WHERE IS SOUTH AFRICAN JAZZ HEADING?

Where are the venues? I can’t do late nights! I really don’t understand this ‘improvisation’ thing – sounds like noise to me. These are comments heard from many who wish to support our local musical talents, but cannot find a comfort level with ‘jazz’. Rather, the uncertain keep gravitating to what they already know – that vibey afternoon restaurant with a blues guitarist, that music club nearby that plays electric or rock/pop.

While jazz enthusiasts, or those who would like to learn more, speculate about ‘how is jazz doing in South Africa’, curious and hopeful attitudes seem to be growing. Let’s hear from our Festival performers:

Pianist Bokani Dyer admits there are a lot of powerful young voices on the scene right now. He feels part of something, like being plugged into the rest of the world, with a new wave of younger musicians who are proud of their South African heritage and ready to explode it through the arts to other continents. For instance, Dyer is presently compiling for publication a more comprehensive South African ‘REAL’ book of compositions of musicians from all parts of the country. This would educate the public at large about these worthy artists and enable the less well known artists to present their profiles.

Saxophonist Buddy Wells really enjoys the directions which South African jazz is taking, with exciting young composers and players pushing the boundaries, like Reza Khota, Bokani Dyer, Kyle Shepherd, and the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Benjamin Jephta, to name a few. Likewise, Bongani Sotshononda sees that bright future: “In the past 5 years,

Bongani Sotshononda at Native Yards

having been introduced to many extremely talented musicians, I can safely say that the world needs to watch this space. In the past, seasoned musicians from Europe and America at international jazz festivals used to scare us as these artists were on top of the game. Now, in my opinion, our local jazz musos, thanks to their dedication, are on par with some of the world’s best talents!”

Trombonist Jannie ‘Hanepoot’ van Tonder says SA jazz is going through a period of renewal, where a lot of young musicians are receiving an education which was not available 20 or 30 years ago. “Since the advent of jazz being taught at our universities (however limited or lacking in direction some of those programmes might be), the result has been a new generation of jazz musicians who can read and write, and even have qualifications to work at recognised institutions such as music schools and universities. This wave of education, together with the valuable work done by Capetown-based grassroots institutions like IMAD, The Little Giants, and the Delft Big Band, is bringing about a new era with many skilled young musicians practising and teaching their craft. Unfortunately, the lack of infrastructure and funding supports, amidst a seemingly corrupt government not able to grow the economy, minimizes opportunities to develop latent talents in music and the arts in general.

On the other hand, pianist Ramon Alexander is seeing how the young South African composers are digging deeper within themselves for a more personalized, individual sound that seems to steer from a local sound to a more globalized one.

         Ramon Alexander album

“In South Africa, like in America and Europe, you will always have the forward-thinking ‘Pioneers’ competing with the ‘Conservatives’, the preservers of tradition. I believe that if you have a balanced pool of both the ‘Pioneer’ and the ‘Conservative’, you will always have a wonderful, diverse body of work within our South African music community. Diversity is key.”
Warning! The ‘scouts’ in the corporate industries are enticing teenagers with fame and greed, says Jazz Yard Academy Chris Petersen. “We encourage the kids to be confident and to have faith in the goals they have set in life, but sometimes at performances, ‘scouts’ by-pass the JYA adult personnel and secretly approach the kids with financial offers. This is a scourge that makes it very difficult for us to keep the kids focused on the bigger picture. Yet, with more education for youth, particularly valuable interactions with the Cape jazz legends, we can ensure the proliferation and sustainability of Cape Jazz music worldwide.”

Muriel Marco

Singer/pianist Muriel Marco speculates whether the artist is freely exploring and playing for the audience, or is the artist playing for the market? “There has been a tremendous exploration beyond boundaries by the musicians, and supports for venues and festivals are growing. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a steady venue in Capetown that can support daily concerts.” The repetitive mantra from worried musicians continues to haunt: How can we creatively explore with our craft if the basic financial supports are hard to find?

In terms of the overseas market, there is heightened demand for South African jazz to collaborate, through performances, cultural exchanges, and workshops, with host country musicians and their educational institutions, according to saxophonist McCoy Mrubata. “Our music is being studied abroad and we are always asked to conduct workshops and master classes when we tour in other countries.” Likewise, trumpeter Keegan Steenkamp gets motivation from seeing his colleagues, as in his MSMF band, search for that stronger sense of direction in sounds and styles. “I see young musicians growing up to be less influenced by international trends and styles, it’s already happening, and the ripple effect has begun. My generation is partly a product of it. That consciousness in these young creatives is what I think will help bring back a bigger audience for South African music.”

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