Big band music is not something from a bygone era – in the hands of South Africa’s passionate young musicians from all walks of life, it’s infused with a vibrant contemporary sound that’s guaranteed to get your toes tapping and your feet moving! And much of the credit for its popularity locally goes to the Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival, which celebrates 20 years of making music dreams come true this year.
Taking place from 30 May to 2 June 2018 at the Baxter Theatre’s concert hall in Rondebosch, Cape Town, the 20th-anniversary Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival promises an upbeat celebration of youthful exuberance expressed through big band music.
The festival gives jazz bands and big bands from about 25 junior schools and high schools from across the country, as well as university and community bands, the golden opportunity to perform on a professional stage to test their musical mettle. Over four entertainment-packed days, they’ll be treating audiences to a feast of energising music ranging from familiar big band favourites to arrangements of much-loved South African jazz standards and even rock music classics.
These budding young musicians will be joined by two alumni big bands made up of past participants and professional guest performers. One of these all-star bands is led by Dr Gordon Vernick, professor of music and coordinator of jazz studies at Georgia State University in the United States; the other will be helmed by Professor Mike Campbell of the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town.
Says Prof. Campbell, recalling the festival’s modest roots 20 years ago: ‘I’ve been part of it from the beginning, seeing it grow from a one-night concert to a full-on festival. This festival has done more for band music at school level than anything I know of in this area, in that it’s created a unique kind of performance event that isn’t competitive, where everyone gets on a professional stage with great sound and presentation, and does their thing for everyone else to hear and enjoy.
‘It’s a high point for the bands and something to work towards, a great incentive to do your best and an opportunity to hear some experienced players in the alumni bands doing what you do.’
Adds Diane Rossi, of the South African Association for Jazz Education, congratulating the festival on its 20th-anniversary milestone: ‘The annual Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival is more than just an event – it has become a highlight of the Cape Town music calendar. Thank you for promoting big band music and providing a platform for school big bands to “strut their stuff”. Here’s to the next 20 years!’
The festival is preceded by the Cape Town Steelband Festival and the Cape Town Marimba Festival in April, and is known for ‘paying it forward’ by supporting music initiatives in disadvantaged communities. One of these is a thriving marimba project at Ned Doman High School in Athlone.
Gail Bedeker, who coordinates the marimba band at the school, says the festival’s funding has made this extramural activity possible. ‘Being part of the band has enabled us to focus on more positive activities than getting involved with the wrong crowd, gangs and drugs,’ she explains.
‘The selected band members have used the opportunity to make beautiful sounds, with the help of Robin Engel, a former learner at Ned Doman High School who is now employed by Woodworx Marimbas and is a marimba teacher at the school. Shortly he will also be assigned to other schools in a teaching role.’
Band members Ricky Newman and Joshua Mullins are equally enthusiastic, saying: ‘Being part of the Marimba Band Festival gives us the opportunity to see how other schools play marimbas, learn new songs and be part of a large, talented group. The sound of the mass band is always awesome!’
On behalf of the Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival, and all the participating musicians, we would like to extend our sincere thanks to the following sponsors for their invaluable support: SAMRO Foundation, Pres Les, Varsity College, Paul Bothner Music, Fountainhead Design, Fine Music Radio, Western Cape Government – Cultural Affairs and Sport, Peninsula Beverages, South African College Of Music, and two anonymous sponsors.
Bring your family, friends and colleagues and head to the Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival from 30 May to 2 June 2018 to be swept along on a feel-good wave of big band euphoria! Tickets range from R70 (for scholars, students and senior citizens) to R120 per day. Book at Webtickets, Pick n Pay or the Baxter Theatre on (021) 685 7880.
Cape Town Big Band Jazz Festival Programme
WEDNESDAY 30 MAY
Sacs Junior School Jazz Band, Sans Souci Jazz Cats, Sacs High School Junior Jazz Band, Rustenburg High School For Girls’ Jazz Band, Sacs High School Senior Jazz Band, Stellenbosch Youth Jazz Band
THURSDAY 31 MAY
Rondebosch Boys’ Prep Jazz Band, Pinelands High School Jazz Band, Rondebosch Boys’ High School Junior Jazz Band, Sekunjalo Delft Big Band, Rondebosch Boys’ High School Senior Jazz Band, Alumni Big Band (Led By Gordon Vernick)
FRIDAY 1 JUNE
Wynberg Boys’ Junior School Big Band, Uni-sound Big Band, Wynberg Boys’ High School Jazz Band, Edujazz Big Band, Westerford High School Big Band, UCT Big Band
SATURDAY 2 JUNE
The Little Giants, Bergvliet High School Big Band, Heathfield High School Jazz Band, Beau Soleil Music Centre, Wynberg Girls’ High School Big Band, Alumni Big Band (led by Mike Campbell)