Friday, August 19, 2011

An overdue note

One and a half years late, but what the hell.

I've been conducting some interviews lately with South African artists - mostly jazz, but I think the genre line gets fuzzy as a general rule when discussing South African jazz (for reference, see the increasingly tiresome debate over whether Hugh Masekela is jazz or, not here...just look around, I suppose).

The interviews are online at, but I'll hyperlink them below, too.

The first interview, which was published earlier this year, was with a guitarist named Derek Gripper. He performs classical pieces, Brazilian music, Malian kora music transcribed for guitar, original compositions, Cape vastraps (a quickstep-style dance), and so on. He just began releasing his own albums through his limited-print label, New Cape Records. The interview is quite striking, and he's very forthcoming with info and engaging, so I hope you'll read it. From a personal standpoint, one particular album of his stands out for me: Sagtevlei, which he recorded with the late multi-instrumentalist Alex van Heerden. Mr. van Heerden and his extraordinary body of work merit their own blog entry (maybe even their own blog!), but for now, just check out Sagtevlei and maybe give the interview a read (Derek and I discuss Alex).

The second interview that's currently live is with a jazz pianist and composer named Jason Reolon. He began playing in a group called Breakfast Included, which in the very late 90s into the early part of the last decade, was something of a jazz sensation in SA. A number of critics wrote extensively about the group, and particularly highlighted Jason's playing. He just released an album called Outline that I thought was pretty magnificent - beautiful jazz trio work, in fact. In conjunction with his interview, the site also made one of his tracks available for free download. Check it out - wonderful stuff.

I figure, in lieu of writing too much about either of these artists, I'd actually just suggest reading the interviews - they do a better job explaining their work and music than I do!

More interviews will be coming - one with a guitarist named Bruce Muirhead (whose exceptional debut album I reviewed), another with a drummer and entrepreneur named Peter Auret, and a third one with a pastor, singer, and music promoter named Glenn Robertson. There will be further interviews too, but these ones are nearly completed.

The overall lesson I learned from these interviews, however, is that South Africa is currently enjoying a wealth of talent and innovation that it hasn't seen in a while. The shame is, clubs there are closing, and in fact I don't believe there is a single dedicated jazz club remaining in South Africa right now. However, what also struck me from these interviews was the level of business innovation that a number of artists are applying towards rectifying this and rebuilding the scene: from Robertson's Friday night jazz series (forthcoming interview), to Auret's Afrisound label and musician collective in Johannesburg (likewise), to Kesivan Naidoo's Silent Revolution Productions and their mini-jazz festivals (have to conduct the interview, but THEN it will be forthcoming). I found myself not only blown away by the music and artistry, but also deeply respectful of the business savvy many of these artists are demonstrating.

I am looking forward to writing more on that soon.

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