You’re not imagining that the same musician pops up year after year on the Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s stages.

Tenor saxophonist, occasional flautist, sometime composer and arranger, Buddy Wells (pictured) has played at every festival since its inception in 2000.

A stint with Charles Lazar, Mark Fransman and Kesivan Naidoo as part of Tribe, back when it was still the North Sea Jazz Festival, scored them a gig at the Hague in 2002, reportedly the first unrecorded, unsigned band to achieve that.

The 41-year-old Capetonian has played with everyone from Interzone to Allou April, Tina Schouw, Offshore, Musa Manzini, Tucan Tucan, Strait and Narro and more.

“It’s hard to keep track. If you remind me of a gig, I will remember it. That’s the great thing about the gigs though, the diversity,” he said.

Some of these concerts have led to other gigs and even overseas trips, though for Wells the best part of attending the festival has been the exposure to the musicians he didn’t play with, but simply listened to.

“You get inspired”, is why he is perfectly fine with the idea of a busman’s holiday.

He remembers the announcer apologising before the Phillip Tabane concert in 2002 that the guitarist wasn’t feeling well, “and he comes on and plays one of the best gigs ever”, Wells says shaking his head.

Buddy won’t say who it was, but he remembers watching a technically amazing musician who didn’t move him emotion- ally. But then he also got to watch the legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter that year:

“And that restored my faith. I could be a musician again, there was something to live for,” he laughs.

Other all-time festival highlights which for him include watching trumpeter Terence Blanchard and bassist Dave Holland.

“There’s not many I haven’t played with,” Wells says wrily when listing South African jazz musicians.

A UCT graduate, Buddy studied with a particularly distinguished crowd, counting Judith Sephuma, Jimmy Dludlu, Frank Paco and Marco Wyatt as friends.

Strange then that he calls the saxophone an extremely frustrating instrument to play: “Because it’s the most temperamental of instruments, there are so many variables.

“Every time you play with a new reed it’s like learning a new instrument.”


He admits to having become sidetracked by playing with so many talented and inter- esting artists and has made the conscious decision to take his own musical compositions off the back burner and get back to the idea of running his own band.

Who knows, Buddy might just be the one at the front of the stage and not in the back- ground the next time you attend the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.