Saturday, February 10, 2018

Nduduzo Makhathini: Jazz Is a Shared Memory

I had the opportunity to interview pianist Nduduzo Makhathini and discuss his latest project. He was a truly remarkable artist to speak with, and his answers on the questions are illuminating and exceptional. You can read the article here:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Uhadi and South African Jazz videos

I had the opportunity to work with some wonderful artists from Johannesburg, in a group we formed called Uhadi.

While they were in town, we prepared some videos outlining South African Jazz styles. Two of them - a video on mbaqanga and a video on ghoema - are up here. Check them out:

Two more lessons--one on marabi and one on Jazz in the anti-apartheid struggle--will be posted soon, as will a longer form oral history with Sibongile Khumalo.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Peter Auret

I recently completed an interview with the drummer Peter Auret. He's a fascinating figure - a wonderful jazz drummer, but also a guy who is looking to find solutions to a declining array of performance opportunities for jazz artists in South Africa.

He formed his own collective, around his self-produced label Afrisonic, and is beginning to develop showcase-style performances in Johannesburg. Given the dearth of clubs in the country, Auret's vision may prove to be a helpful antidote for SA, which is swimming in incredible talent, but lacking in appropriate venues for the talent to perform.

Auret just released a marvelous album, Turn the Tide, which I heartily recommend.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ard Matthews


Ard Matthews opts for epic fail [a la Christina Aguilera]:

[insert generic and tiresome joke about Just Jinger/Just Jinjer doing to pop music what Matthews did to the anthem]

[8/25 addendum: Ard posted a video of his playing the national anthem at home to demonstrate that he actually DOES know the lyrics. Though I am going to go with "living room doesn't count," I figure it's worth noting this:

There we go]

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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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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Haven't updated, I know

I haven't updated in forever because I haven't felt like writing about music. I haven't enjoyed music lately, and I considered leaving the industry completely for a while.

This is what an MBA program will do to you. Be warned. But I largely got over it (still unemployed at the moment, so I have to wonder at the utility of the MBA), and so I'm returning to blogging

I wanted to write on a question to which I don't have the answer, but for which I would love feedback.

There is a piece by the magnificent (late) composer and saxophonist Zacks (sometimes Zakes) Nkosi called Ama Swati.

If you don't know it - check out his album to give it a listen.

I first heard this track on my iPod in shuffle mode. Without looking at the track info, I heard the melody and knew immediately it was a South African jazz piece.

No, I'm not bragging. Rather, I'm curious what specifically triggered my recognition. The melody is a beautiful, singing melody with consonant major harmonies backing it. It might be the grouping into threes of the notes themselves, but I'm not certain. There were no Zulu or Xhosa vocals backing it, nor the choked guitar sound of mbaqanga.

So I ask the question what makes a piece a South African jazz piece? What are the qualities that we feel link Abdullah Ibrahim, Chris McGregor, Hugh Masekela, Louis Mhlanga, Busi Mhlongo, et al together?

Is there a common tie here, or must we scrap the catch-all term as useless beyond noting composer origin? (and if so, how then do we address the American composers who copied Ibrahim's music or the folks like Darius Brubeck?)

Musicologically, what was in in Ama Swati that triggered immediate recognition as South African jazz?

More generally - is it useful to even distinguish jazz pieces as South African jazz? American jazz pedagogy and general viewpoints already like to diminish the artistic merit of jazz created outside US borders, so is creating this distinguishing note hurting the ability to try to incorporate it into the general lexicon of jazz?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Returning Somewhat

Business school has ended for the year, so my schedule freed up a bit.

We're working on bringing some South African jazz artists to the US over the next year, so I am hoping it will go well.

In the meantime, it seems that Abdullah Ibrahim is earning honorary doctorates, winning music awards, and all sorts of good stuff these past few months.  I'd post the links, but I'm sleep-deprived and fairly certain you've seen them.

And, I have to say that, following Senzo, the awards may be fully deserved.  Senzo is an absolute masterpiece, beautifully played from beginning to end - particularly Blues for a Hip King.  Abdullah finds new depths of meaning in this piece, even after so many years.  It's stunning to hear.

Added great news is that he is now regularly touring with a reformed version of his ensemble Ekaya, so we may see a full revival of some of his most creative playing in the months and years to come.

Fingers crossed...