Sax­o­phon­ist en­joys free­dom of ex­pres­sion, im­pro­vi­sa­tion

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - PETER HUM

As keen as many are to call jazz the clas­si­cal mu­sic of Amer­ica, there are prac­ti­tion­ers who push for a broader take, such as the Mozam­bique-raised, Nor­way­based sax­o­phon­ist Ivan Mazuze.

Pur­su­ing an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer that has seen him in re­cent months tour in Europe, South­ern Africa and South Amer­ica, Mazuze lands in Canada this week. With a Toron­to­based rhythm sec­tion, he plays the Mer­cury Lounge in Ot­tawa Thurs­day, and then Toronto’s Small World Mu­sic Cen­tre on Satur­day.

Mazuze dis­cusses his jazz up­bring­ing and his take on jazz as a global phe­nom­e­non.

When did jazz en­ter into your life?

The first ex­po­sure I had to jazz mu­sic was through my fa­ther, who at the time used to lis­ten a lot to great Amer­i­can jazz mu­si­cians such as the Johnny Hodges al­bum Ev­ery­body Knows Johnny Hodges. He had quite a num­ber of other LPs, but this is the al­bum that I kept go­ing back to lis­ten to again and again.

The other band that I re­mem­ber en­joy­ing was the South African band called African Jazz Pi­o­neers and their al­bum Live at the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val. Through my Mozam­bi­can sax­o­phone teacher’s ad­vice and guid­ance I started to in­ten­sively lis­ten to Char­lie Parker.

What ap­pealed to you about jazz mu­sic?

The free­dom of ex­pres­sion, im­pro­vi­sa­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Tell me about the jazz scene in Mozam­bique?

The jazz scene in Mozam­bique is at a good, grow­ing pe­riod. Young mu­si­cians and mu­sic stu­dents are ex­posed to some im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional jazz artists through the mu­sic events and fes­ti­vals that oc­cur yearly. Not least the fact that the internet has some­how (had) a glob­al­iza­tion ef­fect — the general pub­lic and mu­si­cians have ac­cess to much more in­for­ma­tion.

What were your mu­si­cal stud­ies like in your home­land?

I stud­ied at the Na­tional Mu­sic School, with clas­si­cal mu­sic stud­ies as the main ap­proach. But in the cur­ricu­lum there were, as well, other sub­jects and in­stru­ments within tra­di­tional Mozam­bi­can mu­sic. I started study­ing mu­sic when I was seven years old, with piano as main in­stru­ment and wood­wind in­stru­ments like flute, clar­inet and sax­o­phone as sec­ond in­stru­ments. I com­pleted my in­ter­me­di­ate stud­ies in mu­sic at the age of 16.

Who are some of your mu­si­cal he­roes?

Johnny Hodges, alto sax­o­phon­ist, for his swing­ing phrase, con­trolled long vi­brato and beau­ti­ful round and warm tone.

Zim Ngqawana, South African sax­o­phon­ist and flutist/ com­poser for his ap­proach to jazz us­ing South African tra­di­tional mu­sic, his fiery en­er­getic live per­for­mances and lyri­cism. Zim was and still is one of my great mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tions. I met Zim for the first time in 1996 in Mozam­bique when he was on a tour. Since then, I had been meet­ing Zim for men­tor­ship and guid­ance into mu­sic ap­proach. Zim un­for­tu­nately passed some years ago.

Char­lie Parker is the Mozart and Bach of sax­o­phone. For his clear and fo­cused tone, ar­tic­u­la­tion, early fun­da­men­tal be­bop lan­guage, en­er­getic play­ing, lyri­cism. Char­lie Parker is the main rea­son I be­came a sax­o­phon­ist.

The list is end­less. Many other mu­si­cians are my he­roes. But one thing in com­mon that I learn and seek from all these ref­er­ences is that we can talk the ex­act same lan­guage, but one can ex­press and tell a story dif­fer­ently in a unique way. More im­por­tant is to tell the sto­ries of our iden­ti­ties as artists.

You moved to Nor­way in 2009. What’s it like to be an African ex­pat mu­si­cian there?

I moved to Nor­way with a mis­sion to teach, which is an ac­tiv­ity that I still pur­sue. It feels wel­com­ing to be an African ex­pat in Nor­way, as with my con­tri­bu­tion within my field, some­how Nor­way be­comes more dy­namic and cul­tur­ally di­verse. I have been per­form­ing and record­ing with some prom­i­nent mu­si­cians of Nor­way such as Per Mathisen, Ja­cob Young, Bjørn Vi­dar Solli and Bugge Wes­seltoft, and African and Cuban-based artists in Nor­way such as Sidiki Ca­mara, Ra­ciel Tor­res, Busi Ncube and many more.

Are there dif­fer­ences in how the mu­sic is played and ap­pre­ci­ated in dif­fer­ent coun­tries?

Yes, def­i­nitely. The au­di­ences in African coun­tries are of­ten, in general, more ex­pres­sive in terms of re­sponse and at­ten­dance, as there is a sense that the pub­lic wants to be part of the per­for­mance at the same time. In some parts of Europe, au­di­ences are some­how much more re­served and some­how at­ten­tive to the art form be­ing pre­sented.

What con­nec­tions do you feel to the dif­fer­ent strains of jazz around the world, from U.S. jazz to Euro­pean jazz to African jazz?

One thing that makes jazz great is that it functions as a uni­ver­sal lan­guage and bond. More than ever jazz mu­si­cians seek to in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of their own tra­di­tions into jazz, which makes the genre dy­namic and pro­gres­sive.


Ivan Mazuze counts U.S. jazz greats Johnny Hodges and Char­lie Parker as key in­flu­ences. Parker, he says, “is the Mozart and Bach of the sax­o­phone” and is “the main rea­son I be­came a sax­o­phon­ist.”

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