Simon Sweetman: Heroes live - Mike Nock
OPINION: Mike Nock is a Kiwi – but he left New Zealand when he was still a teenager. He travelled to Australia, then England and onto America.
Largely self-taught he went from playing nightclubs and dinner jazz to being part of Dionne Warwick's band, to working with the great Yusef Lateef – check out the startling Live at Pep's album – and from there to playing with almost every big name in jazz. As leader, as sideman, Nock has done it all.
He regularly returns to New Zealand to visit family and friends and to perform. I've watched him play many times over the years – including memorably for his 70th birthday celebrations.
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Nock might perform a show at the piano solo, or with duo, trio or quartet. One time I watched a performance where the amazing concert pianist Michael Houstoun was playing music Nock had composed. Right there beside Houstoun was Mike Nock – a part of the performance simply by rocking back in his chair and appreciating Houstoun's playing.
For the last 35 years or so Nock has called Sydney, Australia his home. He plays shows, teaches music, works as a composer.
Yesterday he welcomed me into his home for a chat. We talked about the Mike Nock that played with a young Tony Williams, that learned and shared tips with the likes of Keith Jarrett, that once played shows supporting Miles Davis, and Davis changed around the bill so he wouldn't have to go on after Nock's group, The Fourth Way. Because they were, in Miles' own words, "too tough to follow".
I've been a fan of Nock's music since I first heard it. A solo piano record from the late 1970s was what first hooked me, from there it's been forward to his classical composition and through all sorts of jazz and back to hear his funk/fusion workouts with The Fourth Way, the sideman work with Yusef Lateef and his earliest trio recordings.
I had cold-called Mike Nock, asked him if he was open to chat about his life – I have this feeling, despite a largely celebratory biography by Norman Meehan, that he isn't as appreciated in New Zealand as he deserves – here is a guy that knew in order to get better, to be better he had to go and see the world.
And he did it at a time when giants of the jazz world were still walking, when in fact many of them were still being formed. He walked – and played – among them.
He got there on his own. And in many senses, and he said this himself, he left his career in America. Returned to this part of the world where he can be close to New Zealand, where he can return and perform often.
And where he can have impact – in Australia – as a teacher, as someone so focussed on music and all that it offers that he's intent on giving something back, and in turn being influenced by those he's teaching.
Not a week goes by that I don't listen to something by Nock – and the chance to meet him was very special. He's still making great music too.
Occasionally I write a column about music heroes who are still performing, still working, still alive. So often we get around to celebrating people in quick eulogies after we hear of their passing. Why not say how great they are while they're still around.
And soon – in a few weeks – you'll be able to hear most of my conversation with him. One of New Zealand's greatest musical talents. One of the world's great jazz pianists, composers and musical minds.