This year, the jazz world will gather in Grahamstown for more than a regular shindig at the National Arts Festival. The flatter of branded blue banners will slap the air of the small town’s street to celebrate 25 years of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival (SBNYJF).
The milestone marks a lofty investment in the country’s young musicians.
The annual festival is scheduled for 3 – 8 July. It takes place alongside the country’s oldest jazz festival – the Standard Bank Jazz Festival - during the National Arts Festival.
Since 1992 when it was launched, the week-long jamboree has emerged as an indispensable training ground for South Africa’s budding jazz stars. Many of the country’s best-known musicians cut their teeth at the festival’s extensive workshops and lectures.
Among its illustrious alumni are internationally acclaimed saxophonist and composer Shannon Mowday, New York based jazz drummer, Kesivan Naidoo, Belgium based vocalist, Tutu Puoane, pianists Bokani Dyer and Kyle Shepherd, and bassist Shane Cooper. Beyond the world of jazz SBNYJF alumni include the likes of Dominic Peters and David Poole of chart topping band, Goldfish along with Matthew Field of Beatenberg.
The SBNYJF attracts the best-of-class young musicians from across South African schools and tertiary institutions. They come to the festival to learn, not only from their peers, but get a unique opportunity to study with some of the best international jazz musicians and local stars who are invited to spend a week sharing intense musical lessons, meals, and lodgings with them.
Among the superstars who’ve graced the SBNYJF as mentors are the likes of genius guitarist, Lionel Loueke who regularly plays with Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard, American trombone powerhouse, Steve Turre and multi Grammy award winning arranger and vocalist, Maria Schneider.
This year, the students will sit at the feet of Australian multi-instrumentalist, James Morrison, and the great swiss pianist, Malcolm Braff, and Brazilian bass protégé Michael Pipoquinha.
The impact of the SBNYJF on South Africa’s musical landscape is fundamental. Consider that it’s possible there is no remarkable young jazz musician in the country who hasn’t been through its training programme.
The depth of its investment into the careers and development of individual musicians is just as far reaching. Bassist and composer, Benjamin Jephta who is the current Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz is an exemplary product of the festival’s training programme and bands system. He attended his first SBNYJF at the age of 15. Today he enjoys a growing international career as an admired jazz musician.
The festival’s training programme culminates in the best of the participating young musicians being selected into one of two bands annually - Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band (SBNYJB) featuring the top young jazz musicians aged 19- 25 years. And Standard Bank National Schools Big Band (SBNSBB) featuring the top school jazz musicians in the country. These bands work with a leading musical director for a year, performing at festivals locally and internationally. This year’s musical directors are renowned composer and saxophonist, Buddy Wells. And jazz trombonist and big band leader Kelly Bell.
Jazz Town Festival 2017So, there’s more than a regular reason to be there when Grahamstown becomes #Jazztown for a week. We will all celebrate faith in a rich music future as the jazz baton is passed down to another generation of hopefuls.