Note: Ekapa, Greg Davids, Mike Campbell, Mike Rossi, and Dave Ledbetter have offered their memories of Basil. Please scroll down to read them.
Basil Moses, perhaps the finest jazz bassist that South Africa has ever produced, died on Sunday morning, after a long battle with cancer and the effects of a series of strokes. He was 70 years old. The family that he leaves behind includes his brother, Cliffie, a guitarist, singer, and bandleader, who was his closest musical collaborator. (You can read a brief obituary, here.)
Basil was usually a sideman and almost never the star, but what an amazing sideman he was. The musical foundation that he laid down with his bass was as steady as a rock. When he soloed, he combined grace and technical brilliance, a cascade of notes with a wonderful melodic sensibility.
A marvelous duo performance of "My Funny Valentine" -- it's just Basil and an uncredited singer -- will give you a feel for his style. (Click here, scroll down.)
I also like this video of Basil playing with Richard Ceasar (piano) and Ivan Bell (drums) at the Green Dolphin, the venerable Cape Town jazz club which recently shut its doors. It begins with Basil in mid-solo. Cape Town loves its smooth jazz. I'm not sure that Basil did, but he sure played the heck out of it.
I was lucky enough to have met Basil about a decade ago, just as I began my research into Cape Town's musical cultures. We became good friends, something that allowed me to spend several hours, one long summer afternoon, talking to him and Cliffie about their lives and careers. I'll have much more to say about Basil in a few days. For the moment, I want to note the passing of a wonderful man and musician.
Update, 7 June 2011: I just received word that Basil's funeral will be held on Friday, June 10th, at the Anglican church of St. Mark the Evangelist, in Athone (Cape Town), at 9:00 in the morning.
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Ekapa just left this comment. It deserves a place in the body of this post:
Yes, Basil had his reservations about international smooth jazz, the Kenny G type (he said he liked some local stuff which he regarded as fusion), but like a lot of good musicians in Cape Town, he was a practical man. In a conversation I had with him a few years ago he in essence said that he loved his audience and that he loved to play music, and if his audience wanted smooth jazz he was going to give them the best smooth jazz there was. Rest easy chief.
Greg Davids, a producer and a presenter on Cape Town's Fine Music Radio, offers this beautiful remembrance:
I had a front row seat to Basil Moses's musical might for many of my formative years, he was my first jazz hero. Basil was a mentor from the time of my being a bedazzled witness to the making of the Four Sounds only recording and for which my Dad, Robert Davids was the co- producer along with Ivan Weir. The band for the recording included Cliffie Moses on guitar and vocals, Basil on Bass, Richard Schilder on piano, Billy Dollie on drums and rounding off the section was an Italian American, Silvio with Sicilian connections and in hiding in SA on flute. His surname was never revealed in the album liner notes. I attended some rehearsals and the legendary album photo shoot that took place on a Sunday morning just down the road from our and the Moses homes. The location was the 7 Steps in District Six. After the shoot, a kind Lady who owned the house adjacent to the steps invited the crew and band in for tea and koeksisters and I acquired my first distaste for milk in tea and my first sweet tooth for Cape Malay confectionary!
Robert Davids composed two tunes on the album, Katrina and Beverley both sung by Cliffie Moses, one of the most under appreciated jazz vocalists and guitarists in this country. My uncle Stan Davids designed the album cover and another uncle, Bobby May was the album photographer. Basil Moses contributed the tunes 7 Steps and Down from Slavery, Richard Schilder, the pianist on the date composed the balance of music. Basil and Cliffie Moses were the quintessential jazz muso's for this 4 year old but also for many of our very finest jazz guitarists and bassists that have risen in their wake.
Through the years Basil guided my earliest knowledge of the form, selflessly conducting lessons on jazz and letting me into his world via deep conversations about favourite musicians like Bill Evans and Scott Lafaro and pin sharp analysis on Shorter compositions or Hancock phrasing. It was to Basil that I went to first, armed with a cassette of Jaco Pastorius music, what followed was hours in blissful bass world. Often something I would play him would lead to him becoming tearful and then me too. These impromptu meetings all took place at Bonds clothing stores, first in Claremont, then in Kenilworth Centre Cape Town and where Basil secured my first real casual earning job as a student. The money was not great, in fact my travel costs left just enough for a coke and pie but the music lessons were priceless. The other platform for ingesting this giant’s musicality was with him as member of both the Four Sounds and Henry February’s bands which performed at clubs like the Five 2 Four jazz club. All of the jazz standards of the day by Parker, Miles, Monk and Evans were performed by talent that could easily of been deputies for the original musicians performing in those bands. Basil’s strong hands, bold statements and perfect intonation summonsed the bass brigade seated in the audience to attention one Saturday after another. He cut through the front line of Mankunku and brothers Ngcukana to sway, swing and soiree us into bass heaven. Basil was a good guitarist as well with that most valuable asset, a great feel. I was enamored by Basil's big sound on bass, something he achieved on both Fender and the double basses. To me, he was a writer, a Walt Whitman, a James Baldwin. He wove beautiful lines into the music and told wonderful tales, his use of glissando was his poetic license. I remember when he decided to stop walking on the bass, a very conscious decision but it never stopped him from swinging. His playing was solid with a great sense of time. When Basil soloed a presence emerged, one found in great leaders, he spoke in a way that captured your attention, his tone was firm but gentle. Basil Moses was our Master of the subterranean and Captain of the 4 strings.
Mike Campbell, a superb bassist and a professor at the University of Cape Town's South African College of Music, left this comment:
I knew Basil for many years, since the 60s actually. We never crossed paths on the stand much, both being bassists, but I always loved the way he played and will remember him with much admiration and respect. He played bass the way it should be, with passion and total commitment to the music, as if every note was the last he would ever play. I hope he's with Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown now, because they deserve his company.
A comment from Mike Rossi, jazz saxophonist, composer, and professor at the University of Cape Town's South African College of Music:
Basil was not only a great musician but a great human spirit. His energy was contagious, he made you play; he never went through the motions. It was always a joy to play with him especially when playing material not often heard in Cape Town. He knew all the tunes, changes and sure helped a bunch of less experienced pianists along the musical path.
We will miss you Basil however, the music and that smiling persona you left us will always remain.
From Dave Ledbetter, pianist, guitarist, bandleader, and composer:
I played duo , trio , quartet and quintet music with Basil on guitar or piano for over twenty years and what a time we had. We never once had a bad gig. Instead we had an absolute ball creating wonderful music effortlessly and without fear.
I miss him a lot and on the bandstand most of all. I would never need to discuss what we would play and in fact would often just play one song into the next. When we played with Kevin Gibson (which was a lot) I would just start and Basil would hear immediately and respond like he had been playing that song that way his whole life. What a giant!
We would also as a rule try not to play the same song the same way or in the same key more than once. Basil's musicality was such that one could just do this on the fly. He loved that on the edge approach to the music so much. His eyes would light up , we would both smile and he would just dig deep and find that place every time.
There are not too many musicians that one can say one has that rappore with in a lifetime. Basil was certainly one of those key figures to me and too many I am sure. I am eternally grateful for the love and support he showed me as both friend and musician over the years. I wrote a Blues for him which always reminds me of him called, "Blues for Basil," which he used to love playing. I feel really so blessed to have been able to play with him so often and in terms of swing... he was King! A beautiful gentle soul with the sweetest of hearts and a smile that lit up a room.
Until we meet again -- R.I.P Brother.