Whanganui Jazz Orchestra: new director Riwai Hina takes the reins

Riwai Hina, musical director of the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra, on trombone. Photo / Paul Brooks

The Whanganui Jazz Orchestra joined the crowd of musicians celebrating jazz in Whanganui this weekend.

Formerly known as the River City Big Band, the (for now) 14-member orchestra performed at Cooper’s on Sunday afternoon to a packed house and grateful crowd, which included jazz luminaries like Erna Ferry and Rodger Fox, as well as other musicians. going for a listen.

The rhythm section of the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra: Marie Brooks, Fred Loveridge, Roger Brasell and Errol Christiansen.  Photo / Paul Brooks
The rhythm section of the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra: Marie Brooks, Fred Loveridge, Roger Brasell and Errol Christiansen. Photo / Paul Brooks

Saxes and horns of the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra.  Photo / Paul Brooks
Saxes and horns of the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra. Photo / Paul Brooks

Guest singer Bridget Cook with the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra.  Photo / Paul Brooks
Guest singer Bridget Cook with the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra. Photo / Paul Brooks

Riwai Hina, back in his hometown and determined to make the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra the best it can be, leads the group as musical director and acts as trombone.

“I was born in Whanganui and grew up in Castlecliff,” he says.

He went to Aranui School, Rutherford Intermediate and Boys’ College. While her favorite subject was art, her interest in music began in high school.

“My music teacher was Gavin Herdman.”

Gavin is a well-known Whanganui musician, particularly in brass circles.

“He mentioned in class one day, ‘Does anyone here want to learn an instrument’?”

Riwai and a school friend accepted his offer and Riwai was introduced to cornet.

“He put me on my first brass teacher, Bruce Jellyman. In my first lesson, he taught me how to buzz my lips, and that was it. I was going around the school, buzzing my lips .

“A week later, during my second lesson with Bruce, he gave me a mouthpiece.

“In my next lesson, I was given an instrument: a shabby old Boosey and Hawkes cornet with clunky valves and no case. We went to the storeroom and he pulled out an old tartan sewing machine case. blue without padding.”

This is where the cornet came in.

“And I wore this to school: I didn’t care, I had my cornet. I took it home and started blowing on it, trying to get something out of it. C was pretty much the start of my music career.”

He played the cornet for about six years.

“I had a few tutors in school and then ended up with my main tutor, the late Kevin Jarrett. He was a great guy and a great friend. I learned everything from him until the end from school.”

Kevin Jarrett passed away in 2015.

It turned out that Riwai was talented and he joined the Wanganui City Brass Band while still in school, and also performed in the school brass band and Boys College stage band .

Riwai says Whanganui had a music school in partnership with his high school. He ended up at Purnell House, which was the former hostel of Wanganui Technical College.

“I spent three years in this music school.”

Riwai’s musical career took off in the New Zealand Armed Forces Bands – all three, starting with the Air Force Band, then the Navy Band and finally the New Zealand Army Band. – Zealander.

“I joined the Air Force as a musician when I was about 17.”

He was based in Ohakea.

“A lot of people from the Ohakea band were in the local bands, so it didn’t feel like a military band at all.”

During this time, he changed instruments, played the euphonium for a few years and finally adopted the trombone, the instrument he still loves.

Next stop was the Navy Band where he started as a regular musician and worked his way up to NCO musician and became their composer/arranger. He remained there for almost 13 years before changing service and he joined the Army Band, rising to the equivalent rank of sergeant.

“I kept my songwriter/arranger role when I joined the Army Band, so I wrote a lot of their music too. It was really just a uniform change from whites to greens. I spent almost 10 years with these guys.

“The best life I had as a musician was with military bands.”

He performed at Gallipoli on Anzac Day and performed at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

“I have been invited again this year and this will be my fourth trip. It lasts the whole month of August – 25 shows, one per evening and two on Saturdays.”

After his career in the army, Riwai enlisted with the Territories and returned to Whanganui.

“I still write the arrangements and compose the music for the Army Band.”

While living in Auckland, Riwai joined the Rodger Fox Band and was its trombonist for 10 years.

“That’s where my experience of jazz and ‘big band’ comes from.”

He says he kind of fell into his role with the Whanganui Jazz Orchestra. He returned to Whanganui in February last year and some members of the group asked him to accompany them and listen to them.

“Finally, I went to rehearse as a player. Then we went into lockdown and things went flat. About a month later, the band members started getting itchy and wanted to get back to it.”

Covid was an issue so to keep it small they did sectional reps.

“I started working with the rhythm section, and eventually the horn players started showing up.”

The number grew with each practice, so they went for a full band rehearsal under the temporary leadership of Riwai Hina. Eventually Roger Brasell, the band’s bassist and manager, asked Riwai to be musical director, succeeding Clyde Dixon.

“I started running it the way I felt the band should be run.”

He would like to see the band do a lot more gigs around Whanganui, to benefit the community and the musicianship of the band.

“And I want to go to jazz festivals…and the Christchurch Big Band Festival. I would love to have them come there.”

To travel, the band will need money…so if there’s a potential sponsor there…?

Riwai says he would like the band to have another trombone player to allow the director to be in front, shaping the band.

The Whanganui Jazz Orchestra’s next concert will be at the Manawatu Jazz and Blues Fest in a month.


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Henry R. Wright