Few things are as magical as watching dreams coming to fruition. However, witnessing the youth development bands at the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival give their first successful performances bares a similar touch of wonder. Proving that creative rigor is arguably the most sublime manifestation of human vitality.
The first of the bands to take to field was the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band conducted by Dan Shout with the help of visiting trumpeter, Gordon Vernick, a professor of the Jazz Studies Program Georgia State University in the US. Swinging with the fire of newly unveiled thrills, they took enthralled audiences through some favourite tunes and tricky albeit loved standards. The rabbit up their sleeve was their delivery. It was issued with remarkable practiced precision and feral passion.
It was however the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band that closed the annual student jamboree with an even more marvellous touch. These are the ones who survived this year’s conductor, Carlo Mombelli's grilling auditions. This is a critical confidence builder that augments their sparkle on stage. Mombelli had prepared a set of his famously problematic and angular compositions for them to dare. The outlandish composer's tunes are like an impressionistic painting, redolent with suggestive colours and dancing dabs of light. As a guide into his musical universe, the compositions do not take a listener by his or her hand and say, "This is a chair, or a table, or a couch." They merely open the door, switch on the light and say," This is a room." The listener is given a usable picture by which they are meant to find their way through. Before the band performed “Circles and Hymns,” Mombelli, who is conducting the band for the second time since he first did it in 2003, explains that he chose the charts “to teach them how to create energy and paintings with the music.” It’s a feature that becomes clear with every tune they play. The pulsing bass lines along with contorting and wavy melodies bare the marks of their creator. Like unguarded truths from the mouths of babes, the music pours out and the audience is moved.
It will be another year till another group of dreaming boys and girl gather here. They will be taken through workshops, rare conversation with their peers and international star players on a rare visit. Until then, the current bands will begin a journey to become what they've been dreaming about. This September, they will climb onto the stage at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival. The world can’t wait.
By Percy Mabandu
Percy Mabandu is an award winning art journalist and author of the recently published Yakal’ Inkomo -Portrait of a Jazz Classic; a book about the historic South African jazz record by the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi. He has written for publications including City Press, Mail & Guardian, Rolling Stone and many others