THE Standard Bank Johannesburg Joy of Jazz Festival is likely to keep dedicated listeners busy in Newtown this weekend, with three evenings of music beginning on Thursday. Choosing which acts to see can be frustrating.
It has been made less complex by a single entry ticket giving admission to all stages except the Market Theatre and the Bassline — and these two venues are where the choices need to be made.
Thursday is the least complex: a single gala event beginning at 7pm in the central Dinaledi tent, with the five-player sax summit paying tribute to the music of Kippie Moeketsi, and also featuring guitarist Earl Klugh and singer Kurt Elling. This is a strong bill, despite the unavailability of the previously announced Eddie Palmieri.
On Friday, the Market Theatre is probably the place to be for lovers of song. Beginning at 7pm with the National Youth Jazz Band (always worth hearing), the bill also includes French pianist and composer Cecile Verney, Gloria Bosman, and US guests Lizz Wright and Jane Monheit.
The African continental fare on the Conga stage is also strong: Lesotho’s Bhudaza, Guinea’s Mory Kante, Caiphus Semenya and Cameroonian-Parisian veteran saxophonist Manu Dibangu: as always, exploring new musical avenues with material from his latest album, Past, Present and Future.
On Saturday, the Bassline presents the Standard Bank Young Artist for jazz, pianist Afrika Mkhize, followed by South African (but New York-based) bassist Bakithi Khumalo, followed by pianist Monty Alexander, Elling and another South African bassist, Musa Manzini. Commuting between venues, however, also offers the opportunity to catch bands that may not be so well known.
There are free showcases for new bands at three restaurants: Nikki’s Oasis from 8pm, Sophiatown from 7pm, and Shikisa from 9pm.
Youth development is a vital component of keeping the genre alive — how great the potential rewards are was demonstrated last Saturday, when the Southern African Music Rights Organisation scholarship for jazz was awarded to 21-year-old Cape Town trumpeter Darren English.
HOWEVER, in addition to the festival, there is more good music to be heard over the next week than even the most enthusiastic listener could cover — and not all of it is in Johannesburg.
The events start on Wednesday, when acclaimed Jamaican jazz pianist Kathy Brown runs a workshop at the ProMusica Theatre’s Basement Theatre from 2pm. Brown plans to explore both improvisation and the styles that have influenced and inspired her, and the workshop is designed to appeal to adults and young adults. Entry is free.
If something more rootsy than the jazz festival appeals, on Saturday evening the next instalment of Sifiso Ntuli’s music circuit, the African Jazz Meander (AJazzMe), offers the Mahotella Queens and the queen of world music DJs, Nikki B, plus other guests, at Moyo Restaurant on the corner of Eeufees and Christina de Wet Road, Fountains Valley, in West Pretoria.
On Sunday afternoon, at the Lowveld Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit, veteran singer, guitarist and anthropologist Johnny Clegg presents an open-air picnic concert, starting at 3.30pm.
At the same time, another male-voice legend, Ringo Madlingozi, guests at the Mama Said afternoon showcase sessions hosted by singer and poet Ntsiki Mazwai, again at the ProMusica Basement Theatre. The Mama Said sessions are designed to offer young and aspiring performance artists a supportive space to perform and network. They begin at 3pm.
On Tuesday, the official launch of Ndikho Xaba’s retrospective album, Sunsets, is marked by a concert of his compositions at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Jazz and Popular Music’s Howard Theatre in Durban.
A distinguished collection of players has been assembled for the event, including multi-instrumentalist and scholar Sazi Dlamini, pianist Neil Goncalves, US tenor saxophonist Salim Washington and the legendary master of extremely edgy maskandi guitar, Madala Kunene. The event starts at 6pm.
And even after that, it still won’t be possible to retreat to an armchair in front of the TV, because the following weekend, Jazz on the Lake launches 10 days of the Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival.