number of resident bands. However, little was ever mentioned in the newspapers about these bands, except that they played the latest dance music.

Majestic Cabaret circa 1934

By the late 1930s the Majestic Cabaret had become the hottest jazz spot in Wellington. As noted above both the Theo Walters and Tut Coltman bands had long residences at the Majestic in the late 1930s, as did a number of other international bands (including the illustrious Sammy Lee and his World Famous Americanadians in 1938/1939). For local bands the Majestic was considered one of the most prestigious venues to get a gig at. Bandleaders from across New Zealand would vie for the chance at a residency. Lauri Paddi the famed Peter Pan Cabaret (Auckland) bandleader would lead bands at the Majestic frequently in the late 1930s.

During World War Two The Majestic Cabaret became a favourite place for young officers and their dates- particularly when the United States troops were in residence between 1942 and 1944. Local and U.S. troops bands vied to play for the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that crowded the city. Jitterbugging became the signature dance (to the point that there were signs warning young ladies not to jitterbug in full skirts, please), much to the delight of the jazz bands who could cut loose on serious swing repertoire. By the end of the war the Majestic’s signature glass dance floor had to be replaced as it had finally shattered under the tread of heavy military dress boots.

Peter Pan Cabaret

Peter Pan space  Peter Pan-Montmartre copy

Where the original Peter Pan Cabaret was

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.

 

Bonus- film footage of the Art Rosoman Peter Pan Band from 1946:

Frascati’s Cabaret

One comment

  1. Thanks for the excellent article on Theo Walters. I studied with his trumpet-player, George Dobson, much later in the 1970s and he was an outstanding arranger and player. I have most of his musical estate and am writing a bio on him, so this information was terrific to fill in the NZ period of 1936-37. George and Dutchy returned to Australia take up positions in the new ABC National Dance Orchestra of 1937. Both of them played many of the very top dance venues across Australia during this period. I would love to make contact and possibly gain more information. I also have a recording of Theo Walters’ Personality Band from a NZ broadcast of the period of which you write. The title is “Goody Goody”, a contemporary hit of the time.

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