Symposium pays ‘respect’ to jazz history

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By Nigel Vermaas, Cue Contributing Editor

Although the panel discussion yesterday morning, with facilitator Dr Cornelius Thomas doing the calling, doesn’t quite follow the rather grandiose rollercoaster ride promised in the programme, the response provides lively moments once the ‘band’ warms up.  The ‘band’ includes Chris McGregor’s widow and band organiser Maxine; The Blue Notes drummer Louis Moholo; and record producer and widow of bassist Harry Miller, Hazel.  Thus the discussion inevitably centres on the Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath exile-based bands.  Moholo makes it quite clear that, while Chris McGregor should be acknowledged, the band decisions are made as a collective, equating it to the ANC.  The music did help to “knock some brains into the boer,” he adds.

Ethnomusicologist Carol Muller focuses on the trials and gender challenges of her co-author, singer Sathima Bea Benjamin (who is nowhere to be seen, despite being advertised as a panel member). Muller tells of how Sathima, a devotee of popular European culture, was surprised to find, when she left SA for Europe with her partner Abdullah Ibrahim (then Dollar Brand), that “they wanted us”. Trumpeter Dave Defries, part of McGregor’s second Brotherhood of Breath band, describes how,  coming from a world of uptight Englishness,  he was unable to play South African music until he realised he had to move! He is a delightful surprise addition to the panel, as is Wits lecturer Lindelwa Dalamba. She provides both academic insight, context and calming logic when a combative ‘Sticks’ Mdidimba (from the floor) quotes an unhappy Blue Notes band member  (“Tell me, Chris, are we your boys?” ), and laments the present  SA jazz scene; his sentiments about the latter are vehemently opposed by jazz documenter, Colin Miller, also speaking from the floor.  Both Hazel Miller (no relation) and McGregor provide some telling, often moving details of life with black musicians in both Europe and SA. These are enhanced by photographer George Hallett’s slide show preview of his invaluable work-in-progress Jazz in Exile, which ends the ‘set’.

In the afternoon, at the launch of Maxine McGregor’s book, Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath, an actual band plays the compositions of McGregor and Pukwana et al. This music – part of our rich heritage – is played by an energetic Defries and a wailing Rick van Heerden on sax, backed by the Rhodes Jazz Trio. It continues long after the books are bought and signed.  Moholo signs the books too, with one word: Respect.

Indeed.

Click on the following link to listen to the debate: Jazz debate

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