Creative Ones - Bourbon Street BeatThis iconic Nelson jazz band has been entertaining our region for 20 years. By Drake Chamberlain - Marks
Bourbon Street Beat is one of the most influential bands Nelson has known. Based here for 20 years, its membership has gone through several evolutions, including people responsible for founding both the Nelson Jazz Club and the Nelson Jazz Festival. Original member Rupert Winter has been the one constant in the band throughout its two decades in the Top of the South. “It’s become a little icon,” Rupert says. “People often stop me on the street when I’m downtown and ask ‘How’s our band going?’ as if it’s theirs – which is great. It’s music that people of all ages can get something out of.”
The band are all accomplished musicians, so when it comes to musical style, they like to mix it up. Rock will segue into swing; Latin will follow Dixieland; with cabaret, boogie, and 1920s ballads all thrown in the mix. This flexibility is a key advantage of having a seven-piece band. “You can play arrangements that are across the board,” says Rupert. “We’re a full variety show band.”
Jazz is in Rupert’s family’s blood, from his father opening New Zealand’s first night club in 1925, to his NASDA graduate daughter Jane becoming lead singer in the band. Having spent years as the driving force behind Bourbon Street Beat, Rupert could fill several books with their adventures.
Like when their boat broke down on the way to a wedding in Awaroa, and they had to organise a human chain to pass their instruments safely to shore. Or when they played in a circus tent to hundreds of Christian youth, expecting them to be indifferent; but who were so moved that at the end of the night they all formed a queue to come on stage and shake hands with or hug each band member. Or when he was jumped after playing a swanky party in Kings Cross because he was wearing a dinner suit. Told to empty his pockets, Rupert turned them inside out, showing the muggers they were already empty – he was a musician not a party guest.
As for favourite performances, “Every single one is a memorable gig,” says Rupert. “What really grabs you is when your audience is moved by what you’re doing. Looking at peoples’ feet tapping on the floor, or when they move to start dancing – that’s the joy of it.” Working hard, but having fun doing it, is very much the Bourbon Street Beat way. “We don’t look at it like a business,” says Rupert, “we look at it like a pipe band or brass band would. It’s a team. In short, we love what we do.” This ethos makes their performances widely lauded, and made them an obvious choice to play the WildTomato 4th Birthday Party this July.
Bourbon Street Beat play all manner of venues for all kinds of occasions. They play weddings, birthdays, charity events, and corporate conferences. And in 2004 they played the Eureka California Jazz Festival, meeting some of the biggest names in jazz and wowing audiences with their classy arrangements. The band is always eager for an excuse to share their lively, sophisticated music. Especially with an audience who are looking for a foot-tapping, dance floor-ripping good time. If you’d like to book them for your function, or purchase a copy of their highly acclaimed new CD Party Jazz, call Rupert on (03) 548-9303.