Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The life of keyboard player, composer and innovative jazz musician Murray McNabb was full of ironies.
He was a jazz (and beyond) player who was initially inspired by Thelonious Monk but mostly earned his living anonymously writing advertising jingles.
He co-wrote the music for one of New Zealand’s most successful feature films but his is not the name most people would remember from it.
And, not the least of the ironies, there have been more of his albums released since his death than in the previous decade.
McNabb – who died in 2013, age 66 – was one of this country’s most interesting but often unacknowledged musicians. His only music award came in the late 70s for the self-titled, jazz-fusion album by Dr Tree, the group he co-founded with drummer Frank Gibson Jnr.
It won in the rock category but as he would tell Trevor Reekie for NZ Musician magazine in mid 2013, “they re-released it in 2007, buggered if I know why. I certainly never made any money out of Dr Tree, apart from selling one of my songs to TVNZ for a current affairs programme.
“I got $200 for the music, that’s the only accounting of any sort I’ve ever seen from Dr Tree.”
And that was why McNabb disappeared into the studio to record advertising jungles and soundtracks. It was far more lucrative and also allowed him to do exactly what he wanted to do in his own music.
“I had absolutely no compunction about selling myself to the advertising world,” he laughed, shortly before his death from cancer which he knew was going to kill him. “I do them so I can make jazz records. I’ve really enjoyed making commercials. The only thing better [than making jazz albums] is playing live music in an improvised situation. Apart from that, commercials and soundtracks are where it’s at for me.”
It was my privilege to spend an afternoon talking with McNabb – Gibson by his side – about his life, career and what he knew was coming: “I don’t worry about death, I have my own feelings about that.”
He was funny, feisty, had recently recorded again and was on morphine daily . . .
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