In my last posting on this blog, I mentioned that I was lucky enough to have been invited to Jimmy Dludlu and Melanie Scholtz's rehearsal with the University of Cape Town Big Band. Jimmy Dludlu is one of Africa's best known jazz guitarists; Melanie Scholtz is a terrific up-and-coming jazz singer. They were preparing for a concert that was held last Thursday evening in Cape Town's Baxter Concert Hall. You can see my rehearsal photos here.
After listening to the rehearsal, I was convinced that the concert was going to be amazing. And it was. A high-energy gig from beginning to end with some of the finest music-making I've witnessed in a long time. By the end, the audience was up on their feet and dancing.
Jimmy Dludlu, performing in the Baxter Concert Hall, Cape Town, 13 August 2009. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website are Copyright, John Edwin Mason. All rights reserved.)
That smile on Jimmy's face is absolutely genuine. The guy loves make music, loves to perform, loves to get his audience out of their seats, up on their feet, and dancing.
When I spoke with him briefly, during last week's rehearsal, he struck me as open, friendly, and totally down to earth. He's an easy guy to talk to, despite his fame and accomplishments.
Jimmy, performing at the Baxter, 13 August 2009.
That's Jimmy, of course, in the foreground. The guy in the background, obviously enjoying Jimmy's playing, is Shaun Johannes, probably my favorite among South Africa's young bass players.
Melanie Scholtz, during the sound check, at the Baxter Concert Hall, 13 August 2009.
Melanie sings like an angel--a soulful, funky angel. I tried to describe her voice in my last post and didn't quite capture it. Let's try this: Nancy Wilson with a dash of Alicia Keys.
Melanie singing with the University of Cape Town Big Band, Baxter Concert Hall, 13 August 2009. Mike Campbell, the band's director, is in the background.
Mike Campbell, conducting the University of Cape Town Big Band.
The concert closed with a performance by Jimmy and the C Base Collective. This is the point at which the audience started dancing in the aisles.
I wish I knew the name of this member of the C Base Collective. He was brilliant on both flugelhorn and trombone.
It's worth mentioning that this concert featured alumni of the University of Cape Town's South African College of Music performing both jazz and classical music. During the first half of the concert, we heard the Magalhaes-Schumann Piano Duo play Arensky and Lutoslawski with dazzling assurance. Then Pretty Yende and Given Nkosi offered superb performances of arias by Gounod, Donizetti, Lehar, and Puccini. Their performance of the Act 1 finale from Puccini's La Boheme was a stunner--gorgeous singing and tremendous romantic chemistry.
As I was saying, it was--from beginning to end--a pretty amazing evening of music-making. And it's easy enough to see it as emblematic of the "New South Africa." Music from European, African, and American (and African-American) traditions was performed by musicians who defied the old stereotype that classical music is only for whites (and the less powerful stereotype that jazz is only for blacks). The audience itself was thoroughly mixed--black, white, and everything in between.
It was enough to make one forget the sour mood--alternately angry and cynical--that seems to have descended on the country. There is not doubt that South Africa has its problems (none of which would be unfamiliar to residents of other developing nations). But, as this concert demonstrated, it also has tremendous human resources in the arts--and everywhere else you care to look.