Wellington Jazz Festival kicks off

The Wellington Jazz Festival has rolled into the capital, bringing with it a big helping of creativity and cool.

In smokey bars, grand auditoriums and university practise spaces, jazz has filled every room imaginable for over a century.

"It's social music, you know? It's happening in the moment, there's a conversation happening onstage, people are witnessing the conversation in real-time," conductor John Beasley told Newshub.

The MONK'estra is a big-band tribute to legendary pianist Thelonius Monk, and Beasley says it's an ideal entry point to the genre.

"For one thing they always swing, so that's something for someone who doesn't necessarily listen to a lot of jazz. It's something they can hold onto, it's sort of danceable."

Even though he only wrote around 70 pieces, Thelonius Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer of all time - Beasley says it's because he's so easy to adapt.

"It's open enough to express yourself in a jazz way, we make up stuff every night on it. It's sort of like mining gold, if you will."

A big-band presents big opportunities for some improvisation off the back of Monk's music, Beasley says.

"We have written out parts that we play all the time, but then we have some open sections, and I like to have the horn players accompany and make up parts for solos."

Beasley's not only the conductor, he's an acclaimed pianist - and he's shared the stage with legends like James Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and the king of cool himself, Miles Davis.

"He was either painting, or playing the trumpet all day long, or talking to his clothes designer about what he wanted to wear. It was like art, constantly," Beasley says.

For their one-off show at the Wellington Jazz Festival the MONK'estra's been joined by six Kiwi musicians - and even though they've just met, they've slotted straight in.

"That's the beauty of jazz though, cos we speak the same language!" Beasley says.

"Yeah it's the same song, but you add six musicians from New Zealand and all of a sudden it's a little different!"

It means no two shows are the same.