New Zealand jazz legend Rodger Fox dies aged 71

Jazz musician Rodger Fox has died.
Jazz musician Rodger Fox has died. Photo credit: Supplied - RNZ

Rodger Fox - a name synonymous with big band jazz in New Zealand - has died, aged 71.

The jazz legend founded the Rodger Fox Big Band in 1973 and toured extensively here and overseas, playing at international jazz festivals including Montreux, Monterey and New Orleans.

He also taught at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington.

Fox was only 18 when he began playing with a dance band in the Wellington/Porirua area.

"I was sort of like, eight years old scratching around this violin and being taught by the nuns and Gore," he told RNZ in 2015.

"But I perfected hiccups. So it was great. So every time I went to the lesson, I would have these massive hiccuping fits and not scratch a note in vain. After about three months the dear old nuns sort of summoned my parents and said, 'I don't think Roger really wants to learn violin, you know?'"

Via the cornet and then trumpet, he eventually landed on the trombone.

He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in 2022.

He told RNZ that year that two of the biggest highlights were playing at Europe's legendary Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980 - the first-ever NZ band invited to play at an international jazz festival - and hosting American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker's visit to New Zealand to celebrate the Rodger Fox Big Band's 30th anniversary.

David Bremner has been the principal trombonist in the New Zealand symphony orchestra for more than 20 years. He told RNZ's Morning Report it was an "incredibly sad time for the music industry" in New Zealand.

"So many rock bands, jazz musicians, classical artists have all had inspiration from Rog in the early part of their lives."

Bremner said Fox was a "driving force" in music with boundless energy, particularly when it came to educating and inspiring the next generation of musicians.

"Everyone knew that when they went to [the New Zealand School of Music], they were going to have some kind of connection with Rodger Fox, and that was a huge inspiring thing for students to go and be part of and a great champion of New Zealand music."

Fox also took what was originally an American art form and gave it a Kiwi twist, Bremner said, working with the likes of Dave Dobbyn and King Kapisi.

"He's always been, you know, hugely connected with the music that's being written here as well as, the sort of cutting-edge jazz music that's been produced and written overseas.

"I went to a concert a year or two ago where he had a whole lot of New Zealand composers write big band music inspired by the poetry of Hone Tuwhare and it was one of the most inspiring concerts, it was just absolutely beautiful. And the way in which every composer came from a different angle with a different poem was just very, very special, including a composition by Rog that he wrote, which was absolutely brilliant."