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Trombone giant Wycliffe Gordon, who is headed for Joburg next month, was named Trombonist of the Year this week by the Jazz Journalist Association of America.
The prestigious Downbeat Magazine released the results of the 60th annual Critics Poll and Wycliffe was named best trombonist.
Joburg audiences will be able to see the celebrated musician when he makes his second visit to SA next month as part of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, which will be staged in Newtown, from August 23 to 25.
Gordon’s last trip to this country was in 2006 when he came over as part of a music initiative. He was the youngest member of the US Statesmen of Jazz (a touring ensemble featuring senior musicians) and in many of his performances he continues to serve as a music ambassador for the US State Department.
In an interview, Gordon revealed that his Joburg performances will feature music from his latest CD, Hello Pops: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong, which marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the jazz icon. The bulk of the concert will also showcase material from more than a dozen albums.
He told me that the legendary Louis Armstrong had always been a strong influence in his life because, he said, the music was always “great” and “uplifting” and “I love performing it as well as people love listening to it”.
“He was an ambassador for the US Department and went over to work with the field band foundation and brought a lot of goodwill by sharing jazz music with people. Jazz music has always done that,” Gordon said, adding that as a child, he had always hoped to one day be a jazz musician.
His father, a church organist, was an influential figure in shaping Gordon’s early musical direction. “I grew up in the church and was mostly influenced by Gospel music,” he said. “Jazz was something I learnt to do later.”
He became interested in jazz at the age of 13, inspired by an aunt’s music collection. “It was music that I loved and it was challenging and allowed me to be creative. Jazz opened the doors for me to do that.”
His interest at that time was mostly the earlier musicians like Louis Armstrong. His early works as a professional were with Wynton Marsalis, but in recent years he has expanded beyond swing and experimented with new instruments. A strong example of this was on his album The Search, recorded in 2000, where he played a didgeridoo and performed Thelonious Monk songs.
Over the years Gordon has been highly honoured for his work. He received the Jazz Journalists Association Award/Trombonist of the Year last year, and was a recipient of the award on five previous occasions.
He also won the Jazz Journalists Association Critics’ Choice Award for Best Trombone in 2000. He has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Flanagan, Shirley Horn, Joe Henderson, Eric Reed, Randy Sandke and Branford Marsalis, as well as top musicians from both the swing and traditional jazz worlds.
One of his career highlights, he said, was his stint with the Wynton Marsalis Sextet and playing music with the calibre of musicians in the band. “It was a beautiful growing period in my life. I was not only learning to play jazz music with one of the top jazz musicians in the world, but as a young man it was also a formative phase in my life.”
Asked what advice he would give young musicians, he said. “I would tell them to practise and prepare to try and become the best at whatever music they decide to play.”
He said it was also important to learn how the music business works. “Learning to play music is only one side of being a musician. Learning to do the business side of the music is just as important.”
Asked if he had a message for fans, he replied: “I am coming out to play joyful and uplifting music in the spirit of Louis Armstrong and I want fans to just have a good time.”
l Gordon performs on the Dinaledi Stage on Friday, August 24 and Saturday, August 25.