Jake Baxendale

Jake Baxendale is an alto saxophonist and composer based in Te Whanganui-A-Tara, Aotearoa (Wellington, New Zealand). Raised in remote Mohua (Golden Bay), he demonstrates in his life and music a freedom of expression, a love of nature, and a community-oriented mindset that is heavily influenced by his upbringing.

He studied at the NZSM Te Kōkī from 2007-2011, during which time he also began collaborating with the performance art company Binge Culture Collective. Later, he cut his teeth playing a weekly residency with John Rae’s eclectic large group The Troubles.

In 2012, he recorded his debut album Nerve with Wellington 8-piece The Jac, featuring compositions by himself and guitarist Callum Allardice.

In 2013, the pair moved to Berlin to experience life and music in another city. It was in Berlin that Jake met Luke Sweeting, a jazz pianist from Sydney. Together they formed the group Antipodes, aiming to develop a trans-Pacific sound incorporating their shared European experience.

Since returning to Aotearoa in 2014, Jake has released six albums between The Jac and Antipodes:

Nerve was nominated for the NZ Music Best Jazz Album Award in 2015, Good Winter for the same award in 2019, and A Gathering was the winner in 2021.

In 2016, Jake secured the Edwin Carr scholarship towards composition lessons in New York City with Darcy James Argue, Miguel Zenon, Dave Douglas, and Jon Irabagon, and saxophone lessons with David Binney, Loren Stillman, and Michael Attias. This led to a commission from Creative New Zealand to write for a collaboration between The Jac and South Korean traditional/fusion group Black String.

The project debuted at the 2017 Wellington Jazz Festival, and later toured South Korea, including performances at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival and Bukchon Traditional Music Festival. His composition Beyond the Palace, written for this project, was nominated for an APRA Best Jazz Composition award in 2018. He was the winner for the same award in 2020 for his composition Tūī, which featured on The Jac’s A Gathering.

In 2017 Jake founded Jazz Aotearoa, a professional association representing jazz creators, presenters, educators and audiences in Aotearoa. This was a flop—but it helped to facilitate conversations around the motu about the needs and aspirations for jazz and improvised music in Aotearoa.

More successful was the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra (ASLO), which started hosting weekly concerts of original music for large ensembles at the now defunct Third Eye: Temple of Taste in 2018.

The series ran for three years, hosting many local and international composers and launching a number of still-active big bands and jazz orchestras. You can hear some of the fruits of this endeavour in Cave Circles Tuone—Found in Translation, Callum Allardice’s Cinematic Light Orchestra, and Jake’s own collaboration with Jasmine Lovell-Smith, Sanctuary. Released in 2021, Sanctuary saw the pair nominated for the Aotearoa Music Awards “Best Jazz Artist” and was featured in Bandcamp’s “Best Jazz on Bandcamp” in June of that year.

Since ASLO wound up, Jake has been focused on smaller groups and more improvised approaches to playing and composition; in 2020 he participated in Metamorphosis, a collective of improvising musicians and dancers directed by Java Dance Company’s Sacha Copland. In 2021, he completed a Masters in Music at the University of Auckland, under the supervision of Roger Manins, which explored techniques for generating fresh and personal improvisations. This resulted in Striking Moments, an ongoing series of workshops and improvised music gigs.

Jake has contributed compositions and performances to many other albums, including the self released JB3—Live at the Rogue and Vagabond and Richter City Rebels’ We Do It Like That and Hard Work Hard Money. And Bazurka’s Novi Grad All Stars. Jake reunited with Binge Culture in 2019 to arrange and record the soundtrack to Yorick! and was commissioned by the Lōemis festival in 2022 alongside Michael Costeloe to write a show of ritualistic dance music for a new brass-heavy ensemble, The Medium Orchestra.

Jake tours Aotearoa and Australia regularly with both The Jac and Antipodes, and has performed nationally with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Stroma, The Troubles, Richter City Rebels, The Rodger Fox Big Band, The Wellington Mingus Ensemble, Bazurka, and his own trio JB3, among many others. He currently runs the jazz band at the Rātā school of music.