Jazz Legend and Legacy

By Kristan Mouat | Posted: Thursday February 6, 2020

Logan Park High School, Dunedin and New Zealanders celebrated the life of Calder Prescott, Dunedin's Jazz Maestro at the end of January.

Calder died peacefully aged 88 years after a very full and inspiring life. The Dunedin jazz maestro conducted our school's legendary jazz band from 1983 to 2015. Mr Prescott said he took on the role of conductor after being invited to listen to the jazz band by the school's head of music at the time, Netta Wylie. "I said to her, 'The band sounds quite nice, but they're not playing jazz.' She said, 'Would you like to take the band?' So I got hoist by my own petard and I accepted." After Calder took on the band, it was in demand to perform at school, city and national concerts. Within three years, he had raised the band to a standard where it won the 1986 New Zealand Secondary Schools Jazz Festival in Wellington and was runner-up in the National Jazz Festival for Secondary Schools held in conjunction with the Tauranga Jazz Festival.

Since then the band has won many national and international awards, toured Australia several times and represented New Zealand at the International Music Festival. In 2009, the band made its first CD, in the University of Otago music studio. Many former members of the jazz band have been selected to play in the NZ Secondary Schools' Jazz Orchestra, continued their study of performance jazz music at the Wellington School of Music at Victoria University or in overseas universities and become members of some of NZ's top ensembles. Many have also become experts in other musical areas, including composition and musical arranging. A significant number are also studying music at Otago University.

Mr Prescott said he would miss the band, particularly the "absolute joy" of picking up the "odd prize" with the band. "I'll also miss the kids. It's all been good fun - it's been very rewarding. I wouldn't have missed it for quids."

Despite retiring as conductor of the school band in 2015, Mr Prescott continued as conductor of the Dunedin City Jazz Orchestra. He was still working at Logan Park High School at the end of 2019 helping to supervise senior students in exams. We'll miss Calder but his musical legacy lives on in the lives of everyone he touched through his involvement in music.

See the Otago Daily Times 24 January 2020 article here: Death of Beloved MusicanDunedin's jazz scene has lost one of its founding fathers.

Musician Calder Prescott died yesterday morning at the age of 88.

He was diagnosed with liver cancer on December 21 last year, and moved into Marne Street Hospital six days later.

A member of jazz bands in the city since the early 1950s, he went on to found the Dunedin City Jazz Orchestra in 1988.

His son, Mark Prescott, described his father as a "kind, caring, hard working guy".

"He was one of life’s gentlemen," he said.

He said his father was "very satisfied and proud" of the musical legacy he had left behind.

Logan Park High School Music Teacher John Dodd said Mr Prescott was a jazz tutor at the school for about 30 years, where he made a "massive" contribution.

He was responsible for tutoring the school’s jazz band, believed to be the first high school jazz band in New Zealand.

"He insisted on excellence, and he got it," Mr Dodd said.

"He was Dunedin’s Mr Jazz."

Mr Prescott was admitted to hospital late last year, after falling on stairs on his way to what was supposed to be his final gig.

"Typical of his humour, when I went out to see him he said ‘Well, I didn’t get paid for the gig’," Mr Dodd said.

He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 for services to music.

He was also a veteran broadcaster, and started volunteering on Otago Access Radio in April 2003.

He recorded his final show, from Marne Street Hospital, on January 9.

Station manager Lesley Paris said Mr Prescott was a "wonderful man" and a big supporter of the station, helping with fundraising events.

Mr Prescott is survived by his wife, Lesley, two daughters, and one son. A second son pre-deceased him.