Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Fox has lead his Rodger Fox Big Band, a training ground for talent, for more than four decades. A few years ago a concert audience in Auckland's Bruce Mason Centre was asked how many had passed through the band's ranks: more than half the room cheered.
In 1980s Fox took the band to Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival for the first time. Ever since ever-changing line-ups have been back to Montreux, toured Poland, appeared at festivals and clubs in Las Vegas, Wichita, Monterey and Los Angeles, played in Singapore and at Ronnie Scott's in London.
And when his Big Band didn't tour Fox would run smaller line-ups and brought some of the world's best jazz musicians here to perform and give workshops, among them guitarists John Scofield and Mike Stern, and the late organist Joey DeFrancesco (who all played with Miles Davis), soulful singers Randy Crawford and Diane Schuur, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson . . .
A man of tireless promotional energy, Fox organised his own festivals so he, his bands and international guests (among them Los Angeles session musicians Bill Reichenbach, Chuck Findley, Bobby Shew and Michael Brecker, horn players on classic pop, soul and jazz albums) could perform.
He formed the Wellington Jazz Orchestra and his Big Band has recorded with blues artist Midge Marsden and classical pianist Michael Houstoun, released an album of Dave Dobbyn songs reimagined and their most recent is Plays Hone Tuwhare inspired by the great Maori poet.
And now he is touring The Big Drum Off concerts with American jazz, rock and funk drumming stars Dennis Chambers, Gregg Bissonette and Peter Erskine who have on their CVs work with Steely Dan, Weather Report, Santana, P-Funk All Stars, Steps Ahead, Kate Bush, David Lee Roth . . .
Last year Fox was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to music.
For a man whose first musical influence was Woody Herman, was in Wellington's jazz-rockers Quincy Conserve in the 70s, has counted albums by Willie Nelson with Leon Russell, Steely Dan and Herbie Hancock's jazz-funk Head Hunters among his favourites, 70-year old Rodger Fox has come a long way.
And he's still going somewhere.
The Big Drum Off tour:
Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland, March 11; The Pa, University of Waikato, Hamilton, March 12