Local Produce | Jazz Club

Local Produce | Jazz Club

The student-led Otago University Jazz Club formed at the start of the year to perform weekly jam sessions to a live audience. The club describes itself as “a collection of students who are interested in playing and listening to jazz.” Jazz Club founder and pianist Matthew Tait, said, “[the gigs] are as much for jamming as they are for socialising.” There is no barrier to entry, with all skill and interest levels being welcome to join. “You don’t have to be John Coltrane to play,” said saxophonist Isaac. 

Critic Te Ārohi went to one of the Jazz Club’s Tuesday night gigs at the Dish Café & Bar to vibe to some jazz over kai and drinks. Seb, a trombonist and aspiring hip-hop artist, said the evening included “a tasteful selection of jazz classics performed by inspiring young jazz musicians to a healthy crowd of nacho-loving jazz enthusiasts.”

The wide variety of sub-genres of jazz makes the style difficult to pin down. “In the course of one night there's quite a lot that gets played. We’ll start off with some swing, have a couple ballads then towards the end we tend to get more funky,” said Matthew. Trombonist Finn told Critic Te Ārohi that instead of playing traditional “straight ahead jazz”, the Dunedin-based musicians prefered the freedom of more experimental and funk styles which would ordinarily be considered to be outside the realms of the jazz canon. “What we lose in technical skill we make up for wild, loose freedom,” said Finn.

The “house band” comprises around five students who are reliably there every week as they “never know who is gonna show up [to play],” said Finn. The band typically prepares a couple songs in advance, before leaving the stage open to impromptu suggestions between songs. “If you name a song that everyone knows, you're applauded,” said Finn. This creates a relaxed atmosphere which encourages aspiring musicians to get amongst. First year guitarists Dylan and Alex were relatively new to the jazz scene. “It’s definitely more of a hobby than a career for me,” said Dylan, who studies FYHS. Putting yourself out there always creates a degree of risk. However, Alex said that the best way to learn is by “throwing yourself in the deep end.”

The Jazz Club originally started as a niche jam session amongst friends. “For a while we had between three to six people playing for an hour or so in a room at OUSA,” said Finn. An idea to have a more public jam session soon developed into searching for a venue. “Finding places to play has been tough,” said Dylan. This has been made especially difficult given the recent closures of local gig venues (RIP Starters). However, with the help of the Dunedin Jazz Foundation, the dream of a gig venue became a reality in the form of The Dish Café on 8 Stafford Street. “It can be a bit of a trek [so] it would be nice a wee bit closer, but you take what you can get,” said Alex. 

The Jazz Club has grown rapidly, doubling their player base and performing to a crowd of over 40 people within a month. From their humble beginnings of having low-key jam sessions at OUSA, to what one audience member described as the “resurgence of Dunedin music,” Finn hopes to see the Jazz Club continue to grow; “I’m confident that we’ve built enough traction that if one or two people move away it wouldn't go under immediately.” 

Meanwhile, Matthew has set his sights on organising gigs around town for “[jazz] trios and quartets,” in addition to the club’s regular Tuesday jam sessions. Aside from numbers, increasing the diversity of performers is a major focus for the Jazz Club. “Gender imbalances are across a lot of music in general which is still present in our situation,” said Finn. Matthew was open about the fact that “[jazz] is very male dominated,” adding that he wanted to change that.

Matthew encourages students to take a break from the DnB grind and “come experience a new genre of music.” The Jazz Club plays on Tuesdays at 6 till 8:30pm at the Dish. Anyone is free to come and vibe to some jazz, or better yet, get amongst. The club is especially looking for people who play bass clarinet and trumpet. You can follow and reach out to the Otago University Jazz Club on Facebook. Matthew is also in the process of creating an insta page and YouTube channel so stay tuned.

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2022.
Posted 5:02pm Friday 19th August 2022 by Zak Rudin.