The Queenstown JazzFest was born in 1978 when a group of dedicated musicians (Harvey Maguire, Roger Taylor and Kenny Maurice) got together for two days of music at Queenstown’s O’Connells Hotel’s Cellar Inn over Labour weekend. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to do it every year and invite all their musician friends to come along and jam with them.
It was formalised as the South Island Residential Jazz Festival and was initially organised by the Dunedin Jazz Society. However, over the years it has had several different organisers and venues.
When the original O’Connells Hotel was demolished, the event shifted from Queenstown to Oamaru but then returned after a few years. It became known as Queenstown JazzFest and was organised by local musicians Harvey Maguire (one of the founders), Peter Doyle and Nigel Hirst for the first year.
The festival has now grown into an iconic five-day international music-focused extravaganza which is widely recognised as one of the most accessible and diverse jazz music festivals of its kind in Australasia.
Perhaps the secret to the JazzFest’s enduring nature and continued success is its ability to stay true to its original ideals – its calibre of artists and commitment to exploring the full range of jazz styles whilst retaining its roots, not-for-profit objectives and strong community allegiance.
Local government and tourism agencies recognise the success of the festival and in 2006 identified it as an initiative with the potential to deliver profound regional, economic and promotional benefits.
In order to achieve this, a not-for-profit Trust was formed the same year from a group of highly skilled locals passionate about jazz, music, the arts and their community.
One of the Queenstown Jazz Festival Trust’s first tasks was to seek sponsorship and in 2006 it secured ASB Bank as the festival’s naming rights sponsor. ASB’s strong support since this point has helped cement the festival as Queenstown’s major springtime event. Proof of the value of this support came when the festival and ASB won first place in the Creative New Zealand Best Provincial Arts Sponsorship category of the 2007 TVNZ & The NZ Herald Sponsorship Awards. In 2008 it won again, taking out the Creative NZ Best National or Provincial Arts Sponsorship Award. It was also a finalist in the Radio Networks National Cause category.
The jazz festival is now in its 33rd year and is held every October, preceeding and during Labour Weekend. For five days Queenstown plays host to more than 50 bands and 150-plus musicians, including some of the finest national and international jazz musicians, across four outdoor stages, more than 50 venues in Queenstown and the immediate area.
Current members of the Queenstown JazzFest Trust are Luke Baldock, Margaret O'Hanlon, Jan Maxwell and James Denniston.
2010 will see the event managed by Simon Green.