Jazz Young keepers of the SA jazz flame

Young keepers of the SA jazz flame

If we trust our young people, and give them the tools they need, then surely our heritage is in safe hands,” says Concord Nkabinde, director of the Standard Bank National Youth Band 2015, after they’d played his first three arrangements on Monday night at the DSG Hall.

Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane

Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane

And Nkabinde, a former Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, pretty much left the band to present the music, while he retired to the wings. He felt, he said, that they were quite capable of taking charge. And take charge they did, with, of course, the help of some neat arrangements by their mentor.

Bearing in mind that this band, selected through a rigorous audition process, had only a few days to jell, and Nkabinde had only this short period to come up with suitable charts, this culminating performance of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival was exemplary. Festival Director Alan Webster tells of many inspiring background stories – including one musician who was about to cancel owing to economic constraints but who, through a series of circumstances and some generosity, was able to be part of this young octet.

The Western Cape (OK, Cape Town) tends to contribute overwhelmingly to young jazz here, but this year there is a welcome balance – only three members of the band are from down South: fellow Delft Big Band trumpeters Lorenzo Blignaut and Marcelle Adams and guitarist Bradley Prince (UCT). Pianist Phuthi Sepuru is from the University of Pretoria, while tenor saxophonist Thami Mahlangu attends the Tshwane University of Technology, as does vocalist Keorapatse Kolwane. The very first Youth Band member from Bloemfontein is drummer Tshiamo Nkoane, and KZN’s representative is Dalisu Ndlazi on electric bass. It’s a national band indeed.

Nkabinde chooses Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue (made famous by John Coltrane) as the first two tunes, with Kolwane singing instrumentally alongside the horns, then receiving audience yelps for her soulful rendering of the lyric, while Ndlazi provides strong African bass. Sepuru’s sensitive comping on synth in Afro Blue augurs well for a more prominent role in the third tune, the Latininflected Get Lucky, on which drummer Nkoane tastefully trades fours with his fellow band members. Nkabinde has written a composition especially for the band, a lovely ballad, If You Do Forget Me, Remember This. Here too Sepuru shines, as do Blignaut on flugelhorn and Mahlangu on sax. Nkabinde invites jazz harmonica player Adam Glasser to join the band for a Miles Davis medley. He does so with grace.
Nkabinde announces that they’ve run out of time, but, like Kesivan Naidoo the night before, he simply overruns. The audience are happy to stay for a trumpet battle between the Delft Big Band guys (Adams and Blignaut), who, in an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, play loud and high, qualities not necessarily recommended but it’s done with some musical clowning, so we indulge them. The set ends with the two ladies (Kolwane and Sepuru) impressing with a gentle Tutu Puoane- Ewout Pierreux ballad learnt only a few hours before.

Nkabinde set this group of talented young musicians some challenges and they seem to have risen to all of them. If they are to succeed individually, they’ll need to be tough, dedicated and exceptional. As a group, they’ll be performing at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and elsewhere. They should just get better and better. Here is your jazz future, South Africa!

Nigel Vermaas

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