Is it jazz? Who cares, it rocks

2011-03-26 17:54

“This festival is no longer just about jazz music; this is now a ­lifestyle event,” said the managing director of the Cape Town ­International Jazz Festival, Billy Domingo, when he opened this week’s musical jamboree in the Mother City.

Domingo’s words were telling. The 12th annual instalment finds jazz becoming less and less of a defining feature of the festival. Even casual conversations between festival-goers have been ­littered with phrases such as “crossover appeal”, “catering for a broader audience” and “accommodating the non-jazz listener”.

All this as they try to come to terms with a line-up of musicians that is dominated by acts that are not straight-ahead jazz acts.

Pop and fusion appear to be the governing themes this year.

“All the kings of fusion from across the musical spectrum have certainly converged here this year,” said jazz critic and educator Gwen Ansell.

“It would have been nice, in fact, to have a dialogue about where fusion is today.”

This year’s roll call included bands like the funk outfit Earth Wind and Fire, fusion guitarist Chuck Loeb, lounge outfit Jazzanova and the soul and gospel singer Bebe Winans, along with Youssou N’Dour, among others.

Perhaps the most notable jazz statesman was Wayne Shorter, the American saxophonist who played with the late Miles Davis when he was starting to create what we now know as fusion.

However, Shorter’s quartet presented a straight-ahead jazz set described by South African visual artist Kay Hassan as “incredibly intense and exhilarating”.

Local hip-hop act Tumi & The Volume also enthralled younger audiences from the Bassline stage.

These fans, along with those eager to see New York house music band Tortured Soul, were among the people who ensured record ticket sales for the festival.

The festival draws about 33 500 people, most of them from Western Cape and Gauteng.

According to the organisers, these jazz tourists spend an average of 6.3 nights in Cape Town.

Last year the festival injected R475 million into the city’s economy and created 2 000 jobs.

One of the unofficial spill-overs of the festival is the jazz itinerary in the townships on the outskirts of the city.

This afternoon jazz ­collectors’ associations and clubs from around the country will converge on Gugulethu for an afternoon of jazz appreciation.

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