Swinging from punk to jazz

PUNK NO MORE: Former punk band drummer Alex Boulton found his true calling in jazz music which he performs with Oscar Laven (next picture) at Tairawhiti Museum on Sunday. Pictures supplied
Oscar Lavan

POWERVIOLENCE punk still features on jazz musician Alex Boulton’s musical radar, although these days the New Zealand School of Music student prefers swing, pre-bop and bebop. Boulton was a fan of the hardcore genre when he lived in Australia but when he moved back to New Zealand in 2012 he turned to the banjo.

“I listened to punk music and played drums in a punk band,” he says.

“The transition from punk to jazz was relatively gradual.”

His journey into jazz began with an interest in early folk music. He learned how to play the five-string banjo, clawhammer style. That led to traditional jazz on the tenor banjo. He now plays a mix of bebop guitar and plectrum banjo.

But banjo ... wasn’t that a bit uncool at school?

“At high school no one was really playing jazz but I found a strong interest in it. Going back to punk, and listening to something you don’t have to think about too much, can be a nice break from intellectual time spent on jazz.”

Jazz requires more careful listening, he says. On the surface, people can appreciate the groove but a lot of what is done in jazz music — bebop, particularly — is largely improvised.

“You have to listen attentively to what the soloist is doing to appreciate it fully. It is a mater of both taste and open-mindedness. If you approach the music with an open mind, and let it aesthetically come to you, rather than search for something in it, you can appreciate it more.

“Free jazz, though, pushes those boundaries.”

Live performances of jazz are easier to listen to because the audience can see the instrumentation at work, says Boulton.

“Listening to a recording of jazz is like a form a meditation. You have to focus all your mental energy. In big band jazz there can be around 16 voices going on — the guitarist, drummer, piano, horn players — it’s a lot to take in, and it can scare people, but that’s one of the reasons I love it.”

POWERVIOLENCE punk still features on jazz musician Alex Boulton’s musical radar, although these days the New Zealand School of Music student prefers swing, pre-bop and bebop. Boulton was a fan of the hardcore genre when he lived in Australia but when he moved back to New Zealand in 2012 he turned to the banjo.

“I listened to punk music and played drums in a punk band,” he says.

“The transition from punk to jazz was relatively gradual.”

His journey into jazz began with an interest in early folk music. He learned how to play the five-string banjo, clawhammer style. That led to traditional jazz on the tenor banjo. He now plays a mix of bebop guitar and plectrum banjo.

But banjo ... wasn’t that a bit uncool at school?

“At high school no one was really playing jazz but I found a strong interest in it. Going back to punk, and listening to something you don’t have to think about too much, can be a nice break from intellectual time spent on jazz.”

Jazz requires more careful listening, he says. On the surface, people can appreciate the groove but a lot of what is done in jazz music — bebop, particularly — is largely improvised.

“You have to listen attentively to what the soloist is doing to appreciate it fully. It is a mater of both taste and open-mindedness. If you approach the music with an open mind, and let it aesthetically come to you, rather than search for something in it, you can appreciate it more.

“Free jazz, though, pushes those boundaries.”

Live performances of jazz are easier to listen to because the audience can see the instrumentation at work, says Boulton.

“Listening to a recording of jazz is like a form a meditation. You have to focus all your mental energy. In big band jazz there can be around 16 voices going on — the guitarist, drummer, piano, horn players — it’s a lot to take in, and it can scare people, but that’s one of the reasons I love it.”

Tairawhiti Museum’s Sunday afternoon concert series continues with jazz duo Alexander Boulton and Oscar Laven at Tairawhiti Museum, 2pm, Sunday. Adults $5, children, students with ID, free.

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