IN A COMMUNITY plagued by gang violence and drug abuse, a group of young jazz musicians is changing perceptions one tune at a time.
Since 2008 the Delft Big Band has become a beacon of hope to scores of talented youngsters on the Cape Flats who had no platform to showcase their
Formally under the leadership of jazz trumpeter, Ian Smith, the band was established with the aim of getting youngsters off the streets.
Through the band, some of the members participated in local and international productions including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, District Six Kanala and the popular musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Trudy Rushin, project coordinator of the Delft Big Band, says the young musos have become the pride of their family and their community.
“They are a 20-piece band, including two vocalists, and they are now known throughout South Africa and have travelled abroad, and have already released one album,” she says proudly.
“Two years ago the project was extended by adding a music school and a feeder band.
“The feeder band consists of people who can play at a certain level and the idea is for someone from the feeder band to stand in if a band member is not available.
“In this way the whole band is not disrupted by the absence of one member.
“It’s also a wonderful aspect of the project that ensures sustainability,” she says. Every Saturday nearly 100 kids attend the music school at Voorbrug High School in Delft.
It is here where the older band members use the opportunity to plough back into their community and teach the newer members in the same way they were taught. Rushin says through the band some of the members are able to provide for their families with the income they make from playing at events.
“The people in Delft are very proud of them, it’s an area where there is a lot of social ills and in some cases the money that’s earned by the members is the only income their families have.
“There are some very sad stories but the fact that they can generate an income from the gigs is significant because they started out as youngsters playing instruments and now they are playing at a professional level.” Rushin says each of the members have their own inspiring stories to tell.
“Right now the lead trumpeter, Lorenzo Blignaut, took time off to play in the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. “Not only are they playing in Cape Town and Joburg but they will also go to Hong Kong and Germany.
“The oldest band member of the band, Godwin Blignaut, who is Lorenzo’s brother, dropped out of school but when he heard there was this band starting in the area but you had to be at a school in Delft to join, he came back to school and finished his matric.
“Godwin now has a very good day joband he teaches at the music school on Saturdays. “Marcel Adams, another trumpeter in the band, played in the production, Remembering the Lux and District Six Kanala. “They get hired for these shows and step out of the band for a while.”
Last Wednesday the band members got a rare opportunity to be mentored by American songwriter, producer, music arranger and pianist, Nat Adderley Jr at Voorbrug High School in Delft. While his name may be unfamiliar to most, and especially to the young musicians he came to address, the name Luther Vandross certainly struck a chord.
Adderley was Luther Vandross’ songwriter and arranger for over 20 years, and while the 61-year-old never released his own records, ask any international jazz and R&B musician and they will know who he is.
Adderley was in the country to present workshops at the weekend’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
Rushin says: “It turns out that the US consulate was on our mailing list and when they received our last newsletter they realised the band was still up and running.
“A couple of weeks ago we received an email from the US consulate’s office saying that Nat Adderley Junior will be here to present some workshops at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and he would like to do a workshop with the Delft Big Band.”
Due to the timing of the workshop and band members’ work commitments, some had to miss the workshop, but an invitation was extended to all the other young musicians in and around Delft, including members from the Steenberg Big Band. Nat said he was very impressed.
“I am so happy to be here, I’m having the time of my life,” he says.
“These kids are talented, I’m speechless.
“I am so happy to be here and I just want to introduce them to the kids in the States.
“I enjoyed them so much, they are just so good. They are serious about music.”