The stomping of feet, ululating, whistling, singing and dancing – that was the effect on audiences at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, which ended this weekend in Johannesburg.
From world-acclaimed jazz greats Nduduzo Makhathini, Wynton Marsalis, Roberto Fonseca, to local idols Nomfundo Xaluva, Don Laka, Sibongile Khumalo and Sipho “Hot Stix” Mabuse, crowds were left fascinated by the superb performance of the lineup of artists from – among other countries – the US, Europe, Cuba and the Scandinavian bloc.
On the opening night, there was no better place to be than the packed Dinaledi stage where jazz enthusiasts were mesmerised by the world-class performance of the ZAR Jazz Orchestra led by Marcus Wyatt and the Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra featuring Grammy Award winner Marsalis.
In the words of trumpeters Wyatt and Marsalis – when both bands took the stage – it was not meant to be a battle but more of a camaraderie.
While the ZAR Jazz Orchestra occupied the left position on stage and the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra settled on the right, the two giants complemented each other in words and music, with both ensembles paying tribute to legendary South African jazz maestro Jonas Gwangwa.
Crowds were treated to a big band atmosphere, with Wyatt remarking: “This is no battle but a lovefest.”
Marsalis responded: “We’re not here to battle but to share our mutual heritage.”
The atmosphere turned out to be a mutual appreciation for each other, on and off the stage, with many fans saying it should set the trend internationally.
Ironically, the battle of bands was a common feature when Marsalis – regarded as the prince of the first family of jazz – grew up. His pianist father Ellis used to host jazz icons Duke Ellington, Danny Barker and Count Basie at their home when Marsalis was much younger.
The battle of bands was common in the big band era of the ’30s and ’40s, with some hard-fought challenges for dominance in jazz in later years.
The most famous battle was the 1936 engagement between the Count Basie Orchestra, which was preparing for a cross-country trip to its new home in New York, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
The Duke Ellington Orchestra triumphed easily that night, because the Basie band was still finding its footing, to become a fully established, properly arranged 12-piece band.
Belting out tunes such as that of the late South African jazz artist Bheki Mseleku’s Closer and Diphororo by Jonas Gwangwa, the ZAR Jazz Orchestra showcased the African jazz rhythm, commonly referred to as umngqungqo.
Among many tunes, the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra rendered The Grave, written by Jerry Roll Morton, Yes, Sir that’s my baby, written by Vincent Gardener, and emaXoseni by Gwangwa.
But it was Attencheone written by Gardener in honour of Raymond Murphy, that got the most thunderous applause from the audience.
In the tune’s rendition, the audience showed much appreciation to Camille Thurman – the only woman band member – who dazzled with her magical tenor saxophone stage performance.
Conga, where multitalented Cuban artist Fonseca’s three-member band played – with some audience members raising the flag of Cuba – became the most multicultural stage.
Fonseca, who brought to South Africa the lively Cuban jazz, paid tribute to Nelson Mandela in dedicating one of the songs to the icon.