Beyond the Headliners – some of the top picks for the Wellington Jazz Festival



Jazz can be a meditation, entertainment, manifestation, experience, party, romance and more. The many faces of jazz are alive and well at this year’s Wellington Jazz Festival, with a concert program that has something for everyone.

As a musician, composer, researcher and educator interested in jazz, it’s a real challenge to fit into all the concerts I want to see. Between concerts by students of the New Zealand School of Music – Te KōkÄ« (where I am a lecturer), fellow musicians and friends, and outstanding artists from all over New Zealand and the world, the week is filled with wonderful performance!

Beyond Festival Headliners (Legends of Aotearoa Whirimako Black, Nathan Haines and Rodger Fox with Michael Houstoun at the Opera; creative voices Callum Passells, Ruby Solly, Umar Zakaria and Cory Champion’s Clear Path Ensemble at St Peter’s), here is my attempt to name just a handful of other must-see concerts.

Mireya Ramos and group

Capital Blues Club @ Jack Hackett’s, Wednesday June 9 at 8:30 p.m.

Ramos has spent the last year and a bit in Aotearoa after traveling from her home in New York to perform at WOMAD 2020 with the all-girl group she co-founded Mariachi Flor de Toloache. For this performance, she brings together musical styles from all over the Americas and beyond, showcasing her skilled voice, thrilling violin playing, and superb artistry alongside her excellent band.

NewBop Quintet

Meow, Thursday June 10, 9:15 p.m.

Auckland-based NewBop presents the most recent versions of hard bop styles that first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s. With a stack of original melodies and some of Aotearoa’s most famous instrumentalists, this concert pays homage to the past but is firmly rooted in the best of jazz today.

Circling sun

Meow, Friday June 11, 9:15 p.m.

Another special concert by Auckland-based musicians, Circling Sun will feature grooves to get you dancing and funky futurism to give you hope. Their electronics-infused “afro-spiritual-psychic jazz” moves the body, challenges the mind and imagines worlds far beyond our own – the good ones.

Saxophonist Jake Baxendale.

Stephen A’Court / Supplied

Saxophonist Jake Baxendale.

Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith: Sanctuary Album release

Auditorium City Gallery, Saturday June 12, 5 p.m.

Baxendale and Lovell-Smith developed this project over several years of performances at the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series supported by Wellington City Council in Wellington. The contemplative compositions are imbued with the thoughtful performance and improvisation of the group of 11 musicians, including many of Wellington’s best players.

BONITA from Chelsea Prastiti!

The Rogue & Vagabond, Saturday June 12, 7 p.m.

Pratisti’s latest project of original compositions sheds new light on Brazilian bossa nova of the 60s and 70s, featuring his versatile voice and a group of musicians from Auckland. This performance will delight fans of the bands Pratisti SKILLA and Leda’s Dream; for new listeners, you are in for a treat.

Matt Steele Trio

Hashigo Zake, Saturday June 12, 10:30 p.m.

Steele from Aotearoa returns from Melbourne to present a set of his original tunes in a trio setting. This low-key concert is one of the festival’s hidden gems, and it’s free.

Royal New Zealand Air Force Jazz Orchestra

Soundings Theater at Te Papa, Sunday June 13, 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Head to Te Papa on Sunday to hear the RNZAF Jazz Orchestra play classics from Count Basie. They will pay homage to the Basie Orchestra’s 1955 album with singer Joe Williams, with Wellington’s Eugene Wolfin.

Jazz at Vic: NZSM Big Band One with Oscar Lavën

Victoria University of Wellington Memorial Theater, Wednesday, June 9, 7:30 p.m.

I’m so proud of the students of NZSM Jazz Performance that I can’t help but end the list with their concert. The big band performs a set with one of Aotearoa’s greatest saxophonists, Oscar Lavën, with an opening set from the NZSM Festival Combo, with Nicholas Baucke-Maunsell (saxophone), Akash Dutta (piano), Jack Harré ( trumpet), Jamie Pye (guitar), Harry Scholes (bass) and Baileigh Sparkes (drums).

I’ll see you in town while we enjoy the festival together.

  • Dave Wilson, PhD, is Director of the Jazz Performance Program and Senior Lecturer at the New Zealand School of Music – Te KōkÄ« Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Wellington Jazz Festival show details, tickets on


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