Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Itumeleng English
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Itumeleng English
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Michael Glenister
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Michael Glenister
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Itumeleng English
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Itumeleng English
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Twenty years ago, the first Joy of Jazz festival took place at the State Theatre in Pretoria with a crowd of just 200 people. Today, the festival attracts almost 25 000 people each year. At capacity, the festival can hold 30 000 music lovers.

The festival is driven by the men and women of TMusicman, under the leadership of Peter Tladi, a man who needs no introduction in the African jazz scene.

Directing the specific ship that is #SBJOJ20, is Mantwa Chinoamadi, the executive producer of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. 

This will be her eighth year as the visionary behind the extravaganza, in the role of executive producer.

She speaks of a love affair with jazz that began when she was a young girl growing up in Soweto. 

On Sunday mornings, her father would be busy around the house, with jazz playing from a speaker.

Joy of Jazz executive producer Mantwa Chinoamadi. Picture: Supplied

“He would put out a speaker while polishing his shoes, or watering his garden and play some good music. Every time a song would play, I’d find myself asking who’s that?

“Other times I’d not want to hear that music, and I’d ask him to please play something else that was a bit more age appropriate for us. He’d say no.

“If it was a Miles Sunday, you’d listen to Miles Davis and listen to understand,” Chinoamadi said.

“I grew up in a home of jazz. My father was a jazz fanatic.”

And it was inevitable that the bug would take hold in her.

It’s this passion that has spurred her on ever since. She worked under Tladi when he was still the festival’s executive producer, but proved a while back that she had a respectable ear.

“When we would sit and discuss the festival, I had a say in who was in the line-up. I’d suggest various artists, and Bra Peter would comment: ‘I don’t know why you’re not producing this yourself. Maybe it’s time I got promoted,’” she said.

With the planning of an event this large, there are the expected challenges that come with the territory, but there are also the interactions that need to take place every year to hear what the consumers of jazz want to see on those stages.

This is something that shows just how deeply embedded in the jazz music landscape the festival has become.

I ask Chinoamadi if then we could call the Joy of Jazz the perfect yardstick for jazz musicians and producers looking to feel out their music. She chuckles and says: “I have been told that many times. I didn’t say that - I was told.”

The festival has seen some of the most iconic names in jazz visit the country’s shores to grace its stages.

Chinoamadi says the level of the engagement of the audience with the festival is such that once the line-up has been announced, fans use social media to contact artists to ask them to perform specific music.

“The artists know that when they come here, they are coming to audiences that know their stuff,” she said. This helps boost the festival’s credibility as a jazz institution.

Beyond being merely a celebration of jazz music, the festival also regularly conducts various workshops to teach young, fledgling and previously disadvantaged musicians about the business of jazz. These workshops are often facilitated by established, successful jazz musicians.

The festival also does performances in townships with the aim of bringing jazz to the people. Something that, if the social media buzz is anything to go by, has proved to be a success.

Because of its ability to pull people together, the year that stands out for her in the past 20 years, is 2010. An American jazz trumpeter by the name Wynton Marsalis is the reason.

Wynton Marsalis. Picture: Supplied

“I got to see Wynton Marsalis blow a vuvuzela! He’d been on a visit to a school in Soweto, where he was given a beaded vuvuzela. I don’t know when he practised it, but when he got on stage, he played it,” she remembers fondly.

Twenty years on and 20 jazz festivals later, the most important lesson that she has learnt while bringing this festival to life is the value of time.

“That and reading things in detail and listening. If you don’t listen you won’t be able to do a thing. You listen to the audience, you listen to the music and you produce something that works,” she said.

Asked about regrets, Chinoamadi said the collective did not have many.

“When you look at how we grew from that festival that had 200 people in Pretoria, and the way things went, we gave our growth space to happen.

“We didn’t wake up with an audience of 30 000 people. The growth had many lessons for us as well,” she said.

Being led by a woman, the festival has inadvertently become a space where female performers come to share their art, especially given how male-dominated the genre is.

Chinoamadi has simple words of advice for people who will be attending the festival for the first time this year.

“Expect magic.”

* The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz will be on from today to September 30 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Tickets are priced from R700 at Computicket.

@sego_says