August is the best time of year for jazz lovers to be in Johannesburg because that’s when the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, South Africa’s premier jazz festival livens up Joburg’s inner city. The Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, was present with the audience at the opening. Thabo Mbeki and other VIPs made it on other nights. I was there on all three nights.
The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Honours earlier this month saw five jazz divas receive lifetime awards on 10 August 2013, Abigail Kubeka, Dorothy Masuka, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Thandie Klaasen and Sathima Bea Benjamin. Sadly, this was the last public appearance of “The African Songbird”. The 76 year old Sathima Bea Benjamin died on 20 August, 2013. She was buried on 21 August, 2013. She was married (but estranged) to Abdullah Ibrahim who opened the Joy of Jazz festival on 22 August, 2013, so it was with a great deal of empathy that those in the audience who knew about this listened to his somewhat subdued performance. Benjamin and Ibrahim had two children together, a son, Tsakwe Brand, and a daughter, Tsidi (a hip-hop artist who uses the name Jean Grae). Ibrahim’s band, Ekaya, were marvellous, as were the other bands on the evening. Abudullah Ibrahim and fellow musicians is featured on the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD playing Sotho Blues.
Ahmad Jamal (USA), who is now 84, could not make it at the last minute (reason unspecified, but he also appears on the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD) and Amina Figarova, born in Azerbaijan (former USSR), and her band replaced the legend. What a fabulous time Amina Figarova and her musicians gave South African audiences. Figarova is a classically trained concert pianist and she certainly brings everything she has to her performance. She will be playing on the Dinaledi stage again on Saturday 24 August 2013.
Finally we got to hear the great Terence Blanchard, trumpeter, composer, band-leader with his band. I was blown away. Some people moved forward to sit on the floor in the front. The Terence Blanchard Quintet comprises Brice Winston (sax), Fabian Almazan (pianist from Cuba), Joshua Crumbly (bass), Kendrick Scott (percussion) and Lionel Loueke from Benin (guitar and vocals). It was the latter who quickly grabbed the hearts of the African audience. I cannot wait to have another opportunity to hear Terence Blanchard and his musicians on the Friday night again on the Dinaledi stage. Terence Blanchard hails from New Orleans and surely has jazz in his blood.
The second night of the Festival sees all nine stages being used and the whole of Newtown throbs will conviviality as every venue is full. Parking is at a premium and while we park free we tip the guards R50 as we leave which seems to be the going rate for parking in the area on the second and third nights – last night we gave only half of that. The guards are on duty in bitterly cold weather (August being winter in the southern hemisphere) and this is one of the few times in the year where they make a “killing”. They might as well enjoy it.
The second night I settle down at the Dinaledi stage for the duration, but my friend heads off to sample some of the sounds on other stages, catching a few minutes of Tsuyoshi Yanamoto from Japan (who appears on the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD playing It Could Happen to You) down at the Bassline and a larger slice of the Tango Jazz Quartet from Argentina on the Conga Stage. He’s particularly impressed by the latter. That must have been something to beat what I heard on the CD.
Carmen Lundy from the USA has a lovely rich voice. She is also featured on the Joy of Jazz 2013 CD with her rendition of Too Late for Love.
South Africa’s own Peter Auret was up next. The Peter Auret Trio features Roland Moses (piano) and James Sunney (bass) with Peter Auret (drums) as band leader, composer and producer of this energetic and dynamic South African Jazz trio.
From Peter Auret to Peter White – and my first oopsie on my many tweets during the festival. I referred to Peter Auret when I meant Peter White. I’m blaming the programme for allowing two Peters in a row. Peter White loves the limelight, and the audience loved him. Peter White is also featured on the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD with a number entitled Time Never Sleeps.
The last performer on the Dinaledi Stage on the second night was again Terence Blanchard. Now jazz is traditionally performed in smoke-filled venues with plenty of booze and goes on till late at night. Me? I’m ever so sad to report that I am old (nah! that has nothing to do with it, I was like this when I was young too) and like to go to bed before midnight, so we left before his set. I may not have been been in bed before midnight, but I was already asleep when the great trumpeter was still entertaining his appreciative audience. I am grateful that I heard him on Thursday night.
On the Saturday we headed out to the newly renovated Main Theatre at The Market Theatre. Building operations are still ongoing but inside the theatre there have been changes. The seats are roomier and plush velvet replaces whatever was there before.
I am a dedicated fan of the Charl du Plessis Trio with Werner Spies on bass (a stick) and Hugo Radyn on drums. Charl du Plessis is on piano. My friend buys me a Charl du Plessis Trio CD which thrills me. He even has it autographed for me. The next time that I hear the Charl du Plessis Trio live will probably be on 22 September 2013 at the Linder Auditorium when they play for the Johannesburg Musical Society.
Next up is Lenora Raphael. She is also featured on the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD with a number entitled Blues of O.P. We listen to her briefly then move off to explore and enjoy the vibe in Newtown before heading off home. Last year we ate at the restaurants in and around Newtown. This year we ate at the venues themselves. The coffee provided by Nescafe was excellent value at R5 including the mug. The best meal was the curry at The Market Theatre in what used to be Gramadoelos.
Judging by the official Joy of Jazz 2013 CD the two acts I am most sorry I missed were Tsuyoshi Yamamoto and Adam Glasser.
The organisation of the three night Joy of Jazz festival just seems to get better and better each year, even though it always seems as if last year was already perfect. Peter Tladi of T-Musicman and his team are to be thanked for this, together with the various sponsors, not least of which, of course, is Standard Bank. I also owe producer Mantwa Chinoamadi a personal thank you for organising access for me which made my life so much easier than it would otherwise have been. I blessed her several times during the festival. What an example of ubuntu at work!
This has been another fabulous Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival. Long may they continue to bring their special magic to Joburg’s Newtown Cultural Precinct.
About me: I’m a newbie to the world of jazz. One doesn’t need to know lots of technical stuff about jazz in order to experience the pleasure it brings. One simply has to show up and let the music do the rest.
Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, jazz is big, but somehow I missed getting into it until fairly recently, so I come to the jazz world largely ignorant about everything and anything, but hugely enthusiastic about the fabulous sounds I keep hearing when I venture into jazz concerts. The skill of the musicians in being able connect all the music and then improvise so skillfully blows me away. The sheer mastery they have over their instruments also impresses me.
I can only listen with interest and learn, and am keen to share my jazz music journey with others who can guide me or even learn with me.