When listening to records just wasn’t good enough, a group of friends under the inspiration of Dennis Koks, and all with a shared interest in jazz decided to work out how they could present live jazz concerts in Kiama.
The Kiama Jazz Club began in 1974 with their first concert featuring “The internationally famous Don Burrows Quartet”. Proceeds from the first concert were shared between the Save the Children Fund and the Shell Harbour Art Centre.
These live concerts gave the people of Kiama the opportunity to hear the best of Australian Jazz and then later, many International musicians as well.
The club has certainly grown and thrived over the years but their existence has not been without incident. Take the ‘Great Piano Scandal” of 1982, a story which according to Harry Stein, in his book 'Blowing at the Blowhole', “rocked Kiama to its very foundations”.
According to Harry, the Jazz Club’s first international performers, Monty Alexander, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, had been booked to perform at the Kiama Bowling Club. The only problem was that they needed a grand piano for Monty. Finally one was located at the Blue Haven Retirement Village but it was badly out of tune and several of the keys were duds. The Jazz Club had the piano tested by a piano tuner who promised the club that he would have the piano reconditioned to concert standard before the performance. As the date for the concert drew closer there was still no sign of the piano tuner and urgent phone calls followed. Finally the tuner arrived and declared the piano performance ready. A test of the piano the next day found the standard to be sadly lacking and the tuner was summoned to fix the problem. He arrived, fiddled with the piano, departed and was never seen again. When it was time for the performance, Monty Alexander took his place at the piano and began to play. He looked around in amazement when he immediately hit three dud keys. At the interval he told the committee, "It’s a disgrace asking me to play on such a piano. Look, I’m an international recording artist, yet you expect me to play on such a dud piano." He refused to play any more.
Fortunately, another piano tuner was found and he spent 40 minutes going over the piano but could do nothing about the dud keys. Monty was persuaded to return to the stage where he showed his great skill and artistry by 'playing around the missing keys'. The next issue of the The Independent ran an editorial about this scandal and the paper was full of angry letters from local residents. The result of this fiasco was the purchase of a brand new grand piano and at that time, the Kiama Jazz Club was the only jazz club in Australia to have its own Baby Grand.
February, 1988 saw the launch of the first official Kiama Jazz Festival, a festival that has continued to grow and thrive thanks to the dedication of its hard working committee chaired by Dennis Koks. Many national and international stars have performed at the Kiama Jazz Festival including, Margret Roadknight, James Morrison, Julie Anthony, Richie Cole, Buddy Tate and Roger Frampton.