Youth jazz fes­ti­val a rare op­por­tu­nity

CityPress - - Voices - Percy Ma­bandu voices@ city­press. co. za

Every win­ter for the past 25 years the lit­tle uni­ver­sity dor­pie of Gra­ham­stown has been host to a unique world-class skills ex­change and fes­ti­val – the Stan­dard Bank Na­tional Youth Jazz Fes­ti­val, which runs con­cur­rently with the Stan­dard Bank Jazz Fes­ti­val.

The fes­tive mu­si­cal gath­er­ing sees a horde of more than 300 school- and uni­ver­sity-age mu­si­cians get to­gether with about 100 in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians and teach­ers for work­shops and per­for­mances. The re­sult is much more than great jazz gigs that are ar­guably of the best qual­ity this side of the At­lantic.

While mu­sic lovers get to en­joy great per­for­mances by their favourite in­ter­na­tional play­ers on a rare visit to the coun­try, as­pi­rant mu­si­cians are taken through a week-long se­ries of work­shops and mu­sic clinics. They in­clude unique train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties by best-of-class mu­si­cians and teach­ers who bring their unique skills and styles from across the world to the fes­ti­val. This means the young trainees get to ben­e­fit from the widest pos­si­ble range of mu­si­cal in­sights.

The jazz shindig hap­pens within the fa­mously bit­ter win­ter of the cul­ture bowl that is Gra­ham­stown dur­ing the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val. Hud­dled and bun­dled to­gether on the cam­puses of Rhodes Uni­ver­sity and the Dioce­san School for Girls, the big stars and the up­starts are equalised by the shared liv­ing ar­range­ments at var­i­ous res­i­dences. There are no frills. This is one of the fes­ti­val’s win­ning as­pects.

Ask any of the mu­si­cians who’ve been through the fes­ti­val and they are quick to de­clare: “The level of ac­cess we get to the vis­it­ing mu­si­cians is un­be­liev­able. It’s amaz­ing be­cause we live, eat and work in the same place as the in­ter­na­tional guys. Some­times it’s a mu­si­cian you could have been check­ing out and buy­ing his records. Here you can walk up to him any­time and ask him how he played some­thing on a song you liked and he’ll show you right there and then,” ex­plained award-win­ning jazz bassist and for­mer Stan­dard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Shane Cooper. He says he has at­tended the fes­ti­val since he was in high school.

These days, Cooper is a mu­si­cian with a ca­reer and in­ter­na­tional tour sched­ule that has taken him to Switzer­land, Ja­pan, Canada and be­yond. “Some of the in­ter­na­tional gigs I’ve played were made pos­si­ble by meet­ing peo­ple at the Stan­dard Bank Jazz Fes­ti­val,” he says.

Apart from get­ting train­ing, the 300 young mu­si­cians get to au­di­tion for two an­nu­ally con­sti­tuted bands, the Stan­dard Bank Na­tional Youth Jazz Band and the Stan­dard Bank Na­tional School’s Big Band.

Pre­vi­ously, these bands per­formed in Nor­way, New York, Swe­den and the North Sea Jazz Fes­ti­val in the Nether­lands.

“There is prob­a­bly no bet­ter way to pre­pare any kid for a life as a mu­si­cian,” ar­gues New York-based drum­mer Ke­si­van Naidoo.

“I came to the first fes­ti­val in 1995. It changed my life. I think I only missed two years be­cause I had a gig some­where,” he beams, with wide eyes and hands in the air.

“The fes­ti­val is in­tense. You can quickly see how hard you need to work on your chops skills by check­ing out other kids on the pro­gramme. If I had not come to the Stan­dard Bank Na­tional Youth Jazz Fes­ti­val when I was young, I would have been just an­other tal­ented kid play­ing drums. Now I have a real ca­reer. I’m glad I can now come to give work­shops too.”

The East Lon­don-born prodi­gious drum­mer and com­poser is the fes­ti­val’s bright­est alum­nus. He now lives and works in the jazz cap­i­tal of the world, New York City, where he re­lo­cated af­ter com­plet­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gramme at Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton.

The im­pact of the yearly train­ing pro­grammes at the jazz fes­ti­val is yield­ing fruit be­yond the spe­cific genre.

Break­away pop stars such as Sakhile Moleshe, Do­minic Pe­ters and David Poole of chart-top­ping band Gold­fish met at the fes­ti­val. Matthew Field who co­founded the cool pop band Beat­en­berg is also an alum­nus of the pro­gramme.

By any stan­dard, the fes­ti­val is, as Alan Web­ster who has man­aged the fes­ti­val for more than 20 years puts it, “our na­tional barom­e­ter of the qual­ity of tal­ent and the fu­ture of our mu­sic in­dus­try”.

Ma­bandu was part of Stan­dard Bank’s so­cial me­dia team dur­ing the Stan­dard Bank Jazz Fes­ti­val at the

Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val in Gra­ham­stown


TAL­ENT Youth vy­ing for a spot in Stan­dard Bank Na­tional Youth Band in Gra­ham­stown

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