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Interview Jack Von Poll
I feel that playing at the Green Dolphin is like playing on a function. I played there with a great trumpeter that came all the way from LA and we were booked for three nights and they came with a couple of busses of tourists and it was at the same time that Ireland was playing rugby, so there you had a bunch of people rolling in painted with green hair and you name it and the last thing you can do is play jazz. And even Henry Shields who is the so called pope of jazz in Cape Town, he came to us and said play something for the people.
Your life is built upon a planning scheme, touring with bands or making recordings and all that kind of stuff and then I started teaching and the reason I started teaching is that I wanted to stay put in one place. I am 64 now. My career in the states started rather late in 1985 with Lionel Hampton big band and we toured the States and after that with Dee Dee Bridgewater and we travelled all the time. For an American musician it is very normal to go from New York to LA, San Francisco, New Mexico; places.
It is always a big surprise. In general it is very positive. You eat junk foods, you stay in Holiday Inn hotels because those are the hotels in the States that are exactly the same whatever town you go to. You have got automatic brushes to clean your shoes. Every time you go to a hotel this is it! You get used to that kind of a life, you live out of your suitcase. And then I thought I did all this and I still have plenty to do with writing so I started teaching in Belgium. I am from Holland. I taught at the academy of performing arts. I was head of music department and that was a great experience.
When I came here (Cape Town) the first thing I did was started playing. When I became a presenter on Fine Music Radio, we had a little place downstairs called the Take 4, it is now more of a rave kind of place but we started that as a jazz club because in the day time it was just a restaurant for people from the building. And that was what we did. I put in a grand piano and started with Winston Mankunku and Ezra and Buddy Wells, Basil Moses and these guys. We did it for a while and then I had to go back to Europe on a tour and when I got back it had changed.
What I do when it comes to Cape Town and South Africa, is I go twice a year and take musicians with me to Europe and do concerts and recordings. I took Winston twice and I am going again with him, we have a gala concert in October and then I went with Tina Schouw, I went with Monty Weber and Basil Moses. This time I am taking two students from UCT. Whenever I find a student that is talented I sponsor him together with my banker. The two of us share the bill so that student can live in Belgium and study at the Royal Conservatory of Jazz. That we do every year. Chantel Willie was second year at UCT and she is playing her ass of in Belgium. We had to buy her a lot of clothes because winter is coming. We go there from time to time.
If you go to this country, I don't come here to try and take something out of this country, I go in to bring into this country something to help. Like people who have made it like Winston Mankunku and I take him over there because there he meets with other American musicians. Now I support the younger generation very much where I can. It is not so easy as one must realise through the cultural boycott of the past, for the people who stayed behind there is a big gap. When you talk to musicians from here regardless of their colour, they don't know what happened in that period. They know a bit, they got some news in, they got some records they could find. In the old days, I was here in 1954 and then Miriam Makeba was still living here. She hadn't left yet for the States. We played in this country; bebop. Those big names from those days, young Masekela and Dollar Brand played bebop. They played Thelonious Monk, they played Charlie Parker. If you listen to the records of the Jazz Epistles; those were the guys that were Americanised jazz and now they don't play that anymore. Some of them lost that link with what is happening so they go back to there so called roots.
I say ‘so called' because what type of roots are we talking about, is it ethnic, is it the African thing; or is it jazz? They label everything jazz. The strange thing is the lord if he distributes talent, it is not that he forgets about South Africa. There is enough talent here as anywhere else only it has to be developed. Most of the guys I know here, Lulu Gontsana, I know he plays African drums, but when he plays jazz he plays jazz. Same goes for Winston. We just made a beautiful CD. It is African what he wrote, but he can also play Coltrane. It is a totally different ballgame when it comes to Errol Dyers who made a record typical from the Cape. When he played with Errol he plays jazz. The young generation at UCT also play jazz.
There is big talent amongst the coloured community. Not just the Schilder family. Basil Moses is one of the best bass players in this country. And of course there is this funk situation as with Jimmy. He plays his thing. It is also called jazz but it is not that type of jazz that you could sell overseas. Who am I to judge? Sometimes I think where do they play real jazz: that you have to start yourself. It will come back. I realise in the New South Africa there is a big feeling among people who say this is our moment, this is our opportunity so fuck that shot man I am going to play my own stuff. You will probably go back to this jazz thing because there is where it is happening. Some people say jazz is the classical music of the 20 th century and I think that is right. There has been a lot of development within jazz overseas and in the States. It is a big cult when it comes to the young generation. If you didn't have jazz at the conservatories of music in the world the conservatories would fold up. I come from a country with 16 million inhabitants and 12 conservatories of music. If we pull out all these jazz departments, how many conservatories would there be left, only 4! Same thing is happening here. UCT had a big classical department and when they started the jazz department in the early 90's with 6 pupils and now they have over 100 and most of them are over pigmentated citizens. And that amount is growing. Their matric level may not be what we should expect but the talent is there. I want to see that grow and that is why I kick some ass. I play a lot with these youngsters. I love ensembles. I worked with a trio who now are inside this jazz business which is Musa Manzini and Clement Benny. They play with Jimmy. I also worked with Demarche which is a group of 4 girl singers from UCT. There are some great talents like Mark Fransman, a helova piano player. He is one of the guys I would like to take to Europe and give him a year at the Conservatory to study jazz with some great names. I guy like that deserves it.