31 Mar 2007

Musical Chairs featuring Bob Gillett

From Musical Chairs, 4:00 pm on 31 March 2007

Bob Gillett wasn't a well-known name to the New Zealand public, but behind the scenes he had a powerful influence on local musicians as a band leader, composer, arranger, mentor and sax player continually pushing the boundaries.

Bob Gillett blew a mean sax and bought with him a host of musical influences from be bop to classical when he arrived on these shores from the USA in 1960.

A band leader and arranger, Bob Gillett soon took the reins of the broadcasting service big band, inspiring them and a host of other local rock and pop musicians to put some soul into the kiwi sound.

Keith Newman visited Bob Gillett at his home on Waiheke Island in 2007.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Bob Gillett died 9th November 2013, aged 88.

Bob Gillett received a classical musical education during the 40s and 50s, studying with world renowned European composers Arnold Schoenberg and Ernst Krenek who both fled Europe under threat from the Nazis. Through their inspiration Gillett wrote an un-named and highly rated sonata in the 1950s, which was performed in LA by the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony Orchestra.

While he was classically trained Gillett had a passion for jazz. On the circuit he'd played with the many of the 'names' of modern music including Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

He met up with blind keyboardist Claude Papesch in Australia who convinced him to check out the New Zealand scene so he bought a ticket on a cruise liner, arriving in 1960.

He was quickly offered a directorship of the 18-piece New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS) radio band.

Just as colour TV was being introduced to New Zealand Gillett pulled together his own band to back newly-arrived English import Sandy Edmonds on the Let's Go TV series, which was a precursor to the C'mon show. Somehow the band acquired the name Bob Gillett and the Blue Blades.

Gillett again started looking for 'the most exciting musicians' to form a tight rock unit that would push the boundaries. That's how he came upon Doug Jerebine who'd been working in studios and touring with the nations best artists for a number of years.  They recruited former Invaders bass player Puni Solomon and Andy Shackleton on drums, who was soon replaced by Charlie Gray. Gillett was determined to keep the band together so he went to an advertising agency that was looking for a theme song for the Tea Council. The council was keen to make tea the in-drink for teenagers, even holding tea raves to make the beverage seem hip and cool. Right there Gillett capitalised on the opportunity, named the new unit The Brew and was invited into the studio to begin recording a weird version of the old standard Tea For Two,

The resulting effort released as a single is described by Roger Watkins in Hostage to the Beat as "the Four Preps meet Hendrix". On the B-side is an equally bizarre song called Bengal Tiger.

The band went through some member changes before it was finally ready for some club dates serving up a mixture of jazz, rock, soul and pop. Tommy Ferguson on vocals became the frontman to pull in the punters. Charlie Gray was replaced by Graeme 'Trixie' Willoughby (ex Sonny Day & The Sundowners) on drums.

 Fergusson more than did justice to material selected from Captain Beefheart, Sly and the Family Stone and Percy Sledge.

The Brew line-up and repertoire continued to evolve with their appearances at a rough venue called The Bowl at the bottom of Queen St. Puni Solomon was replaced by John 'Yuk' Harrison (ex Embers, Invaders) on bass.

In February 1967 the Brew became backing band for artists appearing on Pop A Long, broadcast on all commercial radio stations from 7pm on Saturdays with compere Ray Woolf. The programmes were recorded in the Auckland Radio Theatre. Guests on the early shows included Larry's Rebels, Lew Pryme, the La De Das, Sandy Edmonds, The Gremlins, Herma Keil and the Keil Isles.

Gillett also got the The Brew a regular spot on The Stebbing's Show on Saturday morning radio sponsored by the Galaxie nightclub. The programmes, also recorded at the NZBC Radio Theatre in Durham Lane, featured Kiwi artists playing offbeat cover versions from bands such as Cream and Mothers of Invention. Gillett chose the material.

Later Harvey Mann from The Underdogs joined on bass and guitar often swapping roles with Doug Jerebine. Drummers doing time with the band included hard rock player John Drinkwater and Ian Thompson, who'd spent time with the Underdogs. Gillett's favourites however were 'Trixie' Willoughby and Bruno Lawrence who became a legend in his own right as a film-maker, actor and founding member of Blerta. - Keith Newman

Musical Chairs featuring Bob Gillett was produced and narrated by Keith Newman with sound production by Jeremy Ansell for Radio New Zealand National.

Music Details - Musical Chairs featuring Bob Gillett

FORMAT: 'Song Title' / (Composer) / Artist / Album Title / Record label / CD number

'Uptight - Everything’s Alright', (Stevie Wonder), Sounds 68 Radio orchestra featuring Alison Durban, unreleased

'Sunday Telephone' (The Brew), The Brew, live unreleased

'White Heat' (Will Hudson), Jimmy Lunceford and his orchestra, Early Black Swing 1927-1934, BMG, 9583-2-RB

'Saratoga Swing' (Barney Bigard), Duke Ellington & Cotton Club Orchestra, Finest Vintage Jazz 1918-1940 Vintage AJA 5151

'Cotton Tail' (Ellington) Duke Ellington The Essential SONY 989281

'This Year's Kisses' (Berlin) Billie Holiday Billie Holiday: Lady Day, The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) COLUMBIA 753806

'Texas Shuffle' (Battle, Evans) Count Basie Count Basie: Swing Legends, 24 Classic Hits NIMBUS NI 2006

'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do' (Porter Grainger, Everett Robbins) Billie Holiday Men Are Like Street Cars: Women Blues Singers 1928-1969 MCA211788

'I’ve Got The World On A String' (Billy Reid), Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, The Capital Years CDS 794317 2

'Blue Skies' (Irving Berlin), Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song, Polygram 517898,

'Sonata for Small Orchestra' (Robert A Gillett), Los Angeles Chamber Symphony Orchestra, unreleased

'King Porter’s Song', (Jelly Roll Morton), Bob Gillett’s Radio Band, live unreleased

'I Can’t Give You Anything But Love', (Dorothy Fields & Jimmy McHugh), Bob Gillett Radio Orchestra, live to air, unreleased

'Tea for Two' (Youmans-Ceasar), The Brew, (single) Allied International JAR.554

'Bengal Tiger' (Gillet) The Brew, (single) Allied International JAR.554

'Sunday Telephone' (The Brew) The Brew, live unreleased

'Early Morning Fever' (The Brew), The Brew, unreleased

'Show Me' (Jo Tex) The Brew, unreleased

'Uptight - Everything’s Alright' (Stevie Wonder) Sounds 68 Radio Orchestra featuring Alison Durban, live unreleased

'Morning Dew' (Bonnie Dobson) Sounds 68 Radio orchestra with The Chicks live unreleased

'Los Angeles' (Ray Columbus) Ray Columbus, Hit Tracks, Polydor 621006

(Unreleased tracks supplied by Bob Gillett)

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