Keeping a friend's music alive

Last updated 05:00 18/11/2012
Reuben Bradley

Reuben Bradley has put together a disc of music from his friend, the late Drew Menzies, called Mantis.

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Jazz and classical double-bassist Drew Menzies flew under the radar in life. Social media had yet to flourish and self-promotion was not in his nature.

Besides, says drummer and composer Reuben Bradley, ''he was the sort of guy who practised eight hours a day''.

He left New Zealand after he graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree to study for a master of music at Pennsylvania State University.

He played in the United States with classical and jazz orchestras and, in New Zealand, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and others. He taught at Pennsylvania State University and as a guest lecturer in Wellington. He inspired. But at the age of 31, in 2007, at the top of his game, he died in the US.

Bradley, 35, saw him as one of New Zealand's premier double bass players, as an inspiration and a mate. He is in the final stages of arranging, recording and releasing a disc of Menzies' music for string quartet and jazz quartet, some of it discovered in Menzies' parents' Wellington home after his death.

Mantis: The Music of Drew Menzies, is being made with funding from Creative New Zealand.
Bradley's first disc, Resonator, won the Tui Jazz Album of the Year in 2011.

Mantis features the finest and most appropriate practitioners Bradley could corral - John Psathas (who taught Menzies in Wellington), the New Zealand String Quartet, Roger Manins (saxophone), Colin Hemmingsen, James Illingworth (piano, and a close friend of Menzies) and expatriate New Zealand Matt Penman, a bassist based in the US and a member of the San Francisco Jazz Collective. Bradley plays drums.

Penman, says Bradley, is ''the most fantastic double bass player there is'', but he was still ''the long shot'' in the lineup.

''The problem was who was going to play the bass. That was Drew's job.

''We played together a lot. You sit around afterwards and have a glass of wine and you don't say, 'Wow, that was great'. You don't do that as a musician.

''Working on the project has been cathartic. I feel as if I'm doing something really good for a mate.

''What's been really cool is to feel there's some really strong part of him still going.

''The music's still going and let's bring some recognition to his music. It's also a thank you to him for encouraging me and inspiring me.''

Bradley has spent a year on Mantis, although he has still managed teaching commitments at Scots College and the New Zealand School of Music and the occasional gig.

His next is at Havana Bar in Wellington on November 28.

Bradley's own career has shades of Menzies' career. A few years ago, he contemplated study and a life in New York, encouraged by Menzies.

In 2007, the year Menzies died, he caught up with him, and was accepted by two colleges to complete a master's degree, ''but you had to have $200,000 in a bank account before you even got a visa''.

He abandoned the New York study idea, but took lessons with jazz great Barry Altschul.

''New York is really tough. He's 70 and a master, and does a gig once every two or three months. New York is saturated. I came back impatient to get into composition.''

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Resonator evolved from his New York experience. The subsequent Tui Award ''helped me get exposure and more performances'' and it established his credentials with Creative New Zealand for the Mantis project.

Mantis can be ordered from Bradley at The profits from the album will go to the Drew Menzies Memorial Scholarship, initially set up by Menzies' parents, to enable talented young bass players to receive intensive tuition from New Zealand Symphony Orchestra members at a week-long teaching camp held annually in Martinborough.

- The Dominion Post


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