Jazz on centre stage

2014-03-11 00:00

SOME of the best jazz musicians in KwaZulu-Natal will be performing in a special jazz concert, hosted by the non-profit arts organisation Abound, in A1 of the New Arts Block at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus, on Friday.

The Melvin Peters Quartet — featuring Melvin Peters on piano, Bruce Baker on drums, Ildo Nanja on double bass and Jonathan Judge on saxophone — will be focusing on the heritage of South African jazz. Peters started classical piano lessons at the age of six and continued through high school. While studying towards a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Natal, he began jazz piano lessons under the tutelage of Darius Brubeck in 1983. After completing a Master of Music degree in jazz performance in 1989, he was appointed lecturer in Jazz Studies at the University of Durban-Westville in 1990. He taught there for 10 years and was awarded a scholarship to study at Harvard University in 1998/9.

He has performed locally and in France, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Peters has also worked with several South African jazz musicians, including Winston Mankunku, Barney Rachabane, Tandie Klaasen, Sandile Shange and Gloria Bosman.

Personal highlights include performances with guitarist Herb Ellis and drummer Ginger Baker, as well as the opportunity to share the stage with legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck at Harvard University in 1999. He has also collaborated with Abdullah Ibrahim in the formation of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra.

Nandja was born in Maputo, Mozambique, and from a young age he played music, starting with percussion instruments. Through his involvement in a local music and dance company, he began playing the mbila, a traditional xylophone. He enrolled in the Jazz and Popular Music programme at UKZN, majoring in electric and double bass. He is recognised as an outstanding and disciplined bass player and soloist, whose compositions incorporate traditional African rhythms and melodies with various world-music styles and contemporary and Latin jazz.

Baker began his professional music career in 1996 with the instrumental band Landscape Prayers. During a seven-year tenure with the band, he recorded three albums, all nominated for South African Music Awards for best instrumental album, and performed nationally and in Italy and France.

In late 1997, he became a member of the rock band Squeal, and with the group recorded the album C ivilized, which was nominated for a Sama for best rock album 1999, and the EP Begin. The band toured South Africa extensively. In 1999, he joined the jazz group Tonk and has worked with numerous artists in the jazz field, including Winston Mankuku, Darius Brubeck, Melanie Scholtz, Peters, Dr Mike Rossi, Concord Nkabinde, Feya Faku and Americans Monette Sudler, Dr Willie Hill and Ron McCurdy.

Judge first started playing saxophone at the age of nine. He completed his degree in music at UKZN and has represented the province three times, playing in the national schools’ big band at the Grahamstown jazz festival. He was also a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band for eight years.

Speaking to The Witness about the Pietermaritzburg concert, spokesperson Sarah Groves said, “The jazz is pure and yet the audience is a mix of races and ages — not just old, white folk. The tickets are purposefully cheap, and many are sponsored tickets, so that the jazz does not become elitist. And the concerts are held in a lecture hall so that the music is centre stage and not in the background.

“In the past, we’ve had South Africa’s top jazz musicians playing and they have all described it as the best performing experience they have had because the audience has actually paid attention to their music.”

Groves said any money made goes to paying the musicians well and covering concert costs. “The basic commitment of Abound is to bring beauty to people who can’t afford it,” she said. “But we also feel strongly that beauty must be supported and appreciated. Hence our care for the musicians and our concern that the concert is about the music and not food and light chat!”

Tickets are R50. Patrons should park at the Hexagon and follow the signs.

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