The quiet outing of Christchurch senior maestro and jazz ambassador Doug Caldwell capped off a highly productive career.
This low-key May 10 outing summed up Caldwell’s engaging modesty as a man who neither boasted about an ego nor wished to make a fuss.
During his long and productive life as a professional musician, which began at the age of 17, Caldwell gave great pleasure to many people, having the happy gift of creating tonal, lyrical and very melodic performances. , heavily beat, including several of his own original compositions, which have been performed on national radio and television (YA) over a seven-decade career.
His good friend Neill Pickard reminds us that Caldwell was “an important soloist, a sensitive and creative accompanist and a specialist in small groups and big bands”.
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It was therefore not surprising that Doug had a concert studio named in his honor at the Ara Jazz School and, as a leading piano jazz practitioner in Christchurch, his agent-friend Christine Hainstock arranged for his quartet perform a concert to open The Piano (Gloucester St) in August 2016.
This badge of honor was testament to the fact that he was not only a master pianist, but also echoed the fact that in 1951 Caldwell helped organize and perform in Christchurch’s first-ever public jazz concert, at the Repertory Theatre. It was sold out and Caldwell played an oak Challen grand piano into the night.
Caldwell was a gifted professional and orchestral arranger and teacher of composition and keyboard and piano performance, holding a license from the Royal School of Music.
In 1969, he was also the first New Zealand jazz composer to become a full member of the Australasian Performing Right Association.
In 1994 he received a Rotary International Award for Vocational Excellence and in 2006 he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to jazz in Aotearoa.
He taught privately and also in several schools (including Christ’s College and Christchurch Boys’). At the Christchurch Boys he was brought in by Colin Macintosh (and Ian Leggat) to assist music master Allan Packman, and there Caldwell struck up a great lasting friendship with Neill Pickard.
Orchestrating Pickard’s 1982 musicals – The Man from Taxes and Sweet William – for the school, Caldwell’s connection with Pickard took on a very positive shape when the new Christchurch Jazz School opened in 1990 and Caldwell served on the faculty for 14 very productive years (1991-2005), becoming a CPIT Lecturer Emeritus in 2005.
Caldwell had much earlier accompanied local rugby great and Sinatra-esque crooner Pat Vincent for some recordings and they performed at Malando – Christchurch’s first licensed restaurant.
Vincent, a popular master at Christchurch Boys’, told Caldwell of a junior student with a nice light vocal range suited to jazz numbers. Caldwell, a generous man, took the very gifted Malcolm McNeill under his wing and arranged with the owner of the Malando, Hans Levy, for the young teenager to sing there and start his own dynamic professional career.
Caldwell was a very generous, constructive, and loyal mentor and friend who always kept a cool head due to his good humor, engaging smile and laughter, and skill as a storyteller.
These qualities allowed the Doug Caldwell trio, then the quartet, to last for years, supported by many friendships (the Marstons, Lyn Christie, Stu Buchanan, Harry Voice, Bob Heinz, Ted Meagher, Trish and Tom Rainey, Vince Clarke, Coral Cummins, Yolande Gibson, Janice Gray, etc.).
Douglas Gordon Caldwell was born to George and Margaret in 1928 and was raised with an older sister in a very loving family in Opawa.
He was educated at St Joseph’s and then at Marist Brothers Primary School where he met the late Patrick Thompson, his great rugby and jazz cobbler.
Both went to St Bede’s College until Caldwell’s verve for syncopated jazz rhythms upset a teaching brother, Father Gill.
In 1943, caught playing a Glenn Miller tune on the college chapel organ, Caldwell, facing severe reprimands and beatings, chose to quit school that day and launched himself into the workforce. in the printing industry and, from 1948, was selling pianos at Begg’s Music. Store in Colombo St.
There he accumulated dozens of jazz records and organized concerts with the groups Terry Minson and Brian Marston until he was able to leave New Zealand in 1954, under the sponsorship of two great Americans, Ray and Shirley Williams. , to attend Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI) for one year of full-time study in original composition and orchestral arrangement.
Returning to New Zealand in 1955, Caldwell met the dashing Helen Anderson at the Columbus Radio Center. The couple married in February 1958.
Helen was the absolute mainstay of Caldwell’s family and career. He rightly described her as “a fantastic mother”, and Helen was his great reminder of the difficult days as well as the rock on which their loving family was built. Without Helen on the home front, we couldn’t have benefited so much from Caldwell’s talent.
Caldwell’s mentor as a pianist was Bob Bradford, and he admired jazz piano greats such as Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Monty Alexander and Pete Jolly.
He has also worked with amazing global talents, such as Mavis Rivers (a very special friend), Nat Adderley, Ronnie Scott, Wild Bill Davison, George Fame, Julian Lee, Don Rader and Mel Torme.
In 1976 he played Steinway with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra under the great Henry Mancini, tinkling the ivories in a full, vibrant concert of Mancini’s compositions (then visiting as the U.S. Bicentennial Ambassador ).
Pat Thompson wanted his “soul brother” to experience the professional music scene in the United States and, in 1980, arranged for Caldwell to fly to Las Vegas to participate in the Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of the United States, performing with Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr, Paul Anka and Helen Reddy.
We who love melodic jazz were especially blessed that Caldwell put his family before his career and was based in Christchurch for most of his performing life, not only playing for years at Winter Garden, Malando and at the Grenadier, but also regularly at the Château Regency, Le George, the Octogone, the Edge and the Elms hotel.
Later, Caldwell would visit aged care villages (notably Ngaio Marsh) and spread his piano magic, his special brand of “ivory dust”, to the delight of others. He gave his last concert in March 2020.
What a fabulous and lasting legacy DG Caldwell left us – captured on sheet music, cassettes, videotapes, 12 CDs, online and in the grateful memories of his many admirers. In his own words: “My jazz career has been one long enjoyable gig.”
Caldwell is survived by his wife Helen, his sons Mark, Dwight, Aaron and his daughter Melissa, as well as his six beloved grandchildren.