Jazz, that cutting edge of music where sublime technique reaches the furthest outposts of creative endeavour.

Where the frenzied and the tranquil collide; where chaos rubs shoulders with orchestrated orderliness.

Clint Eastwood called it "a genuine American art form", while the United Nations, having just held its International Jazz Day, speaks of its "power to promote dialogue among cultures, to make the most of diversity, to deepen respect for human rights and all forms of expression".

Choose your definition ... jazz is, at heart, undefinable.

New York regular, Latin vocalist Gretchen Parlato
New York regular, Latin vocalist Gretchen Parlato

But you can find your own meaning at the Wellington Jazz Festival next week when "the coolest little capital city in the world" will be running red hot.

The festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday, June 6-10, offering a staggering 150 shows over the five days, a good number of them free.

Last year, New Zealand's biggest mid-winter music festival pulled in 30,000 punters — aficionados; the curious; and those just looking for a great night out.

Expect that number to be topped next week — and not just because Wellington has just been named number one on the list of the 50 most liveable global cities by Deutsche Bank (and those Germans don't give out such accolades lightly).

The line-up of acts — international headliners to yet-to-be-discovered avant garde combos — shows jazz is a coat of many colours, with hard bop and funk; swing and easy listening; soulful vocals and rhythm and blues (in fact, a whole lot of blues); and — yes — psychedelic pop.

And, of course, plenty of fusion which kinda covers everything.

Ready to rock, guitar virtuoso Robben Ford
Ready to rock, guitar virtuoso Robben Ford

Like the music it celebrates, the Wellington Jazz Festival pushes the envelope and chief envelope-pusher, artistic director Shelagh Magadza, admits she is "quite liberal" in her interpretation of jazz.

Aside from the big names coming this year — bassist Christian McBride, sultry singer Gretchen Parlato, John Beasley's MONK'estra, guitarist Robben Ford and drummer Chris Dave — Magadza relishes the energy unleashed at scores of small gigs in 45 different venues, a "fringe festival framework", she calls it.


"The gigs in pubs and cafes are important. It's winter, people can get something to eat; they can get up and dance — it's about the whole experience.

"Jazz needs a good vibrant social life around it."

That seems guaranteed with a number of late-night sessions, several at no charge, allowing fans to make the most of this most wonderfully walkable city.

With the festival having grown each year, Magadza's biggest problem may be how to squeeze more people and more performers in next year.

Certainly the musicians themselves are not a problem.

"Jazz musicians are the easiest to deal with — they are unassuming and have a great appreciation of an audience who have come to hear them play.

"And jazz has that wonderful collaborative spirit ... a sense of camaraderie."

"One of the 100 greatest" drummers Chris Dave

In past years, Wellington has picked up its major acts by tailgating on the back of Australian festivals and tours, but Magadza says such is the festival's growing reputation that top artists are keen on New Zealand as their first choice.

PS: When she's had enough, I want Shelagh's job.


Six-time Grammy award-winning bassist Christian McBride, who has collaborated with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Sting and Carly Simon, and his talented new quartet, Christian McBride's New Jawn, open the festival in style.
June 6; Opera House

Guitar legend Robben Ford's playing has run the gamut from rock, folk, blues and pop to jazz and in Wellington he joins with Lydia Pense, a soul-jazz singer with a powerful stage presence for a show set to rock the Opera House.
June 7; Opera House

Latin and Brazilian influences, along with R&B and pop feature in the sultry vocals of Gretchen Parlato, a regular on the New York jazz scene who has made appearances on more than 50 albums.
June 8, Opera House

One of the world's hottest big bands, John Beasley's MONK'estra — a 15-piece led by the music director on American Idol — present their innovative and playful tribute to jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.
June 9; Opera House

Rolling Stone magazine declared him one of the "100 great drummers of all time"; he appears on Adele's 21 album and D'Angelo's Black Messiah; he's Chris "Daddy" Dave, whose explosive stickwork across jazz, gospel, rock, R&B and hip-hop genres will come together in the ensemble Chris Dave and The Drumhedz.
June 10, Opera House

Should you not make it to Wellington for the jazz festival, or should you get there and have such a neat time that you can't wait to get back ... here are a few up-and-comings from our events-laden capital:

Matariki ki Pōneke (June 15 — July 7)
Fire, fun and fireworks over three events for the first Matariki ki Pōneke festival — the dynamic ReCut show on June 15; Ahi Kā celebrating fire, kai and whānau on June 29; and the Sky Show fireworks at the harbour on July 7.

Beervana (August 10-11)
Craft beer has gone mainstream and this is the country's biggest and most popular beer festival. Held at Wellington Stadium, Beervana brings in product from Whangarei to Invercargill, with lemongrass, lychees and brettanomyces among the ingredients in a creative brew.

Wellington On a Plate (August 10-26)
The 10th birthday of this annual food festival sees the Wellington region dish up hundreds of burgers, cocktails, festival dishes and a huge array of events — banquets, fiestas and soirées, as local chefs team up with international culinary stars to create the most tantalising menus.

World of WearableArt (September 27 - October 14)
This year marks 30 years of World of WearableArt, that remarkable journey to the borders of creative imagination.

LitCrawl (November 9-11)
LitCrawl offers New Zealand's top writers, publishers, performers, editors, musicians, lyricists, artists, and comedians spread around numerous city venues.