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Jazz in the Springtime

September heralds the arrival of two great pleasures in Johannesburg: the much anticipated warm lift of spring, and the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, which brings plenty of songbirds flying in to perform at the Sandton Convention Centre between September 24 and 26.

As always, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz promises to field any amount of established heavyweights and thrilling new talent in its line up, which takes to the Dinaledi, Diphala, Conga and Mbira stages over three days near the end of September. The on-going growth of this annual jazz highlight recently saw the event being relocated to the Sandton Convention Centre, in order to accommodate the more then 20 000 concert goers from across the globe who are drawn by a host of South African, African and international jazz stars.
As August is, of course, Women’s Month, we thought this the perfect opportunity to highlight some of the great female performers set to sparkle this spring. One of these is French-American Cecile McLorin Salvant, a 28-year-old jazz vocalist who is already being lauded as a major star of the genre. Each time she steps up to the microphone, both the past and the future of jazz singing are invoked.
Salvant won first prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010 and won four categories in the 2014 Downbeat Critics Poll: Jazz Album of the Year, Female Vocalist, Rising Star – Jazz Artist and Rising Star – Female Vocalist. She was also nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014 for her album WomanChild. ‘Cécile McLorin Salvant has just exploded onto the scene’, said Downbeat’s publisher Frank Alkyer following her success. ‘We knew WomanChild was a great record, but had no idea it would be honoured as Jazz Album of the Year. She’s going to be one of the most exciting acts on tour this year, too’. Audiences at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz will be in the perfect position to put Alkyer’s claims to the acid test, when she steps onto the stage in September.
Also from the United States, Dee Alexander sets a standard against which many of her generation of jazz singers measure themselves. Her Chicago background means she is equally at home with blues, soul and gospel music. However, her true musical home is jazz. This is evident in the work she does when she leads her straight-ahead quartet, as well as the more exploratory Evolution Ensemble, an acoustic group comprising string instruments and percussion, with a strong emphasis on original compositions.
Alexander has racked up any number of accolades over the years, including ‘Jazz Vocalist of the Year’, ‘Chicagoan of the Year’ (Chicago Tribune, 2008) and ‘Jazz Entertainer of the Year’ at the Chicago Music Awards. Her 2009 album Wild Is The Wind was rated five stars and named one of the Top Ten recordings of the new millennium by Downbeat Magazine. However, in spite of extensive critical acclaim throughout much of her career, Alexander has remained fairly low-profile; her ‘break-out moment’ is said to have come only as recently as 2013, when the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff described one of her performances as ‘both low key and extraordinary, with well-worn standards and risky originals, earthiness and high-flown mysticism,’ and went on to call it one of his ten best live-music experiences of the year.
Another great female act destined for Joy of Jazz hails from closer to home: Mozambican-born songstress Wanda Baloyi, once known for her work as part of the popular girl group Ghetto Luv, has netted both Metro FM and KORA awards, and has four solo albums to her credit. The most recent of these, entitled Love and Life, took home the Metro FM Award for Best Urban Jazz; Nonkululeko Khumalo described the album as being ‘like a cool breeze in a heat wave. This woman stands head and shoulders above singers, and proves she’s a real musician. This is her year to shine… It’s about time everyone recognised the talented Wanda Baloyi.’
Baloyi’s performance at the Joy of Jazz this year will be specially marked by a never before seen collaboration with her first musical influence, namely her father Jaco Maria. Maria was lead vocalist of 1980s band Ozil, whose hits included the chart-topping ‘I’m Suffering’, and later of Loading Zone. He has a number of solo albums to his name, and has performed with some of the world’s greats. As a child, Wanda Baloyi often went along to watch her father play; now the duo take to the stage together, and the familial bond of father and daughter should make for a thrilling musical chemistry.
While these are a few of the leading ladies to look out for this year, there are plenty of other excellent performers to look out for. These include Xhosa singer-songwriter Simphiwe Dana – sometimes described as the ‘new Miriam Makeba’ – who should need little introduction to Creative Feel readers, having appeared in these pages following the release of some of her multiple award winning albums. Also worth mentioning is Estelle Kokot, who went solo following national success with the band Rush Hour and has subsequently built up a reputation as a well respected presence on the London Jazz scene, with a number of solo albums to her credit. (The Guardian describes her as ‘a powerful, soulful and independent artist’).
Add this to a line-up that also features the likes of Marcus Miller, Yellow Jackets, Hugh Masekela and Oliver Mtukudzi, Matthew Halsall, Dwight Trible, William Parker, and this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Nduduzo Makhathini – among many others – and the forthcoming Joy of Jazz looks set to put a spring in the audience’s step.
The 2015 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz is produced by T-Musicman and presented by Standard Bank, in association with the Department of Arts & Culture and Gauteng Province. Standard Bank has recently renewed its commitment to jazz by signing a new three-year sponsorship agreement with Africa’s premier jazz festival, Joy of Jazz. This will extend its 16-year relationship with the festival, and ensure that the arrival of spring continues to be greeted with particular joy by jazz fans.

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