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Johnny Fourie : My Guru and friend left this planet yesterday afternoon

by Carlo Mombelli :

Johnny was never interested in fame. He was dedicated to playing pure music. He has gone virtually unnoticed by this industry. Johnny lived music. He was a musician on the stage, wherever he was, at the dinner table, in his sleep, everywhere. He played uncompromised music, and maybe that's why only a select few know who he is?

Born in a little dorp in the karoo in 1937 he played his first professional gig at the age of 15 in a boere-orkes. Being self-taught he went on to do a three-year stint in the house band of Europe's most famous jazz club, 'The Ronnie Scotts', in London. There he played with all the international greats. He worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, worked in New York with Billy Cobham and Hubert Laws, and on a recommendation by his friend John McLaughlin he was one of two guitarists to audition for Chick Coreas' new band 'Return to Forever'. And yet in South Africa he is virtually unknown. He has battled to get a chance to play on festivals and was not commercial enough for the record companies. There is recorded work of his thanks to Shifty records that recorded Abstractions in '87 and the label Instinct Africaine that released Johnny's trio recording in 2000. This album was disqualified from the SAMA's, because there wasn't enough original music on it! But, part of being a jazz musician is the art form of interpreting standards in your own personal way. If you want to know a little about Johnny, get hold of that recording. Melt 2000 have just released a recording that Sean, Johnny's son, made of Johnny playing solo guitar. It's beautiful. I hope that the SAMA committee come to their senses and don't disqualify this release as well. This has been the story of Johnny's life in South Africa. Yet he gave us so much music.

He was a generous spirit and extremely honest. If you played bad that's what he would tell you, and if you played great he let you know. Johnny loved the way I played and he loved my compositions. He booked me, for me. (Often I play in a group and they want me to play like someone else). Johnny taught me to play with musicians who do what they do. I have learnt from Johnny that as a bandleader, one must be an inspiration and challenge your musicians to push the boundaries but recognise and appreciate the art and beauty each musician has to offer. He taught me that you get bandleaders and you get band-rulers. He was an artist and a bandleader.

When will this music industry wake up? How could they have let Johnny Fourie slip by? He should have been playing at all the festivals here. Every time we have a great jazz hour on radio it gets taken off the air and replaced by two hours of sissy jazz. Metro, Khaya and SAFM, what happened? The one good DJ told me once they replaced her show because she played that strange funny jazz music.


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My deepest condolences to Val, Johnny's wife, and to Sean, his son who both loved him and supported every note he played. Also my condolences to the rest of his family and everyone that will miss him.

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