Durban - “I got this call to put together a Dixie band for the arrival, in Durban, of Rovos Rail. So I got six members of the orchestra together and asked pianist Aubrey Stander to join us. We played on the platform and so we became Platform Jazz,” says Durban trumpeter and band leader, Cathy “Hot Lips” Peacock.
Next month Platform Jazz will celebrate its 30-year history, with a concert of swinging numbers, at the Durban Jewish Club.
Thirty years ago, Peacock was playing as an extra with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, joining it full-time the year after. In a career that includes playing in the band for Shirley Bassey and Helmut Lotti, among others, she also assists with the KZNPO Youth Orchestra, runs the Durban Girl’s College orchestra and teaches the trumpet.
But back to the Platform.
“I had all this lovely music from my dad and we had a few rehearsals, and it was so nice to have a real piano on the platform. There were snacks and all these people tootling around. It was such fun,” she says.
That sense of fun has been a part of the Platform Jazz repertoire ever since.
“Because we sounded quite good, the Playhouse used us for lunch-hour concerts,” Peacock says.
There were collaborations with the Napac Jazz Ensemble, and the Napac Singers. Today, it’s mainly private gigs and parties, although the band has regular stints at the Rhumbelow where “we try out our new repertoire for the year”.
“There’s the Michaelhouse Music Festival and Hilton Arts Festival, East Coast Radio fun days and, of course, church fetes,” says Peacock.
Peacock comes from a musical family. Her father played the clarinet and trombone, her brother the trumpet. “I tried the flute and couldn’t produce a sound. So I picked up the trumpet and found it relatively easy.”
When it comes to the music, Peacock arranges a number of the big band charts to suit the musical dynamics of the group.
“And each band member has to have a chance to shine. Even the double bass gets a moment of improvisation,” she says. “The band is important, we’re not just a backing band for a vocalist.
And how did she get the nickname “Hot Lips”? “I was playing in Dixieland, with Chris Duigan, on a youth orchestra tour, in 1983. We were at varsity together. It was Simon Steigel, on tuba, who came up with “Hot Lips”.
“It stems back to those funny jazz names they gave themselves in the 1920s, like Jelly Roll Morton or Dizzy Gillespie. We all had one.”
For the 30th anniversary concert, a number of past players are jetting in to Durban to join the group. “There will be 13 of us,” she says.
Besides Peacock on trumpet, there’s Duncan Wooldridge on trombone, Kirsten Sayers and original member Ian Holloway on clarinet, Jeff Robinson on flute and sax, Jeff Judge on sax and vocals, Andreas Kappen on bass, Bruce Baker on kit, Melvin Peters on piano with a guest slot by Christopher Duigan, and the singers are Shelley McLean Downham, Bryan Hiles and Natalie Rungan.
And the 40th anniversary concert? “We’ll keep on doing it. We may try new things. Some are going that post-modern jukebox route. I like some of it, but want to keep the swing numbers alive. I love the music and, when we play, it’s infectious. It really gets people toe-tapping and they go off feeling happy at the end of the gig.
“There’s not been one gig where we think ‘oh, god, we don’t want to be here’ and that’s because we’ve chosen something we really love doing.”
Catch the show on September 1, at the Durban Jewish Centre, at 2.30pm. Tickets R130/R110 from webtickets or at the door. The band will give a more informal concert at S43, Station Drive precinct, on August 31. Tickets R100. The concert is supported by the KZN Performing Arts Trust. For more info, call Cathy on 0823498362.