When she was just 19, Auckland singer Esme Stephens performed in her home town with one of the greatest bands of the jazz era.
In 1943, as part of the “American invasion” of US troops on their way to fight in the Pacific, swing star Artie Shaw visited in New Zealand with his US Navy band. He had hand-picked the musicians from his jazz peers who had been called up or volunteered. Shaw and his uniformed cohorts arrived in New Zealand fatigued and disgruntled after months of playing jazz in hot, sticky, hazardous war zones. On the morning of 1 August, during a rehearsal for a concert that night at the St James Theatre on Queen Street, it was suggested that perhaps the band should have a female vocalist perform on a couple of numbers.