One meets few young persons who seem to just have that blessing to meet the right people in the right circumstances at the right time, and have the God-given skills to positively recognise, absorb, and exploit those opportunities that result from such contacts. An astrologer would go astro in analysing Darren’s chart. It makes us all jealous! So how is young Darren English taking up these straight balls (to use a pool expression -his favourite game) to grow himself and his artistry? Most of us know curved balls….
Let’s go backward: 24 year old jazz trumpeter Darren, currently visiting his Muizenberg family, is soon to leave for Tuscany, Italy, to meet his heart-throb friend Whitney, a New Yorker, who is finishing her Ph.D. in Anthropology. Hummm…… an interesting pull for Darren. While in Italy, he will hopefully play in “a few festivals”. From there to France….to Alaska.
Darren is invited to feature as ‘the young artist’ with the Sitka Jazz Festival in Alaska in Feb 2015. One of his many contacts he made while he played the USA jazz circuit this year, after finishing his Masters degree at Georgia State University in Atlanta, paid off. Darren doesn’t know what the program will be yet or who he’s playing with, except he will play with one small and one big band.
Ok, so after Alaska? Who wants to be in freezing Alaska in the middle of winter, pray tell?? “The jazz will warm you up there. They know!” cackles Darren.
In February, Darren plans to return to a more southern Atlanta, his second home. By then, maybe the northern hemisphere freeze will start to thaw. “There are two special individuals, Ralph and ChaCha, who have adopted me.” Ralph deejays with a jazz radio station WRFG [98.3 FM].
I am happy to hear this because…… Darren had just arrived in Atlanta in September 2012 to start a Masters program at Georgia State. I also arrived for a short visit. Through Jazz Education Network (JEN) based in USA, I had arranged for newly-arrived Darren to appear on WRFG-FM to talk with me and the DJs about South African jazz. Little did I know dear DJ Ralph had eyed Darren as a son to adopt!
So when Darren’s visa to stay in USA expired, after finishing his academic program this year, Darren gasped. So…… he met Hot Shoe Records, an Atlanta label. Tony Wasilewski, its owner, who ‘heard about Darren”, approached Darren in July 2014 to “do an album” with some of Darren’s compositions and top notch musicians. Darren didn’t realize that Tony was listing him as the ‘youngest musician’ in the album, paying for the whole album’s production costs, and even organizing for Darren’s new USA visa under the Record label! Three years! Darren thanks GOD for Tony. See: http://www.hotshoerecords.com/news-2.htm
“We connected over music, because in South Africa, I was into sports cars and building an old Porsche, a BMW…. And Tony was into the same thing, but on an actual budget! So Tony would invite me for breakfast at a restaurant, and would come in his super-renovated Porsche model xxx”
It’s about contacts……and cars…….
So Atlanta is like your second home? “The way people accepted me in Atlanta was amazing. Particularly, my mentor Joe Gransden, and my professor, Dr. Gordon Vernick. I’d play every week, and people seemed to genuinely love me. I feel undeserved. Ralph helped me to get my motorcycle, which you knew then. Ralph is like my Dad now.”
Yes, I knew Darren’s bike! During my second visit to my newly-bought condo near Piedmont Park in May 2013, where the Atlanta Jazz Festival was rocking the town, dear Darren rocked up in his heavy Harley, with obvious exhaust vibes uncharacteristic of good Jazz sounds. I cringed as I thought neighbours would freak out, in this quiet neighbourhood, at the sounds of this belching dinosaurus rex!
Settle? “I just want to perform and share. You’re either good at your art, or not. I’ve got a job at Georgia State University, even with a Masters degree, if I want, and also a proposal in to another school in Atlanta. I’ll teach trumpet, or drums. And I can play piano with combos. Prof Gordon has been a great father at University, strict but fun and understanding. By default, I’ve been surrounded by good people!
How do you feel coming back to Cape Town? “Some of my mentors say, ‘This isn’t the place for you’. I came from a hectic busy schedule back in Atlanta, so I just chilled when back home. I do miss meeting up with those musicians here doing things. But sometimes, I feel I don’t fit here. There’s not many places to check out to play in. But I remember all those great musos I met when I was 13 ot 14 years old, when I played in Grahamstown. I played in Russell Gunn’s Jazz Orkestra at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and Joe Gransden’s big band. Both helped me grow in ways I never imagined.”
Longterm plans? “Whitney was accepted in a law program at University of Arizona, but went off to complete her Ph.D. in Anthropology. So I thought I might do law with her! But I would still play the circuit when I return to Atlanta.
Good fortune seems to follow Darren…..
Dan did his Masters thesis on the life and work of late saxophonist, Nic LeRoux, with whom Darren shares a birth day, 9 June. Dr. Vernick offered him a scholarship in Atlanta which was only for tuition. But Darren needed funds for living in USA. At the last minute, in 2012, he won the SAMRO Overseas Award just before he flew away! Before that, Fine Music Radio awarded Darren two awards. Darren has received 100% on his recital marks at UCT.
“God has been too good to me. I never paid for schooling through college, my brother had started med school. My parents struggled. For my Honors, I received more funds than I needed to spend! Extra money went into my car hobbies. I still appreciate a good looking vehicle.”
FMR paid out R20,000 and then SAMRO gave R170,000. Darren was flying high! “I had prayed alot for guidance. I think it’s God…..And I thank SAMRO immensely!”