Victoria University Press
Norman Meehan – an amazing musician in his own right, working, largely in and around jazz – is also an accomplished writer and educator. And his books, to date, have focussed around conversations. But where previously, it was all conversations with one person for a published collection of dialogues – and then a dedicated biography of Mike Nock built from conversations, his latest offering, New Zealand Jazz Life, features multiple voices; multiple voices but distilled down into the calm, compassionate, thoughtful voice of Meehan the author. Here he offers essays, think-pieces and interview-driven profiles of key players – the topic is jazz in New Zealand. That’s a springboard for discussions with musicians that started here and found fame abroad (Nathan Haines) and for those that did the yards abroad and returned home (Brian Smith) as well as those that have never left home but are always wandering, searching, “Travelling” in at least some sense (Anthony Donaldson).
Lucien Johnson even bluntly puts it that making jazz, for a living, in this country is borderline untenable – a dud move, a dumb move.
Meehan wisely doesn’t judge – he presents, shares, shapes, but it’s always with the wisdom of a critic, the aim of a curator. He collects a range of thoughts from a range of musicians, the hero-stories, the dying-on-stage bits, the graft, the inspiration, the perspiration and he weaves his own score from these thoughts and the ones of his own, added in a bonding-agent sort of way, added as if part of the thread. And then from there part of the tapestry.
It’s a must-have, must-read book for Kiwi jazz musicians, and I would think there’s a lot of great stuff here – attitudes, approaches, inventiveness, resourcefulness – that transcends the genre; makes this book useful for Kiwi musicians and music-fans across all genres. It’s also a potted history – capturing great yarns from brilliant players, important players, as well as shining the light on some of the lesser-covered contributors to our culture.