Home to the Story of South African Jazz
Barbora Tellinger Interview
Especially with social media everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame. Things like the Kardashians are deeply responsible and should be put on trial for dramatically dumbing down.
There are three tertiary jazz institution in Pretoria. The Tswane School of Music is the hardcore one where all the best musicians come from, the tux jazz division and Unisa with some heavyweights running the jazz department – Mark Duby, Chats Devroop and there is not one jazz club. In eersterus you have Beth and Freddie Ahrendse, they started TUM, the Tswane School of Music, which is for the coloured community. They get Tswane Metro funding and some lottery funding. And then there is CAFCA which is the Commited Artists for Creative Advancement which is Jessy and Moss Mogale's school which now runs from the Mamelodi campus. They have nice facilities, it is safe, comfortable and so on.
Otherwise in middle class suburbia there is nothing going on. It is the students as well. When I was at Tuks we used to have workshops from visiting Cuban musicians and there would be nobody there. It would be so embarrassing. I would be running around the department looking for students to be there because here are these heavyweight musicians and there is no-one at the workshop. I don't know why they want to study music? It is a very Pretoria thing, a complete disinterest in going to see the masters or even to have an opportunity to play the thing you are studying. It is like studying architecture and never going to see a building. It is bizarre that they can be studying music and they don't watch anyone perform it live and they don't get to play it. I used to fight for recitals for students on campus and it was an endless fight. They used to give me a recital every semester.
We moved to Pretoria once we were recruited to Tuks. I am a free range parent and it has worked well. But it is time to leave Pretoria now. There are people who say they love jazz but they only go as far as Michael Buble. And then there are people who like classical music but you struggle to get them into the theatre unless it is free or there is food involved.
Prague has got a population of 1.2M and a massive tourist industry eight months of the year and the have at least 8 jazz clubs with music seven nights a week. What the difference is, they don't double up – they are not a restaurant and a jazz club – they are a jazz club and they have a bar. They have great sound so unlike here you don't have to take your gear every time you have a gig. Club owners here where the business has not survived they always lament the cost of it. You can't have jazz six nights a week. In Europe you have one person running that club, doing the bar serving the customers so you don't have that excuse that it is expensive to keep it open. We are a culture of job creation where your average restaurant has 8 – 10 waiters which is completely superfluous. It is not necessary. People say it is expensive to run places because you need this massive staff. And then also they would be a restaurant as well as jazz club and what it feels like in Europe, and I don't want to sound like it is so much better there, but the audiences are there and they don't come there for dinner – they come to hear jazz. They are there to hear jazz. They applaud every solo and completely absorbed by it. It is different. Even at the Orbit people are chatting and eating and it is not the same. It is a devoted jazz public and the younger generation is not interested.
We played with a 22 piece brass big band in Prague and they were teenagers. It is still there. But there you have the culture that every district has its community centre and kids after school they then go to the community centre and engage with their passion whether it is music dance and arts. By the time they get to the conservatoire they are already hot musicians, artists or dancers. It is different. We could have the same but we need the political will.
We still the American songbook type jazz with interesting arrangements. I am singer and I need to sing a beautiful melody with beautiful lyrics. There is very little African jazz that gives you that because it is very rhythmic and more instrumental. But, we should be milking it. The Department of arts and Culture – what are they there for?
They should be turning Marabastad playing on the Marabi history. Some of the biggest names in jazz come from Mamelodi and who would know? No-one is going to go into Mamaelodi to a club from Pretoria and there is nowhere for Mamelodians to go in Pretoria. And then in town the people who live in Sunnyside and Hatfield they like to club. You have got these trendy bars with incredibly loud dance music – that is what they seem to like?
It begins with political will. The DAC have a job to do and they need to do it. They need to put finding in the right place. Our ex mayor Sputla, he created that music festival where Nicki Minaj was paid R7 million to appear. It was supposed to be in Cullinan. He built a music festival village with ablutions and the festival never happened. He was a real piece of work.
