Lifelong love of jazz recognised

02:12, Nov 26 2012
John Joyce
Jazz man: John Joyce in his home studio, to which he has added another award.

A lifetime sharing his passion has earned John Joyce a rare award for services to jazz.

Wellington Jazz Club honoured the veteran broadcaster with a certificate for a Lifetime of Dedication to Jazz last week.

It will be added to a wall of awards at his Raumati South home, yet Joyce, 83, is still chuffed.

"It's great for the ego of course . . . you work hard at a job and nobody praises you or says anything about it . . . and when you get something like that it sort of makes everything worthwhile."

Joyce has been a member of the 300-strong club for about 25 years.

Club vice-president Chris Caudwell said it was the first time the club had handed out this particular award, to his knowledge, but it was part of a programme to honour senior jazz figures.


Joyce has dedicated most of his life to jazz, falling in love with the music aged 14, playing in bands from the age of 18 and living and breathing it through radio over 62 years.

He credits his parents for his love of music. His father was a dance band pianist, his mother a chorister. But it was at the age of 14 growing up in Whangarei, when he discovered and was "bitten by" jazz.

His uncle gave him a clarinet and he learnt by listening to the American armed forces radio via shortwave.

Later he began playing in public with a pianist friend.

"We used to go down to the dance on Saturday nights and play the extras while the punters and the band went and had a cup of tea and a wine biscuit."

By 18 he was playing in bands and went on to further music study. He plays saxophone, clarinet and piano and at 83 still plays in bands occasionally.

But Joyce is best known for his work as a broadcaster. He has interviewed more than 150 jazz players - including greats such as Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

A series he made on a four- month trip to the United States in 1962 is housed in the archive of the New Orleans Museum jazz section, and some of the shows won awards.

He interviewed the likes of Lee Konitz, Joe Williams, Barney Kessel and George Shearing on that trip, along with top critics, including Ralph Gleason.

Some were too "arrogant" to be interviewed, he said, describing how he tracked down Miles Davis at a night club in San Francisco.

"I waited till a break in the conversation and wandered up and said 'excuse me Mr Davis, I'm John Joyce from New Zealand, we run a jazz poll and we had a vote on who the people in New Zealand thought was the best trumpet player and you were chosen'.

"And he looked at me and said 'New Zealand, never heard of it'."

Joyce returned with 46 quarter- hour interviews with critics and performers, from which he made 21 half-hour documentaries.

The series was played three times on Radio New Zealand over the years, he said.

Joyce began working for RNZ in 1950, aged 21, starting a 45-year career for the organisation, predominantly as a programmer.

"I had a real lust for broadcasting. I was passionate about it and once I got in I got more passionate about it.

"I can't leave it alone frankly, it's in my blood."

He has won a host of awards at the New Zealand Radio Industry Awards, which he started in 1978 and ran for 18 years. He remains a judge and also judges the jazz section of the Recording Industry of New Zealand Awards.

Joyce retired from professional radio in 1995 but his love affair with broadcasting lives on. For the past 12 years he has run a fortnightly jazz show on Kapiti's Coast Access Radio, clocking up 313 one-hour documentaries.

An interview with fellow octogenarian Sonny Rollins in Wellington last year won Best Music Programme in the community access section at this year's radio awards.

Joyce said he opened the conversation telling Rollins the last time they talked was in San Francisco at 2am outside a night club after Rollins' gig which he finished with a blinding solo.

"I had never heard at the time anybody play what he did on his saxophone, it was an incredible musical experience for me."

He gave Rollins a copy of the show he made from that interview about 50 years earlier, and a small gold saxophone from around his neck.

When Rollins took the stage in Wellington two nights later he was amazed to see him wearing it.

Meanwhile Joyce, a former external jazz assessor for Massey University's jazz school, said jazz in New Zealand had never been in better health. He cites Alan Broadbent and Mike Nock as the most successful, but said Wellington jazz man Rodger Fox, who played in Paraparaumu yesterday, was also "world class".

Kapiti Observer