Joy of Jazzby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 28.08.2013
He ogles at her like you would a desired object – lustfully yet slyly to hide his crushing desire from the company he keeps. Moments later, side-by-side, they’re headed towards the main door, the one through which you forced yourself into to catch the final thirty seconds of The Temptations. You look at the time and conclude that no sleep shall be had by both, not until what he so evidently desires is realised. But it’s not your business, so you sit down and feign interest in what happens when the lights go out at a show. You also do it because it’s too cold outside and your companion’s unresponsiveness to your Please Call Me isn’t giving your indifference to humanity any boost.
You captured what you decided was an arresting shot of Afrika Mkhize as he played side-kick to Ivan Mazuze’s band. Buddy Wells was on Tenor Sax; Shane Cooper, Kesivan Naidoo, and Bokani Dyer were part of the audience. Someone decided that you won’t get to see them all on stage – well, all but the former two – tomorrow evening, and you’ve resigned yourself to the fact. Your mind’s still pacing from the brief encounter with Marcus Wyatt and McCoy Mrubata just before you came here. They allowed you to take pictures of their interaction with a Cape Town-based playwright who’d had his leg amputated since you last saw him. You overheard talk about the Blue Notes and thought about Chris McGregor. You also thought about missing Mlungisi Gegana’s tribute to Johnny Dyani because of festival scheduling woes.
Stumbling into Niki’s suggested the idea of a communal commonality within the music, within jazz. You walk in half-expecting to see Sathima Bea Benjamin in a setting much different from the one you saw her six months ago. But Sathima’s gone, you remind yourself. Meanwhile, Ayanda Khumalo isn’t fazed by your stray thoughts; her voice counterbalances the band’s feisty chops. The audience, standing right at the edge of the stage with some seated around roundtables and others conversing in the vicinity, shows appreciation. You think about America jazz revues at the turn of the century, Dorkay House, and theorise further about jazz and community. Was this how it felt back then? Perhaps.
What you know for sure is how it felt in the early nineties when Bayete’s “Shosholoza” was a national treasure; a proposition to blue collar workers; and a peace pipe for those who whose labour was sought after on the rail tracks. You know it because Themba Mkhize was part of the band, and he re-enacted the scene in front of you. Shosholoza, a song in three-part harmony, the key altered slightly from the original. You appreciate the subtlety and warmth of Bra Themba; the light touch; the respectful way in which he introduces his band.
Yet it’s Marcus Wyatt conducting this year’s National Youth Jazz band which leaves a lasting impression. His words come to mind: “I get the opportunity to test my compositions”. You recall the line-up – Zoe Modiga (vocals), Benjamin Jephta (bass); Thandi Ntuli (piano); Marlon Witbooi (drums); Sibusiso Mkhize (trumpet); Matthew Ehrenreich (alto); Zeke le Grange (tenor); Murray Buitendag (trombone). You want people to know these names along with those more modern-day jazz revolutionaries because it plays into the larger conversation about taking care of our form of art and its practitioners. You recall, if briefly, Tsuyoshi Yamamoto’s charm as he unleashed pounds and pounds of Far East flourishes in the jazz idiom.
By the time your companion calls, you’ve overheard the next night’s security strategy with respects to that performance area. You’ve also concluded that despite earlier affirmations about Terrence Blanchard’s amazing set last night, what you saw before rushing to see The Tempations lurked, not in the dingy enclaves of mediocrity, but in the neighbourhood of uninspired. You find the companion at the same spot you left her six hours ago. On your walk toward the intersection of Gerard Sekoto and Bree streets, you resign yourself to an ignored reality experienced daily by different-race couples. You lock out the stares your interaction draws from all directions and focus on the first cab you see. “It’s only for tonight”, you reason. Or so you think.
* All images © Ts’eliso Monaheng