And then TV needs to die. Television is a big one. Also the South African society particularly Gauteng is a stressful one. It is hectic living here. So people are all slaves and sheep. That meme about people spending two hours in a car in a day to go to a job that they hate to pay for shit that they don't need; South Africa is so much like that. And then they come home and they are finished and they have a TV dinner because that is how they unwind. And, white people are quite scared to go out to places that are not familiar to them. The restaurants in the East are all upmarket and that is comfortable to them – so they will blow R600 on a restaurant meal but not half of that on some art form. The State Theatre is here but it is a joke. It is like a large KFC.
TV needs to die it is a culprit. It tells them exactly what to think. We do have jazz programmes but it caters to that audience but where are the venues? Soweto has venues but with that population should have a dozen venues.
The Soweto Theatre was cancelled on the day because the organisers did not have permission from the City Council – how do you even get passed step one without the require permission. And then you hall out the race card as if the Joburg Metro is white? You have to have a licence to run something like that. It is ridiculous to have a jazz festival with very little jazz. Snoop Dogg played at the Montreaux Jazz Festival a couple of years ago – how is that possible?
Jazz is US dominated because that is where the theory is and that is where the research is. It is coming from abroad. Until we have a large enough number of our own jazz PhDs that is what we will have to surrender to – America has the body of work, the research, the Marselis's and heavyweights that have been doing it for decades. The syllabi come from there. We have not had one until recently. But I believe that UKZN and UCT does. But theory is theory, jazz theory is jazz theory and existed for 80 years and was created in the US. Repertoire wise I don't think there is enough SA jazz to insist on an exclusively SA jazz syllabus and might be too repetitive. American jazz is diverse and busy and you have bebop and complex chord structures and many. African jazz is quite simple it is more about rhythm. We need the academics that are actually going to submit these kind of thesis and this kind of research – and how many jazz PhDs – Carlo Mombelli at Wits – but they tend to focus on their own thing and not a community based subject matter.
That little doccie we showed at the donor event was made by the head of the history department Nisa Palakar and me – going around and getting footage and it was amazing how little existed and how so much of it got shot down by the jazz academics because they are international jazz experts and we must not tell them what footage to use in the doccie. They cut out all the stuff about Moss Mogale. We had a lot of footage courtesy Tony McGregor of Chris. Chris worked with some fantastic SA jazz musicians and they cut that out because maybe he was a white boy – but they missed the point that he was bringing the sound into the white neighbourhoods by virtue of his collaborations.
It had never happened before there had not been a doccie about Tswane jazz and the history of it : there had been nothing like that.
When we were looking for a logo for the Jazz Up Tswane event the University owned a lot of Charles Sekota's work – he was a horn player as well so most of his work was jazz based. We had about 8 images of his – original works which we were going to use one of. There was one great shot of young girls dancing with behind them a horn section. It was so jazz and quite clear. The new head of jazz absolutely refused and said it suggests that jazz is a dance music and jazz is absolutely not a dance music. You better tell half of Africa, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller that jazz is not a dance music!
Jazz started from the blues.
In Pretoria the jazz police have hijacked the scene. They will take jazz funding and they will get heavyweights from abroad and they will do these performances. And these visiting guys are used as backing musicians. It is all about self aggrandizement. The local jazz police will take every solo and it will make them look good. Jess Mogale said he can't believe you go to these events and you have these heavyweights from the US and you don't even hear them soloing. It is all just taken up from the jazz police here. And there is very little contribution from the outside.
I don't know who surprising it is considering our recent political history. If you see your leadership doing it then you do it. But, there is ethics – especially if you are educators – then it is not about you – it is about the people you are teaching. They all have a different level of worthiness, you have the gifted ones who are lazy – the hard working ones. It seems they are creating generations of music teachers. They all end up just teaching. And then they teach the little grades who lose interest when they hit their teens and that is it. Because it has got to be fun. If you have a group of kids and you are teaching them music you have got to keep them there – it is not Whiplash. It has to give them something.
