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Life under lockdown: An interview with Alan Webster

With the National Arts Festival (NAF) moving from its home in Makhanda to the virtual space in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Creative Feel spoke to Alan Webster, Festival Director of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival – an important part of the annual NAF – about the plans for this year’s festival and what life under lockdown looks like for him.

Alan Webster

Creative Feel: As a Deputy Headmaster at Stirling High School AND Festival Director of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, you are affected on multiple fronts by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. What does daily life look like for you under lockdown?
Alan Webster: I’m sure everyone is assailed by the weird mix of frenetic multi-tasking whilst feeling simultaneously that time is both infinite and rushing past! One thing I am grateful for is that our children have grown up and are at university – the pressure on working parents has become immense! Lockdown for me has brought a surprising amount of time for reflection and planning. I’ve undertaken to digitise all of my old photos, and there are some fascinating snapshots of SA jazz history I’ve been reminded of!

CF: With the National Arts Festival going virtual this year – and we completely understand that it is still in very early planning phases – do you know as yet how the Standard Bank Jazz Festival is going to fit in?
AW: At the start of March, we were very chuffed with ourselves – our programme was complete in all its detail and we felt it reflected a great snapshot of what is happening in jazz around SA, combined with some very interesting foreign musicians and threaded through with Makhanda’s key trait, unique collaborations. We’d been following COVID-19 developments elsewhere apprehensively but it still felt far away.
     It became increasingly clear, though, that 2020 was not going to be normal and we have since been working flat-out on taking the essence of that programme (without foreigners or collaborations) and ensuring that we can air it as part of NAF whilst retaining the artistic essence of Makhanda’s famous jazz feel, without the loss of any quality. We will be part of the NAF Virtual Festival, with audiences around the world able to download and view a great selection of SA jazz.

CF: Do you think that the virtual space is cohesive with jazz music?
AW: We all knew it, but it really has been brought home how much jazz is an art form of direct, fluid and instant human communication. Taking away that immediate interaction between musicians as they improvise, and between musicians and their audience in the flesh by flighting solo home recordings reminds us how great the music is, but how it is really about our directly-shared humanity, experienced best in physical presence. Jazz online is great but the music really needs to be shared in person. Until we can get back together, though, we’ll just have to make do.

CF: What is your favourite platform for accessing new jazz music during the lockdown?
AW: I’ve watched a number of great home shows recently on different monetised platforms; I’ve been sent a number of links to new releases; and it’s been great to browse things like the unlocked vault of performances by the Jazz @ Lincoln Center Orchestra, now that we have a personal connection with Wynton Marsalis’ wonderful orchestra after their visit last year.

CONTINUE reading the full Q&A by clicking on page 2 below.

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