Kiwi teens dig jazz

January 13th, 2021 By Aleisha Ward
Jazz historian Dr Aleisha Ward looks at how teen entertainment magazines 'Count Down' and 'Teen Beat' reflected the shifting music interests of young New Zealanders in the 1960s.

Jazz in New Zealand and overseas in the 1960s

A research inquiry recently led me to look at two New Zealand 1960s teen entertainment magazines. While the client in question was interested in some of the pop and rock material, I couldn’t help but notice that there was quite a bit of jazz material in these magazines (and even classical music, too).

As a jazz historian, it was more than I had expected for the time period, particularly as jazz was generally considered ‘adult music’ by the mid-1960s.

Another surprise was the amount of New Zealand jazz happenings that were noted in one of the publications’ pages as the New Zealand jazz establishment was typically more interested in what was happening overseas than locally.

I knew from some of my other research into Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk and their tours to New Zealand that there was a dedicated teen audience for jazz (outside of budding jazz musicians, that is). However, seeing the jazz material in these magazines led me to wonder: what if the teen jazz audience was bigger and more generalised than I had previously thought?

Album reviews for Louis Armstrong and Leontyne Price.
Louis Armstrong and Leotyne Price album reviews in Count Down v.1 no. 10 28 August 1964 p.14.

Local music scene vs overseas content

The two magazines in question — Count Down (of which we hold issues from 1964) and Teen Beat (with issues from 1965-1967) — offer a fascinating glimpse into the ‘young moderns'’ musical life (as these magazines termed their readership).

Aside from the things you’d expect — articles and profiles on the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Moody Blues and Elvis, and other pop artists — both magazines had a reasonable dash of non-pop/rock content and local content.

Count Down had more local music content across all genres as well as strong jazz and classical music content, but Teen Beat wasn’t too far behind. The difference may have been down to the age range of their intended audience.

Teen Beat reads as if it is aimed at 12 to 16-year-olds, while Count Down was probably aimed at 17 to 20-year-olds. Alternatively, you could think of the audience as high school kids versus young professionals/university students who were more likely to go out to different types of evening events with a more ‘adult’ atmosphere.

A review from Ray Harris of an Eddie Condon concert, shows a cartoon figure blowing a trumpet with the words, '.... And all that jazz!'.
Ray Harris, jazz critic for The Listener among other publications, with his column called ‘…And All That Jazz’. Count Down v.1 no. 2 29 April 1964 p.4.

Count Down

Count Down’s jazz columns were written by Ray Harris, who was also the jazz critic for The Listener (and several other publications). He clearly tailored his writing style for his different audiences, although the content is very similar. If anything, in Count Down, Harris had licence to be more of a jazz fan and speak to this audience in a less formal fashion.

The content of Harris’s columns was primarily focused on jazz from the United States and on sharing his love of the genre with the audience. He wrote about the well known and up-and-coming jazz artists, talking about specific recordings that people should listen to, and rarely mentions the New Zealand scene, except for when a big artist, such as Eddie Condon or Thelonious Monk, was going to tour.

Marlene Tong, Claude Papesh and Judy Bailey

This was not the only place that jazz would appear in Count Down, however, and there were a number of profiles and articles on well known local jazz musicians, such as vocalist Marlene Tong, or pianists Claude Papesch and Judy Bailey. As most of the articles don’t have a byline it’s uncertain who wrote the rest of the jazz content, but it’s likely that it was Harris or well-known entertainment writer John Berry who wrote the jazz articles.

Jazz in Count Down was portrayed as something of a cross between popular music and ‘capital A’ art. Popular artists such as Barbara Streisand and Henry Mancini’s jazz-influenced recordings were talked about with equal fervour as Dave Brubeck or the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet).

While there was a certain amount of gatekeeping (as there always is with music), Harris, in particular, emphasised that whether you were a jazz fan or a casual listener everyone should be able to enjoy jazz or at least have a passing knowledge about it.

Even though it was a teen music magazine, there are subtle indicators that the audience for Count Down would've had a veneer of sophistication to their demeanour. In the mid-1960s knowing about jazz, if not being a fan, was part of that portrayal of sophistication as it was depicted in Hollywood and in the idea of the playboy lifestyle.

Full length photo of Marlene Tong wearing a long, black dress, accompanies an article about her appearances in Auckland at the Montemarte nightclub.
Marlene Tong profile in Count Down v.1 no. 10 28 August 1964 p.2.

Teen Beat

Teen Beat, with its younger intended audience, was very much a teenage magazine, focusing on fan clubs, pen-pals, recordings, and the latest people you were meant to have a celebrity crush on. With this younger audience, the magazine focused more on musical formats that would be easily accessible to that audience: records rather than live gigs.

While young teens regularly went out to gigs, and there were venues that had nights that catered to the younger teen set, going to gigs was a whole night out, and was thus more time consuming and expensive than collecting records (45s and 33 1/3 albums).

Feature about Ella Fitzgerald that shows six album covers from her most recent work.
Profile of Ella Fitzgerald in Teen Beat no. 12 October 1966.

The material in Teen Beat focused more on overseas musicians, across all genres, though they did write about local up-and-coming and hot acts such as Ray Columbus, Mr Lee Grant, Dinah Lee, the Chicks and many more.

As already noted the music content of Teen Beat focused on recordings, and so the jazz content was primarily reviews of recordings. Jazz featured in several places: in their review pages with a jazz album of the month section (or occasionally, albums), in profiles of mostly female jazz singers, and in the column ‘Some swinging popular people’.

The artists featured in all of these columns ranged from hip, new, young artists to elder statesmen and women. Each of the column offerings focused on one jazz artist (usually American) and their albums each month.

Written by Warwick Woodward the columns provided a clear and easy introduction to the jazz world for the young to mid-teen audience, many of whom would have associated jazz with their parents’ generation rather than with their own.

Profile of Woody Herman featuring four album coves and short reviews.
Profile of Woody Herman in Teen Beat ‘Some Swinging Popular People’ no. 19 May 1967 p.28.

Hip music young moderns should dig

Woodward makes it clear in his writing that it was not only okay to like jazz, but that it was hip music that young moderns should dig.

This small sample of teen entertainment magazines from New Zealand is an example of how multifaceted the music lives of teenagers were in the 1960s. Alongside being a fan of the teen idols, the writers of these magazines clearly encouraged their audiences to become knowledgeable about blues, jazz, folk and classical music for their own enjoyment, rather than the enforced betterment that they may have received from parents, schools, and even the radio.

This attitude may have helped make jazz more accessible and helped young, incipient jazz fans to find their footing (to not feel that they were old fashioned or out of touch with their peers). It also would have made non-pop music forms more acceptable to teens who weren’t interested and would help them understand why some of their friends dug jazz.

Reviews of three albums featuring their album cover and a short paragraph.
Jazz Album(s) of the Month in Teen Beat no. 11 September 1966 p.18.

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