Viwe the bass player and Tsepho the horn player – he is one of the conductors and arrangers for the school orchestra and they get invited all over the place. He spends more time in Europe and he was one of the students at Tuks and was a monster in first year already. He didn't even complete his degree. They treated him like an idiot. His written work was not up to scratch but practically he was a monster and no one could touch him. Viwe was in Belgium and then Germany and now Italy and they are playing some really nice gigs. When we were in Prague now one of the venue owners said oh you are from South Africa – do you know Melanie Scholtz, although she lives in New York.
I was tasked with creating a jazz division in the music department: There was a desire for it from the students so that is what I did. When I left there were 33-36 jazz students which was a lot considering we did not have a rehearsal space for an ensemble. It would be at my house or wherever. 6 months after I left there were 5 jazz students left. They changed to classical music, mechanical engineering, they dropped out because suddenly there is the jazz police and they are being told this is ridiculous and in the meantime we were creating nice jazz musicians.
Brubeck made UKZN into a formidable jazz school. The new head of jazz here was the one who trashed the UKZN jazz school. These guys travel. He was at UKZN destroyed that – then he went to Unisa and did absolutely nothing and now he is here. Guarantee if Wits opened up for someone and it was a better package he would be out of there. It is an interesting thing, academia.
Marc Dube turned Tswane school of jazz into what it was – the best jazz school. And then a new dean arrived and made it impossible for Mark to stay because he wanted his buddy to come and take over. Eventually Roland Moses took over the department. So everyone left. I don't know who is left there – Kevin Davidson has gone everyone has gone. It is very political and at tertiary and university level chancellors directors and deans are very aware that you have to be representative, however at Tuks it is only coloured and Indian people now – so it is not nearly representative. It is important to get all the white people out which is stupid because how is Indian any better. Instead of looking at what they have done and are capable of doing it is kind of a bit of ethnic cleansing because that is what politics requires. It is stupid and not about that. In the 80s when the UDF formed and I was a member and we had all those rally's at Sun Valley in Soweto and I would play at all of them in a band called Nude Red and there was none of this. It was everyone coming together. Now it is the opposite. It is a sign of the political times as well.
My career is dead in Gauteng. I am the wrong age – too old, which is strange because I am at my peak. Age is a reality here especially for women, I mean how many female jazz vocalists do you know? They don't exist. It is interesting you go to Europe and they are wow you are that jazz singer and it is not a dirty word. Here I call myself a jazz musician because singer is a dirty word. They don't realize in order to be one I have to sing and compose and read and all that kind of stuff.
My family is here so I will be back. It is an economic exile and for John ageism is a reality. The demographic to which we belong does not suit so many places. And there will be these completely white establishments that will insist you can't play there because you are white. It is such a circus at the moment. And it is horrible to here myself talking like this because this is not my background and where I come from, but it is the reality. And ageism is huge in SA. If you look at the line-up of any jazz club in Europe 60% of the musicians will be older than me because there is an acknowledgement that the older you are the better you are – obviously.
How is it that we play in other parts of the world and audiences go mad but then Is not even an audience here. It is a bit of an exile I suppose.
A lot of the stuff the kids listen to sound. DJs are the biggest hit makers now – how did that happen? It is a lack of knowledge. And also the renumeration has dropped compared to what it was 15 years ago – how does that work. In the 80s you could go down town and between Commissioner and Jeppe Street there were at least 10 clubs where you could get live music every night. In Hillbrow another 4 – 6. Rockey street, just that one block there were 6 venues that had nightly live music. And Rosebank had 4 or 5 great live music club.
And now who are the local bands and where do they play. The DAC are the first ones to blame because what do they do? This is the problem we have this political cabal – a minister of tourism that has never travelled, arts and culture who is a policeman and then we have policemen who are generals and then we have Gigabyte. This polarization has been caused by our leadership. This separation of races and that kind of thing. There was far more togetherness in the 80s when it was illegal. It comes from politicians they love doing that. At the moment it is at its peak – white genocide. And it all comes from the top. The political elite have already captured jazz if you look at who gets the big work, whether it is the Orbit or government functions. Roland Moses and Kavendra and those guys are always doing gigs up on the hill for the embassies and they are perfectly placed being with Unisa to absolutely market themselves to that audience.