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The South African Jazz Diaspora

Presentation by Marcello Lorrai on the SA jazz diaspora in Europe
…sponsored by the Italian Consulate for culture…
…hosted by the Wits School of Arts

 

Introduction by the Italian Consulate, Claudio says, “Marcela has devoted a considerable part of his professional life to the study of contemporary African music … Let me tell you a very funny story. He arrived yesterday from Italy and he was sitting at a restaurant to have a bite. And next to him was a table with two people speaking in a very competent way on South African jazz history. He listened for about an hour and didn't have the courage to intrude but after a few beers he got the courage…”

Yes indeed that was me chatting to my friend Ignatio, and I got a sneak preview into the mind of this Italian writer. He holds Africa and South African jazz in his heart. This is the knowledge that he has imparted to us.

Marcello says,

“Very early after the beginning of jazz, Europe strongly attracted jazz musicians. The flow towards Europe of jazz musicians is traced to the Dixieland Jazz Band. The migration of jazz musicians from New Orleans started after the First World War. In 1916 in Chicago, 5 white musicians arrived. They recorded in New York in 1917; considered the first jazz record. In 1919, they arrived in London and they stayed in Great Britain for a year and a half. The original Dixieland jazz band was very inspiring for many young British musicians. Dixieland Jazz Band was not new or isolated in bringing jazz to Europe. In the same year an orchestra created by the Black American composer and band leader Jimmy Cooper and featuring the young black clarinet player Sidney Bechet from New Orleans's original Dixieland Jazz Band arrived in Great Britain for a tour. In 1919 the eminent Swiss classical conductor Ernest Ansermet heard the Jimmy Cooper orchestra with Sidney Bechet. He was deeply moved and wrote a review for a Swiss magazine and this was a start of the European tradition of the consideration for jazz.

Still more important was the role Europe played after the Second World War. In the United States the jazz and the relationship of jazz with the audience changed dramatically. Not only in Europe were clubs, sponsorships and tours substantial for many American musicians, but Europe was also able to give to American jazz a recognition as a high art that jazz was hardly receiving. In conjunction with the experience of not being the target of segregation and racism, this recognition was particularly significant for African American jazz men. Since the 50's many American jazz men decided to move or stay for long periods in Europe. Furthermore in the 60's European support and recognition was a resource for the new American generation engaged in avant garde and experimental forms of free jazz. Until the 60's most European jazz was attempting to simply emulate American jazz and play with the same mastery as the American jazz men, in terms of imitation of the force of American jazz. European jazz was also looking for its own personality for different character and diversity in the field of jazz.

The most important European jazz musician was Django Reinhardt of Romani Gypsy roots. Together with the French clarinet player Stephen Grappeli from the 30's. In the early 50's Reinhardt made jazz with the strong elements coming from his gypsy musical character. In the second half of the 50's with a composition by Italian pianist Giorgio Gaslini made a bridge between jazz and contemporary classical European music. But in the 60's the commitment of European jazz, to find a definite way from forms and rules of American jazz, new and unprecedented developments in qualitative and quantitative terms.

The South African jazz diaspora is particularly the musicians from the groups The Blue Notes; without equal to the contribution from the jazzmen from the United States. The year 1960 has been a watershed for the jazz and music world in South Africa. In March 1960, South African police opened fire in Sharpeville and the apartheid system showed its cruel face. After years of difficulties for many South African musicians, for them the opportunity to stay in Europe lead to the decision to go into exile. Miriam Makeba arrived in Europe already in 1959. She had been invited by the American director, Lionel Rogosin to join in Italy at the Venice film festival, the showing of Come Back Africa which she had a role. The first movie to unveil the truth about apartheid. Makeba went onto London where she met Harry Belafonte. Rogosin arranged an invitation for her on the other side of the Atlantic and Belafonte mentored her career in the United States.

In the 50's, British Father Trevor Huddleston helped the young trumpet player Hugh Masekela in his first steps in music. In 1956, Huddleston invited Masekela to Great Britain to get a formal music education. In May 1960 Masekela arrived in London and he had already in mind the US. In September Masekela was in New York. Makeba helped him, Belafonte mentored him. Masekela started his successful American career. In the wake of Masekela and Makeba other SA musicians arrived in the US; Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu.

