Having woken up early to get ready for what he thought would be a long day in the studio, the young jazz musician was deep into a mixing session when his phone rang. On the other end was Mandie van der Spuy, manager of Arts and Jazz Sponsorships at Standard Bank. Initially cautious, Cooper wondered if some friends were pulling a prank, but soon realised that Van der Spuy was offering him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his dream a reality.
“He sounded suspicious and then stunned,” laughs Van der Spuy. “I wasn’t surprised though; it’s a common reaction amongst our winners!”
The news that Cooper was struggling to digest was that he had been awarded a Standard Bank Young Artist Award, gran-ting him membership to a distinguished club which includes artistic giants such as Johnny Clegg, Sibongile Khumalo, Mbongeni Ngema and Princess Mhlongo. “I was quite stunned,” says Cooper. “I was in the middle of a session and it was weird. It was amazing, but it took me completely by surprise!”
The best was yet to come, however. Through the award, Cooper was being offered shows at both the National Grahamstown Arts Festival and the Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg, as well as funding for his new album and publicity.
“I grew up in a musical family,” says Cooper. “There was always music around. When I went to high school there was a jazz band and they offered me a position playing bass and I eventually got into double bass. It was the small ensemble stuff that I liked.
“Lots of people think we’re sleeping ’till three every day and living in smoky jazz clubs. As a jazz musician you work with different artists all the time; it’s never one set band – that’s the beauty of it. There are very few jazz venues – it’s a constant struggle being a musician in South Africa, so being ready, being prepared with music and what you want to do means that when an opportunity comes up, you take it and hopefully that leads to more things.”
Cooper is aware that not everyone is a jazz enthusiast, but he believes the tide can be turned. “I think there’s a bigger jazz audience in this country that hasn’t heard the kind of jazz that might appeal to them. So in Cape Town when I’ve got friends who are really into rock music come to our shows, they’re like ‘Is this jazz? Oh my gosh – this is fire!'”
Van der Spuy explains that the awards are designed to encourage recipients in the pursuit of their careers, with up to six artists being selected each year. “The multiplier effect of the awards has proven to be considerable,” she says. “Many of the winners have established international reputations and taken into the world at large manifestations of South African arts and culture, as well as effectively being image-making ambassadors for the country.”
Having started in 1981, the Standard Bank Young Artists Awards recognise established South African artists of a relatively young age who have demonstrated exceptional ability in their chosen fields.