Musician gave country great moments

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Murray McNabb, jazz keyboardist whose career extended to movie soundtracks and commercials.

Murray McNabb, composer and performer, died on Sunday after a year-long struggle with cancer.
Murray McNabb, composer and performer, died on Sunday after a year-long struggle with cancer.

The death on Sunday of Auckland composer and keyboard player Murray McNabb has robbed the country of a unique musical talent, one which stretched from experimental jazz to some of the country's best loved jingles.

McNabb, who was 66, began performing in his late teens with residencies in restaurants and clubs, then bars and jazz venues. Although he said the most exciting period for jazz was in the 60s, and was a founder of two of New Zealand's most successful jazz groups - the fusion-era Dr Tree in the 70s and Space Case in the 80s - McNabb never stopped playing and recording, even if many of his albums had modest release.

He recorded in New York, helmed groups under his own name or as Modern Times and Band R, and latterly was playing exploratory music with Salon Kingsadore.

Parallel to his highly regarded career in jazz - a word he disliked, preferring "improvised music" or "non-jazz" - McNabb had a successful career with Murray Grindlay writing, arranging and performing many of the country's most recognised commercials, among them the classic Crunchie train robbery ad.

McNabb worked on soundtracks for film and television (Once Were Warriors, Broken English, Greenstone), enjoyed sonic experiments in the recording studio, won awards for the America's Cup anthem Sailing Away and the Red Nose Day song, arranged orchestras and choirs for outdoor concerts and was a talented painter.

Recently, he said of his different careers in advertising and making his own music: "I've come to believe the real art is selling, sell yourself or sell your product, whatever it is. "Otherwise you just do it for fun, and I do [my music] for fun. I get paid sometimes, but I've got paid enough [from commercial work] to be able to do it and have fun."

Always pushing the boundaries in his often unscripted music, McNabb had a favourite saying on the wall of his home studio: "The new man must have the courage to be new."

Murray McNabb died after a year-long battle with cancer but even in his final weeks was still recording and performing. He is survived by his partner Koula Coulouris and three adult children.

- NZ Herald

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