The first significant moment of SA music in Europe has been the arrival of King Kong in London in 1961. The opening night of the musical was in Johannesburg in February 1959 here at the Wits University Great Hall. The show opened at the Princess Theatre, West End London in February 1961.

He breaks to play music from King Kong, the theme song… I recall dj-ing Back of the Moon at Prospero's wedding to Anna. It was a dancing good times song of Sophiatown shuffle style.

In June 1962, Abdullah Ibrahim, then named Dollar Brand arrived in Europe with the singer Sathima Bea Benjamin. They were later joined by bass player Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoke. They played for several months at the Club Africana in Zurich Switzerland. In February 1963 in Zurich he met Duke Ellington who was deeply impressed by the mastery and style of Dollar Brand and right away produced the album, Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio recorded the same month. The doors of many European festivals opened for Dollar Brand. 1965 he had the opportunity to travel in US and developed an international career. He moved in Europe and also back and forth to South Africa, but in the second half of the 70's, given the oppressive conditions in SA, Ibrahim decided to have his career based in the United States. The European audience was fascinated by the style of music reflecting a whole universe of SA music.

It is with the arrival of the Blue Notes and bass player Harry Miller who joined them that a very different and new directive occurred. The capital moment for the birth of the Blue Notes has been the meeting in Langa, 1961 between Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana. Chris McGregor was born in Somerset West in 1936. Chris McGregor was exposed to a large range of music, classical, protestant, traditional Xhosa and records of black urban music and American jazz. At the end of the 50's, McGregor put together a sestet and in 1960 played the first National jazz festival in Johannesburg. Dudu Pukwana was born in Port Elizabeth. He started on piano and in the second half of the 50's switched to alto sax. At the time he met McGregor, he was 22. Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana started a quartet with double bass and drums. In the 1962 National jazz festival, almost all the members of what would become the Blue Notes were on stage. Chris McGregor as leader of a sestet. Dudu Pukwana and tenor player Nick Moyake as the Jazz Giants. Louis Moholo on drums with the Jazz Ambassadors and Mongezi Feza with a group from East London. Jazz Giants won first prize. After the festival a group was formed in Johannesburg with Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Nick Moyake and Early Mabuza on drums named Blue Notes. Mongezi Feza was 17. Chris McGregor was principal arranger and Dudu Pukwana principle composer. In 1963 the Cold Castle Jazz festival big band was created with the countries finest musicians. Early Mabuza never arrived for the concert. And Louis Moholo sat in his place. Born in 1940 Cape Town in a family where there was a great passion for music.

We listen to Chris McGregor and the Castle Big Band September 1962, the song Switch …

With increasing legislation limiting the interaction between people of different racial groups the situation for the Blue Notes was increasingly dangerous. After the Cold Castle festival, the Blue Notes took on its definite form. There are two groups of tracks recorded by the Blue Notes prior to their departure. The second group, live in Durban, during the SA farewell tour just before to leave for France to participate in July at the French Antibes jazz festival. The Blue Notes hired Johnny Dyani who was 18 just before the tour as replacement for Sammy Maritz who was sick.

At the end of the 50's, SA jazz had reached a very high level of maturity. The group Jazz Epistles testifies to the advanced stage of SA jazz between 50's and 60's. SA jazz at that time was in cooperation with American jazz. In the late 50's, jazz in the US was changing leaving behind the softness of the cool jazz phase and becoming harder with the hard bop and free jazz trends. SA jazz was in tune with hard bop and was aware of some very adventurous personalities. Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy. By 1962 many members of the Jazz Epistles were already abroad and Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana pushed there expression ahead.

We listen to a dreamy song recorded in Durban to showcase the arranging mastery of Chris McGregor and composing mastery of Dudu Pukwana .

