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Jazz ensemble wows winery

Front to rear: Sasha, Amethyst, Amon, Alex, Rowan, and Adam. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV

Teenagers test musical mettle
Students ‘committed’, taking ‘musical risks’

Arthur Hawkes

Jazz, funk, and fine wine made for a beautiful afternoon last weekend. Haythornthwaite Wines hosted Kikorangi, the Kuranui College jazz band, on Saturday and Sunday, for a funky wine tasting, jazz-infused extravaganza.

Haythornthwaite was founded in Martinborough in 1992, by Susan and Mark Haythornthwaite, and produce gewurztraminer, pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, rose, and sauvignon blanc.

Bandleader Saali Marks has been the music teacher at Kuranui since 2016. He’s also a virtuoso guitarist in his own right, and jumped on the six-string for some of the performances. The ensemble played a variety of jazz, fusion, and funk.

At the event, attendees were wowed with hits from Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Stanley Turrentine, along with some traditional jazz standards.

The full ensemble.

The band contains mostly Y12 students, with a couple of Y11 students as well. They’ve been playing together for about three years, but did not come from a strong jazz background.

This meant that getting used to jazz’s unusual time signatures and complicated chord variations was initially a bit of a struggle, but one the sextet was able to overcome through hard work.

“It was a bit of a mission getting kids who’ve never really heard jazz before to play jazz,” Marks said.

“It’s been the same band basically right from the start – I started teaching at Kuranui in 2016 and started the jazz band the following year.

“It’s all the same kids and they’ve all been really committed which is cool. Some of them have really taken to jazz in quite a big way.”

Explaining the band’s name, Marks said that Kikorangi meant blue. “Jazz music has its roots in the blues, and blue is an official colour of Kuranui College, so it made sense to call the band Kikorangi.”

The band was aided by Greytown saxophone legend Alex Nyman, who was recruited to give Adam Butler, Alex Hartley and Rowan Higgins an introduction to the jazziest of jazz instruments.

Sasha Francis-Murray could already play a “pretty mean” rock groove on the drums, and after listening to a few Art Blakey and Buddy Rich records he locked on to the swing thing.

Bass player Amethyst Sutherland, who was in Y9 at the formation, put aside her heavy metal records for a time to learn the art of the walking bassline.

Pianist Amon Terry could play the theme music to the Kahoot educational game, and it apparently didn’t take him long at all to grasp dominant 7th chords, 2-5-1 progressions, and Herbie Hancock licks.

In 2019 the band entered the National Youth Jazz Competition, held in Tauranga, and took part in an amazing weekend of youth jazz, that had them motivated to improve and push themselves.

“The band has a fantastic culture,” Marks said.

“The students are really supportive of each other and willing to take musical risks, which is a real key to improving as a jazz musician.”

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