David Alston reviews Tony Yoko’s Jazz Showcase concert held at The Theatre on the Square, Sandton, on 17 September.‘Swinging new kids on the jazz block’ by David Alston, 21/09/17.
With his great love for live music in the mainstream tradition, Drummer and Producer Tony Yoko has always been willing to promote new talent who also relate to this genre. Last Sunday’s ‘Jazz Showcase’ at The Theatre on the Square featured five young musicians all studying at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria who already seem assured of a bright future with the right nurturing and promotion. Marcel Dednam, piano and composer; Sophia Nemand, piano and vocals; Tshepo Tshabalala, vocals; JP Roussouw, guitar, and Daniella Hart, vocals – all from Pretoria or Centurion – played and sang with maturity beyond their years and, considering most were performing in Sandton before a packed audience for the first time with minimum rehearsal, showed just what good jazz is all about: great improvisational ability, spontaneity, and mutual enjoyment.
And let’s not forget the rhythm section who anchored their performances: Professor Marc Duby from Unisa on bass whose sympathetic support for the players – particularly Marcel – was extraordinary throughout the afternoon, and ‘the old drummer boy himself’ Tony Yoko, always listening, always tasteful and quietly driving the music along without histrionics.
So what went down? Drawing mainly – but not exclusively – on The Great American Songbook, each performer was featured on two or three numbers plus the occasional duet. First up was Marcel, with a thoughtful rendition of ‘Windows’, a challenging but beautiful waltz by Chick Corea, one of the great modern jazz pianists, who first recorded it with flautist Hubert Laws in 1966 and incidentally, went on to make one of the classic fusion albums of all time, ‘Return to Forever’ in 1972. Sophia came out to play and sing – with poise and assurance — ‘Everybody wants to be a Cat’ from Waltz Disney’s 2013 film ‘The Aristocats’, the old standard ‘I’ve got you under my skin’ , forever associated with Frank Sinatra, and ‘Cry me a River’, made famous by Julie London in 1955.
It was then Tshepo’s turn to showcase both his voice and ability to scat with ‘Beautiful Love’, a popular song written as long ago as 1931 but brought back to the jazz forefront by Anita O’Day in a wonderful version with a quartet from within the Buddy Bregman Orchestra in 1954. This was followed by Dizzy Gillepsie’s ‘A Night in Tunisia’ (originally called ‘Interlude’), written in 1941 and also associated with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – the lyrics were penned by Jon Hendricks. Usually taken at a frenetic tempo, Tshepo turned it into a medium-paced swinger with some wonderful scatting, before closing the first half with Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s 1942 hit ‘That Old Black Magic’.
The second half opened with an unrehearsed version of Theolonius Monk’s 1956 classic ‘Round about Midnight’ by Marcel, Marc and Tony, with outstanding rapport between bass and piano and Tony somehow giving it a Middle Eastern feel. Marcel played one of his own compositions ‘Dove Tail’, which was both gentle and melodic, and ‘The Trio’ were then joined by JP and Daniella. ‘All of me’, another 1931 tune originally sung by Ruth Etting, and a rousing blues — ‘Weed Smoker’s Dream’, written in 1936 and a hit for Peggy lee with the Benny Goodman Band in 1941 under the title ‘Why don’t you do right’ — were up next. ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ featuring Daniella, followed, based on the old standard ‘I’m in the mood for love’. The reworked version is actually a transcription by Eddie Jefferson of a tenor solo by James Moody which paved the way for a whole new jazz style now known as vocalese – where words are put to famous instrumental jazz solos – with Daniella making light of its intricacies.
Tshepo came back on to join Daniella in a swinging version of ‘Cheek to Cheek’ – think Ella and Louis or Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga — and ‘Le Toute Ensemble’ gathered on stage for the finale: ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ again written in 1931 (obviously a vintage year for good tunes) by the famous Duke Ellington, with words by Irving Mills.
From the enthusiastic applause at the end of the concert there is no doubt that there is an audience for this type of music and Tony is to be commended for seeking out young jazz players and singers who I hope will get the ongoing support they deserve by way of more gigs and eventually recordings (Marcel has already made a CD called ‘Blue Bird’ which is worth hunting down). And once again, hats off to Daphne Kuhn who has done so much to promote good music and stage shows at her Theatre on the Square.
* David Alston is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for mainstream and bop era jazz.
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