Jazz Singer Tim Beveridge has created a smooth mix of musical talent and songs for a new orchestra

Tim Beveridge was born to wear a bowtie and tux. A natural baritone who enjoys the sophisticated singing style of a Sinatra or Harry Connick | jun, the Rotorua native is backing himself all the way by putting his own production, Fly Me to the Moon, on the Christchurch concert stage next month for one night only. It's a risky business, he says, but then so is the whole music business.

"I'm more excited about this concert than I have been in a long time. Seriously. Probably because I'm in control of doing it — I'm paying for it — but it's scary."

Beveridge is an enthusiast with the gift of the gab, and ideas, names, and projects roll off his tongue like rapid semi-quavers chased down with a triple-shot macchiato. He is particularly excited about the orchestral concept he and musical director Tom Rainey have adopted for this show.

"I wanted to build an orchestra of good musicians that is distinctive in sound and name," he says. "And I just love the idea of putting together a great bunch of musicians who are all hand-picked."

The name is the Christchurch Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, and it's based on a concept created by US bandmaster Stan Kenton in the mid-'60s.

A grown-up big band, like the exciting jazz orchestras of the past, the 17-piece jazz orchestra assembled for the Town Hall concert is made up of key players on the Christchurch jazz scene, including arranger and lead trumpeter Cameron Pearce

It promises a night of slick musical entertainment led from the front by Beveridge featuring new and classic arrangements of favourites from the great American songbook, with guest vocalist Naomi Ferguson and the orchestra led by Rainey from the piano.

Beveridge's easy way with a tune and strong stage presence made him a sure bet for the musical-theatre roles he gravitated to after forsaking criminal-law practice some 12 years ago. He understudied Rob Guest in the leading role of Phantom of the Opera in Sydney at just 29, and was an unprecedented two-time finalist in Britain's prestigious BBC Voice of Musical Theatre competition in 2000 and 2002.

Since then, he has gone on to become a regular big-stage performer around New Zealand and beyond, having sung at the biggest venues in the country and at major festivals and musical events alongside knights and dames (Howard Morrison, Malvina Major), stalwarts and newcomers (Frankie Stevens, Hayley Westenra), on the stages of the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Concert Hall, and in Malaysia and London.

He's sung the national anthem before four All Black test matches (with four wins to the ABs) and his first album, Singer, which he recorded with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, achieved gold status within four weeks of release.

His latest album — Come Rain, Come Shine (Sony/BMG) — features special arrangements by legendary US band and symphonic arranger Russ Garcia.

Born in California way back in 1916, Garcia, 90, has worked with an encyclopaedia of who's who in the music business, from Satchmo and Ella to Sinatra, Count Basie, Quincy Jones and many, many more, as well as teaching, writing books about writing music, and composing scores for Hollywood films.

Garcia organised to record and conduct the backings for Beveridge's album in Hollywood with the Buddy Childer's Big Band.

"We recorded the band in one day," Beveridge says. "They're legends — the best in the world. The whole album took just 5 ½  hours. We did the guide tracks over there and all vocals in New Zealand. And we mixed it in a garage in the back of Lower Hutt."

Garcia had, supposedly, retired to the Far North, but sharpened his pencils again in 2002 after hearing Beveridge sing. He continues to provide new arrangements for Beveridge, some of which will feature in this concert.

"Cam's done a couple of arrangements, Russ has done two-thirds of them and some new ones, and I've done some as well," Tom Rainey says. "We're also using some arrangements by Nelson Riddle for Naomi, and some from Duke Ellington and Count Basie and some more modern arrangements, such as Burt Bacharach's This Guy's in Love and Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

"There are a lot of songs by Sinatra and Bennett, and you don't often get the chance to hear a male singer singing this repertoire with such classy arrangements."

"When Russ Garcia first came to New Zealand," Beveridge says, "he recorded with the Auckland Neophonic Orchestra. They did some amazing recordings and I thought 'wow, it would be great to resurrect that'.

"It's a big band — four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes, four-piece rhythm section, and maybe extra percussion. I wanted to build an orchestra of good musicians that is distinctive in sound and name, so if this goes successfully, then we can do something else with maybe another singer."

Tim Beveridge feels production is a logical extension from what he's done before, producing his own albums, and helping create, produce and direct as well as performing in the annual Rotorua Lakeside Festival for the last 10 years.

"Most of the stuff I've done, I've made happen. To sing in this country is very hard work."

Would law have been any easier? "Law I found to be pretty horrible. You know, logging every six minutes of the day on a timesheet. That wasn't me. It wasn't a hard decision to give it up."

Guest vocalist Naomi Ferguson is looking forward to performing in Fly Me to the Moon, though when she gets time to focus on it is anyone's guess. At the time of writing she was appearing as Egea ("a grumpy old bag") in Canterbury Young Shakespeare Company's production of Midsummer Night's Dream, for which she also composed some music. When she's not acting or singing selections from her CD with her band Lava, she teaches singing, both in a private practice and in schools, and runs the CPIT jazz choir.

"I'm really looking forward to singing with Tim. I have a great time with him on and off stage. We've both got crazy senses of humour.

"And I love singing with big bands, it's such an amazing feeling. With Tim, Tom and a big band — that's my idea of a great time."

As for the repertoire for the show, Beveridge says "we're spoilt for choice".

"We are working on narrowing it down, actually. I'll probably do some stuff that I've done in the past, you know, classics like Mack the Knife, Fly Me to the Moon, obviously, and I've just received a brand new arrangement of it from Russ Garcia that's just awesome. In the Still of the Night — Cole Porter. It's basically the American songbook. There's a great song, Angel Eyes, that I want to do; The Way You Wear Your Hat, Can't Take That Away from Me, It Had to Be You — that sort of thing.

"It's just about having a good time on stage. Not taking ourselves too seriously, but dressing up smart, slick, polished and beautiful, beautiful music.

"I think you've got to find a balance between finding new things to do and giving people what they're coming for. So we're gonna swing our pants off."

Fly Me to the Moon: Tim Beveridge, the Christchurch Neophonic Jazz Orchestra led by Tom Rainey, and special guest Naomi Ferguson, Town Hall, July 15. Bookings: Ticketek.



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Press photo Tim and Tomsinger Tim Beveridge  with pianist conductor Tom Rainey