Standard Bank Jazz Festival burns with spirit

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Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni in Amandla Freedom Ensemble
Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni in Amandla Freedom Ensemble

This year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival, Grahamstown as part of the National Arts Festival from Thursday 2 July to Saturday 11 July, will bring together the best of South African jazz today with some of the world’s most exhilarating contemporary jazz innovators.

The 2015 programme, which features more than 120 sought-after musicians, presents a solid mix of serious limit-shifting jazz as well as the freshest crossover sounds to appeal to music lovers across the spectrum.

Invited artists include the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing, Austrian pianist David Helbock, US-based guitarist Lionel Loueke, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, French drummer André Charlier, South Africans Kesivan Naidoo, Thandiswa Mazwai, Carlo Mombelli and Pops Mohammed, as well as Cape Town pop band Beatenburg and Joburg house band MiCasa. Ray Phiri will be in town for a one-night only solo gig.

“The Standard Bank Jazz Festival acts as a barometer of the South African jazz scene, reflecting our heritage as well as international trends, and opening up opportunities for networking and collaboration,” says Festival Director Alan Webster. “The festival is about acknowledging our roots as South Africans and inviting the world in. We’re not asking how to do it – but sharing experiences with musicians from all over the world to create something new.”

Webster, who has been responsible for putting the programme together since he took over as director in 2001, says the world’s musicians relish the opportunity to visit Grahamstown because of the festival’s high artistic credibility and aesthetic integrity. “It offers musicians 10 days to network, collaborate and learn from each other,” he says.

This collective improvisational energy will perhaps be best experienced this year in The Bjaerv Encounters and Kesivan & The Lights, which will see jazz superstar Kesivan Naidoo mixing it up with the Swedish musicians he met when he played the festival 10 years ago. “There’s no doubt that that experience was a key influence on what Kesivan has become,” says Webster. “It is Grahamstown that allowed that to happen – it’s the essence of what jazz is supposed to be.”

This year, Bokani Dyer, another former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, will share the stage with four Swiss musicians he met during his residency in Basel. The Bokani Dyer Quintet will merge the vitality of contemporary South African Jazz with Swiss precision and musicianship.

In Listening to the Ground, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist award winner pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini will perform with fellow South Africans Feya Faku, Ayanda Sikade and Nomagugu Makhathini as well as Swedish saxophone player Karl Martin Almqvist and bassist Martin Sjöstedt to pay homage to the musical legends who have built the great legacy of South African jazz.

The festival also incorporates the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival, which exposes 350 of South Africa’s best young musicians to the best of jazz over six burning days spent with 50 teachers and 90 professional jazz musicians and educators in rehearsals, workshops, lectures and performances. The top jazz students in South Africa audition for places in the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band and the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band. Watch this space to see the headline acts of future Festivals coming to light…

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