In July 1964 the Blue Notes played in Antibe then they spent some weeks in South France and at the end of the summer they went to Switzerland and spent 8 months playing the club Africana in Zurich and another club in Geneva. Dollar Brand helped them to be welcomed. But they had to find their way out themselves. NM was sick and he returned to SA where he died in 1969. In April 1965, the group flew to London for two weeks at the Ronnie Scotts. When they decided to stay they began to be considered by the British jazz establishment as competitors. They were very young aged between 19 and 28. Their living conditions were not as good and they had to face many problems, lack of work and money and they missed their friends in their country. Because of lack of work, the group broke up. In that period, the American saxophone player, Steve Lacey an American free jazz pioneer was in Rome and the young Italian trumpet player Enrico Rava started to play with him. Rava was at the Antibes jazz festival in 1964 at the Blue Notes concert so he was aware of the new sensational rhythm section in London, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, so they were hired for a tour in Latin America where they launched an absolutely free music where they moved with complete ease. The tour was for many reasons a disaster as there was also the Argentinian military coup. The music was recorded live in Buenos Aires in October 1966, and published under the name of Steve Lacey in an album called the Forest and the Zoo, a masterpiece of the free music of the 60's.

The album consisted of two long sequences each of twenty minutes. Bass and drums were charged with being an integral part of the interaction where every musician is a protagonist. We listen

 

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Another SA bass player was in Europe before the Blue Notes and helped them when they arrived in Great Britain. Born in 1941, Harry Miller arrived in London in the early 60's with SA keyboard player Manfred Mann. Mann was founder of one of the first SA rock n roll groups at the end of the 50's and he had worked as a jazz pianist in Johannesburg. He introduced Miller to Black American music. Miller got a job as a musician in a group working on the liners, crossing the see between Europe and North America. In New York he had the opportunity to meet Ornette Coleman. Ornette was crucial in inspiring him as well as Coltrane. The arrival of the Blue Notes in Europe coincided with the dawn of a new European improvisation. Some of the most important experiments happened in Great Britain between 1963 and 1965. The new European improvisation pushed free jazz to its extreme implications and created its own idiom and created a deep sense of community among the musicians involved. Freedom not only in musical terms was important for the musicians. There was a growing tendency for the younger generation to question authority, to contest the whole organisation of the society. Because of the hard conditions of the oppression they were escaping from, the Blue Notes and Harry Miller had the energy and passion to allow them to be ready for that new image of freedom in music. Until then jazz musicians were coming to Europe carrying new trends, New Orleans, bebop, cool, free jazz; strengthening European jazz. They contributed to European jazz as individuals and as guest stars.

Now we have a new situation. A number of South African musicians with their collective identity, contributing to something new and different from American jazz that was happening exactly at that moment in Europe. British musicians were fascinated by the fire the South African musicians had with their background of melodies and rhythms. The Blue Notes sounded if they had been speaking the language of jazz since birth. Growing up with the music of South Africa had given them a sense. The British musicians that worked alongside them were inspired to a more direct manner of expression that they might otherwise would not have achieved. So many musicians wanted to share with the South Africans that quite often their might be a dozen musicians on stage at once. This gave Chris McGregor the idea in 1966 following the spirit of the Castle Lager Big Band, to regroup the musicians in an orchestra. The sense of community was well represented in the name chosen for the band; the Brotherhood of Breath.

Listen to the Brotherhood Live at Willisau, January 1973… The play Davashe's dream for Makhaya Davashe tenor saxophone player in the original King Kong cast…

This is an important album also because in 1974, this LP was the first issue of a new label, Ogun records, created by Harry Miller and his wife Hazel. The idea was to publish directly records as a means of promotion to give the music the possibility of being listened to. But since the beginning Ogun has not intended to be a showcase for Harry Miller's work, nor only for the SA musicians work. Ogun worked with the most radical musicians of the improvisation era such as the drummer John Stevens, and the tenor saxophone player Evan Parker.

A historically important album was SOS of the saxophone trio; Allan Skidmore, John Surman, Mike Osborne in 1975. The Brotherhood has been one of the outstanding events of this time. For years they made many electrifying concerts in Europe. But, there was no money and no support. It was difficult organising tours managing such a large group. The Brotherhood lasted until 1993, 3 years after Chris McGregor's death. Meanwhile since the 60's, Harry Miller and Louis Moholo set up an amazing combination on bass and drums, until the early 80's when Harry Miller died.

