Some might say that Darren English was born under a lucky star. Other might call him blessed. The twenty-five-year-old trumpeter and composer has been riding a wave of good fortune for the past few years – although he is aware that luck can run out any time.
English, originally from Cape Town now lives in Atlanta in the US. He is visiting home for a few weeks as he played recently at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. While here, he is also promoting his debut album Imagine Nation.
Some might remember English as the young kid on trumpet always seen at jam sessions around the city.
He started out playing from the age of 15, performing at Swingers Jazz Club in Wetton at their Monday Night Jam Sessions, and hasn’t looked back.
“Everything came from jam sessions. So many of my opportunities have come through jamming. It’s where you really learn as a musician,” he says.
In 2012, English was awarded the Fine Music Radio (FMR) Award and was also the 2012 recipient of the Samro Overseas Award.
This led him to pursue his Masters in Jazz at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
For the two years English was in Atlanta, he spent time not only dedicated to his studies but trying his best to connect with his environment.
This happened in the form of attending jam sessions and playing with as many musicians as he could.
Through this, he managed to get an opportunity to tour with bands and form many connections.
“I take my horn with (me) to most gigs, and I made sure to make an effort to hang out with the guys who were playing at jam sessions. To talk to them and always ask for advice. Finding mentors over there was very important for me. You learn so much in the process,” he says.
One good-luck story includes visiting a music store in Los Angeles and testing out the trumpets, which resulted in him being endorsed by the store.
While studying in Atlanta, English was approached by record label head of Hot Shoe Records for a record deal.
The idea of the album was developed in 2013 and it was recorded in 2014.
It took some time to be mixed and mastered and in March, English’s Imagine Nation was released.
He says the album was recorded under strange conditions as he had just found out that he had accidentally overstayed his welcome in the US at that point, another situation that he was lucky enough to find his way out of without too much struggle.
The album features musicians English had met along the wayduring his US sojourn.
These include Kenny Banks Jr (piano), Billy Thornton (bass), Chris Burroughs (drums), Carmen Bradford (vocals), Greg Tardy (tenor saxophone), Russell Gunn (trumpet) and Joe Gransden (trumpet).
The album’s standout is English’s own composition, a three-track suite in tribute to Nelson Mandela, featuring snippets of dialogue and speeches from Mandela himself.
The other tracks include reworkings of jazz standards like Body and Soul.
English also spent time living and playing in Italy last year but he constantly moved back and forth to the US.
Some of the musicians English has played with in the US include saxophonists Jonathan and Ryan Kilgore (Stevie Wonder), trombonist Saunders Sermons (Maxwell, Jay-Z), drummer Duffy Jackson and pianist Joe McBride.
His most notable performances have been with Grammy-nominated trumpeter Gunn, being featured in his Krunk Jazz Orkestra at the Atlanta Jazz Fest (2014), with vocalist Carmen Bradford (Count Basie) as well as performing regularly and recording with Grammy Award saxophonist Kebbi Williams (Chris Dave).
Recently, he has been featured at the Atlanta Jazz Festival with his own quintet, as well as being the featured young artist at the 2015 Sitka Jazz Festival in Sitka, Alaska.
English stresses the importance of mentors in a musician’s life.
His advice to younger musicians is that they seek out the mentors who are available.
English grew up under the wings of musicians like pianist Mark Fransman and guitarist Alvin Dyers.
He also pays special tribute to his high school music teacher Fred Kuit, without whom he says he might never have played music.
English will be in Cape Town for a few more performances, before heading back to Atlanta at the end of the month.
Later this year, he has a tour planned in South Africa with the musicians with whom he recorded the album.
l His album Imagine Nation is also available online at www.cdbaby.com