Nearly 400 students were taught about jazz and their instruments or vocal abilities by musicians from South Africa, the US, England, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland and Australia at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival in Grahamstown.
During the day there were about 20 lectures such as Introduction to jazz trombone, saxophone, trumpet or guitar etc, plus composition, arranging, improvisation, the use of digital software and the business of jazz. The Vocal Centre was looked after by Natalie Rungan (SA), Justin Binek (US), Paulien van Schaik (the Netherlands) and AJ Brown (UK).
There were auditions for various bands that were created out of the top students for the best school bands, especially for the Standard Bank National Schools’ Big Band and the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band.
The activity and the sounds of jazz are heard coming out of every nook and cranny.
Because of space it’s impossible to write about everyone who deserves it, so I’ll just mention some of the highlights of the event, starting with the students.
Rondebosch school had the most players in the National Schools’ “ Big Band, which was put through its paces by Ian Darrington, Member of the British Empire and former director of the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. They were exceptionally good, especially the saxophone section on Catch as Catch Can and Barn Burner. Vocals were handled professionally by Christina Rossi, while trumpeter John Prest was memorable on I Remember Clifford, complete with some Lee Morgan licks.
The second-stream band were only a shade behind and had an amazing trombone section. On How High The Moon, they sounded like a professional unit.
The youth choir and solo vocalists were of a high stan- dard, but 21-year-old Callandra Youngleson stunned me with her vocal on Lush Life. She sang with intensity and understanding of the lyrics, so much so it gave me goose bumps. The singers were accompanied by Binek on piano with bass and drums. Binek seemed everywhere either singing, playing piano or conducting the orchestra. He is a professor of vocal studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
The Awesome Big Band assembled for Bruce Cassidy to lead was awesome. As a matter of fact, Bruce told me he would be proud to front this band anywhere in the world.
US trombonist Steve Turre joined the group for a few numbers, including a breakneck tempo of Black Foot, based on the chords of Cherokee on which Cape Town alto saxophonist Dan Shout stole the show.
With two explosive trombone soloists in the band, Turre and Erik Johannessen (Norway), John Davies decided to give up his exuberant side for a more mellow and melodic outing that worked beautifully. Turre also displayed his virtuosity playing conch shells, which was both fascinating and musical.
Award winner Turre got into a swinging bop groove with his own band that comprised Marcus Wyatt, Bokani Dyer, Hein van De Geyn and Kevin Gibson who all stepped up to the plate.
In contrast, saxman/composer Rus Nerwich took the listener on a beautifully sculpted set of heartfelt music filled with ambiance and emotions underpinned with exotic rhythms supplied by Ronan Skillen on tabla and other percussion instruments.
An All Star Band of saxophonist Mike Rossi with Lee Thomson, Willie Haubrich, Jason Realon, Wesley Rustin and Kesivan Naidoo dished up some hearty blowing in a Jazz Messengers manner.
Bassist composer Carlo Mombelli and keyboardist Jeroen van Vliet explored the universe of space and science fiction music with electronic panache. Pure magic was made by the duo of bassist Hein van De Geyn and vocalist Pauline van Schaik.
The intimate sounds of her smooth voice and the featherlike playing of the bassist was almost like intruding on a love affair.
The high standard of musician- ship this year has set the bar high for next year.