David Alston reviews contrasting concerts at The Theatre on the Square (TOTS) in Joburg during the Sixth Annual Jazz & Blues Weekend from 25 to 28 January. Impresario and drummer Tony Yoko’s annual Jazz and Blues weekends have become a firm fixture in Johannesburg’s music calendar, and this year, besides showcasing visiting Italian pianist Francesca Tandoi (reviewed previously), some relatively, and some completely, ‘new kids on the block’ were featured, along with a blues band of middle-aged rockers who threatened to take the roof off TOTS.
First up was a programme billed as ‘Students and all that jazz’ featuring two artists from the University of Tshwane: singer/pianist Sophia Niemand and singer Tshepo Tshabalala, alto saxophonist Deryn Griffiths from Cornwall College as well as what can only be described as a child prodigy – nine-year-old pianist Heinrich Sutton. Backed by a trio led by Marcel Dednam on piano (who already has a CD – Blue Bird — to his name), Werner Spies on bass, and the adaptable and versatile Peter Auret on drums, the soloists all demonstrated a great feel for the music and a confident stage presence that belied their years.
Opening the proceedings was Marcel’s trio version of ‘Lunar’ from his CD, and ‘Someday my Prince will come’ – going all the way back to the film of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ in 1937 but a firm favourite with jazzmen since Miles Davis recording on an album of the same name in 1961. Sophia – who first appeared at TOTS in September last year — followed with two standards: ‘Ain’t misbehaving’ and ‘Teach me tonight’, and the diminutive Heinrich treated us to ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ with a sure touch and the promise of a talent to be watched. Tshepo (who also debuted last year) came to the party with a sensitive rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful ‘Skylark’ (lyric by Johnny Mercer) and moved the tempo up with Miles Davis ‘Four’ – great lyric (by Jon Hendricks) and scatting; he grows more assured and relaxed with each outing.
Marcel kicked off the second half with ‘Flight Funk’ and was joined by Deryn who played duo versions of ‘Grifower’ (also from ‘Blue Bird’) and the Beatles ‘Blackbird’, both showing the great rapport they enjoy with one another. Sophia gave a rousing version of ‘Baby won’t you please come home’ associated with the great Bessie Smith, followed by ‘Seven Nation Army’ by rock duo The White Stripes. Heinrich tackled the intricacies of Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rhumba’ with confidence, Tshepo romped through The Soft Winds ‘Detour Ahead’, and the jazz standard ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, before duetting with Sophia to close the concert with ‘All of me’.
What a joy it is to hear young people with an understanding and passion for mainstream jazz and hats off to Tony for continuing to expose them to live audiences, whose response was never less than enthusiastic.
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