The incredible energy and creativity of Miller and Moholo can be appreciated in listening to the trio with the powerful alto saxophone player Mike Osborne recorded live always at Wilisau in 1975 and published by Ogun under the title All Night Long. We listen …

This improvised and creative music, music without measures, without great managements and official recognition was a commitment. The struggle to survive, particularly hard in Great Britain and the stress of exile, was a traumatic experience. At the end of 1975, Mongezi Feza died. He was only 35. He is remembered not only as a great trumpet player but as a composer of some beautiful moving tunes as well. Some days after his death, the Blue Notes re-united and recorded the album Blue Notes for Mongezi. In the late 70's Harry Miller moved to the mainland. In Holland the situation for improvised music was better. Life was more relaxed and for musicians there was state funding. Miller immersed himself in the Dutch free music scene. The music of Harry Miller is very impressive and the recording of 1977 with his group Isipingo with Louis Moholo and four British Musicians. Both these albums were published by Ogun. In his music Harry Miller is able to put together innovations where the reflections of South African music is emerging. Down South is an album recorded by the Harry Miller quintet in 1983. The same year he died in Holland. In the quartet is the South African alto saxophone player Sean Bergin. Born in Durban in 1948, Berg played in South Africa with black musicians and then from 1976 lived in Amsterdam. He collaborated with Louis Moholo's group Viva le Black. In the late 90's Sean Berg collaborated with Mal Waldron, who since the 50's was one of the great protagonists of jazz. Who from the mid 60's was based in Europe. Sean Berg died in 2012 in Amsterdam…

We listen to the title track of Down South …

One of the most fascinating aspects of Louis Moholo's work is the very demanding duo of piano and drums with some of the most outstanding pianists. In 1988 the free music production organised a month of concerts in Berlin, focused on the African American pianist Cecil Taylor, and the meeting of Taylor with some of the best musicians of the European improvised music. In the late 50's, Taylor was with Ornette Coleman, the man responsible for the birth of free jazz. The duo with Louis Moholo is one of the best. Louis Moholo is a mighty drummer.

We listen

In Europe from the early 80's the anti-apartheid movement started to broaden. In 1986, Johnny Dyani who recorded for the Steeplechase label in Copenhagen where he lived, died in Berlin. And in 1987, Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo and Dudu Pukwana reunited in the album Blue Notes for Johnny. In 1990 Chris McGregor died in France and only a month after his great friend, Dudu Pukwana died in London leaving Louis Moholo the only survivor of the Blue Notes. Louis Moholo recorded a tribute to his brothers with Evan Parker and involved many musicians closely related with the Blue Notes and Harry Miller. It was agreed to organise a concert with the Blue Notes and Harry Miller's compositions. Musicians and arrangers gladly offered their services for this cause and the money raised was intended to raise a bursary for one young musician to study in London. The orchestra was called the Dedication Orchestra. The orchestra and the bursary still exist.

We listen to the first album Spirits Rejoice. 24 musicians are involved.

Italy since the 70's has been one of the most receptive countries in Europe for the South African jazz diaspora. SA jazz musicians and the label Ogun have had many supporters in Italy. Several Italian jazz men, and several festivals as well gave a strong recommendation for the musical and human experience of the SA jazz diaspora in Italy. Louis Moholo played several times at the jazz festival on the island of Sardinia. Last September Moholo performed with a South Italian Orchestra at the jazz festival deep in the South of Italy with Keith Tippet on Piano. The concert was a tribute to the South African Jazz Diaspora in Europe. Canto General took its name from the title of a poem by Pablo Neruda that he wrote in exile. The music had the expression of a political attitude. The concert was a reunion, ten years earlier. Louis Moholo and Julia Tippet did a concert Canto General at the same festival. A concert documented in a beautiful album started with Mra by Dudu Pukwana …

Speech ends, Mra plays …

 

In the questions and answers, Marcela also noted …

My experience is I was at a Brotherhood of Breath concert at a summer festival in Italy when I was a teenager and for me the Brotherhood was mainly a jazz orchestra, not something African. I was not able to recognise the elements of South African music. Because in the 70's when I was a teenager, all the people were not aware, not only of the South African music but modern African music. At the same time there was also the world music wave. In the early 80's I had a compilation of world music and started to understand better the experience of SA jazz in Europe.

In the 80's I was at a Johnny Dyani concert in a jazz festival in Merze, a very important jazz festival at that time in Germany. The presence of Johnny Dyani was intended as something against apartheid.

For the Blue Notes and Harry Miller, freedom was the result of a musical dynamic but also a metaphor of freedom in life and society. There was interest to do music with so much freedom because this was their way to express themselves.

 

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