Creative, innovative and open-minded is how this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz pianist, Bokani Dyer, describes himself. With roots in Botswana, Dyer attributes his passion for music to his dad, saxophonist Steve Dyer.

“He was a big influence; he exposed me to the first music that drew me into the world of music,” explained Dyer.

We had a studio at home so I got to see musicians come and play.”

Dyer says he took to the piano at the age of 13 while in high school: “There were two practice rooms at school. I always used to hear this guy play Janet Jackson and became interested in that.”

He went on to study music at the SA College of Music at UCT and graduated with a Bachelor of Music (Hons) in June 2008.

His cv reads like a jazz artist’s dream, having played with various artists and travelled the world, and he’s only 25. During his studies in 2006, he was chosen by Andre Peterson for a youth band that took part in a summer school in Sogne, Norway. He was also part of the Standard Band National Youth Jazz band in Grahamstown, which played in Joburg and Cape Town and toured Sweden.

He has played for the UCT Big Band and at the Arts Alive concert with his dad, Dorothy Masuku, Thandiswa Mazwai and Siya Makhuzeni.

In 2007 Dyer became a member of (fellow Jazz Young Artist) Shannon Mowday’s band. He’s played with fellow UCT alumnus Jimmy Dludlu’s band and performed at all the major jazz festivals here and a few abroad.

He also formed Plan Be, a groove band with Gold Fish vocalist Sakhile Moleshe, and plays with the Moreira Project, led by Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguica, which saw him tour Zanzibar to play the Sauti za Busara music festival in February 2009.

Last year, he travelled to Davos, Switzerland, with Dludlu for the World Economic Forum, and performed at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival with the Bokani Dyer Trio.

With such a rich musical journey, it’s no surprise this talented young maestro would bag such a prestigious award as the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist.

Allan Webster, director of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, describes him as technically skilled beyond his years and artistically creative in a wide array of jazz genres.

“It’s a beautiful thing; I feel very honoured. It’s a secretive process, you don’t apply, they just choose you. It’s given me an opportunity to concentrate on my music this year, to do my second album,” said Dyer about the award.

Having released his debut album, Mirrors last year, Dyer is already on to his next album, Emancipate the Story, which is due for release at the end of this month.

“This album is about tradition, letting tradition and culture tell the stories of our musical heritage.”

The album pays respect to the African jazz greats he is following such as Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, Andile Yenanab and Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi.

On the international front he pays homage to his jazz heroes Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock and Bobo Stenson.

“Jazz is a beautiful art form which allows for deep exploration through spontaneous creativity.”

In Grahamstown he will perform with Soweto Kinch, an alto saxophonist from Birmingham, UK, as well as with Kinch and rapper Tumi in a separate concert. He will also present a trio performance with Kesivan Naidoo (drums) and Hein van der Gein (bass).

He will do four shows at the festival and will play material from his old as well as upcoming album which features Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Buddy Wells (saxophone), Ayanda Sikade (drums), Angelo Syster (guitar) and Shane Cooper (bass).

l For more information on Dyer’s concert dates see www.nafest.co.za