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Many Standard Bank Joy of Jazz fans have reacted with horror at the fact that the festival will be moving from its 13-year old home in Newtown to the sterile environment of the Sandton Convention Centre.
Many feel the Newtown Cultural Precinct with its stages in Mary Fitzgerald Square, the Market Theatre and Bassline as well as the smaller venues around the precinct gave the event a cool, edgy vibe.
However, the promoter of the Joy of Jazz, Peter Tladi, believes the decision to move to the heart of the nouveau riche is a wise one.
“We were at the State Theatre for the first three years,” he explained over lunch at Newtown’s Sophiatown Bar Lounge.
“When we first came to Newtown we had 1 800 people. I remember coming here on a site reccie and there was absolutely nothing. But by last year we had over 24 000 people attending the event here.
“Many people were resistant due to the perceived crime problem in Newtown, but that was not the case.
“We initially built one tent and then two. Then we created the hospitality area and then the Konga stage. Last year at the Mbira stage there were more people outside than inside, that is how big it had become.”
Tladi says the reality is that the event has become too big for Newtown: “The tickets sell so fast that many who missed out called us the No Ticket Show.”
Others would argue that surely there is room for expansion in Newtown. Tladi rejects that: “We looked at all the possibilities. There was nothing. Worse still, there were issues with parking and it became totally unbearable.”
So why the Sandton Convention Centre? After all, the venue is more suited to insurance conferences than to a cool jazzin’ event.
Apparently, Tladi was impressed with the venue’s upgrade in terms of its sound on a technical level. The one criticism in Newtown was that the sounds of music between the main tents would sometimes bleed into each other. The Sandton Convention Centre has sound- proof rooms and great acoustics.
“Also, the Gautrain is nearby,” continued Tladi. “This means people can come from as far as Pretoria on the train. We’ll be making arrange-ments to keep it open much later.”
The Gautrain normally closes at 10pm, but the last jazz act usually finishes at about 1am.
Another worry is the developmental part of the Joy of Jazz. The venues around Newtown provided platforms for up-and- coming young artists and these venues were free for those who were not part of the amaBEE brigade.
Tladi says they will be hosting concerts in Newtown, Emmarentia and Pfolo Park in Soweto for these artists. These concerts will be held in a lead-up to the actual festival.
They also plan to have a developmental stage on the mezzanine floor of the Sandton Convention Centre. And there are plans to include the Nelson Mandela Square restaurants as well.
The idea, says Tladi, is to bring the new music to the people: “We are going to make Sandton lively. The place will resonate in every corner.
“Development is very important to us. My dream is to one day see South African artists having international guests playing with them.”
Tladi’s reasons make for a good argument, but some still can’t see the purpose of watching live music in a venue and, indeed an area, that severely lacks any form of personality outside of money, money and more money. Only time will tell.