Two shows at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, one in the day, the other at night showcased two generations of South African jazz at the DSG campus. Whilst the school’s big band performances held at the auditorium pointed to a lush future thanks to the school kids, the Blue Notes Tribute Orchestra (BNTO) who played at the DSG Hall invoked our living jazz heritage with a view to demonstrate how vibrant futures are made too.
The schools’ band sessions comprised of ensembles from a number of schools in the Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng and some players from other parts of South Africa.
SACS Big Band stood as the swinging pride of Cape Town while Stirling Big Band raised the flag for Port Elizabeth. Then there was a taste teaser performance from the newly formed Standard Bank National Schools Big Band.
Constituted by high school age musicians with big dreams in their hearts, the bands played a variety of arrangements of some notable jazz classics. Evergreen tunes like The Lady is a Tramp which was composed by Richard Rodgers and later made famous by giants like Frank Sinatra came rolling rhythmically off of the mouths of babes. Hope had a sound and the youthful jazz players were eager to give it voice. Once the kids had made their statements with bold innocence, it was the turn of the night people to enjoy a bit of jazz.
Discerning audiences made up of youthful record collectors and other enthusiasts, gathered musicians and revellers in town for the weekend, many from nearby cities filled the hall with eager anticipation. The BNTO gig was clearly one of the festival’s most anticipated performances. The band presented music by the historic band, the Blue Notes who left South Africa in 1964 for exile. Led by trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, the BNTO played a sea of ten hot numbers. For two of these they invited a rising singing power house, Titi Luzipo on to the stage. She lent her voice to a soaring tune called Dear Africa. From the belt of the first note, it was clear the band was intent on making it a gig to remember.
Then they took on the great jazz standard, Lakutshoni Langa based on an arrangement that was originally devised by Blue Notes drummer, Louis Moholo-Moholo. This tune kicks off with all the hallmarks of the familiar classic. Luzipo registers the melodic lyric, leading a harmonic chorus before the horns lift of into a rapturous cadenza. It became a festival of lifts and falls, construction and explosions, calls and responses.
Lakutshoni Langa is a ballad everybody tends to think they know. This version breaks with all that sense of comfort. Luzipo sang it with just the kind of force and passion one should expect from the Blue Notes or any band bent on channelling their spirit as the tribute orchestra does. It is unsettling. In this mode, the ballad that is often delivered with a romantic touch speaks to the terrifying urgency of loves lost to the tyranny of a repressive state, not a lover who simply goes missing due to the innocent run of the mill flow of life.
In the end, as the last note was delivered and the audiences rose up to applaud, the SBJF had managed to deliver a message of history’s relevance and the fervour of an impending future.