Joy of Jazz Festival: A jolt of insights

KEY MAN: Japanese master pianist Tsuyoshi Yamamoto. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana
KEY MAN: Japanese master pianist Tsuyoshi Yamamoto. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz got underway properly in Newtown on Friday after opening on Thursday with only three shows and a small audience, mostly media and promoters, in attendance.

For reasons hard to fathom, organisers of the festival, in its 13th thriving year, chose this blustery Highveld evening, a day before the start of the month-end weekend, for South African legend Abdullah Ibrahim to showcase his piano skills for the ears of a select few.

Jazz, it must be said though, has long projected an image of elitism if not downright unintelligibility.

On Friday, however, jazz lovers from Joburg and further afield, judging by the snatches of foreign accents that ascended as dusk fell on the city of gold, had dusted off their berets and bowler hats and came in their droves to devour the over 40 local and international artists on offer.

And a feast it was.

DRUM 'n BASS: The rest of Yamamoto's band. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana
DRUM ‘n BASS: The rest of Yamamoto’s band.                                Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

Four premier venues across the cultural precinct were transformed into light orbs of music. The Market Theatre, Bassline, The Dance Factory, together with the whole of Mary Fitzgerald Square provided the stage for jazz’s finest practitioners to thrill lovers of the genre with technical and artistic brilliance.

And that was the first thing that struck you: the amount of time and attention to detail paid to every aspect of the festival. Especially the venues for the live performance themselves.

Every note, pin-sharp and as crisp as the musicians had conceived it, flowed seamlessly from stage to audience. At times, overwhelmed by the sheer force of the sonic quality, audiences broke out in rapturous applause at odd times during performances, beside themselves with emotion.

It is a quality and sensation evoked by jazz music, more so when heard live, that is nearly impossible to describe. In some ways it is similar to the highs and lows of a catatonic state that characterises manic mental conditions.

A deep, almost dire sense of brooding and introspection is afflicted on the listener by the double bass menacingly strummed. But just then, on the brink of a voluntary oblivion, scampering notes of the piano seem to lift the soul into cloudless light.

Not at speed though, but a gradual pace that recognises the nearness of that total collapse with the philosophical insolence of a homeless drunk dodging traffic.

All the while the metranomic drum, emerging and disappearing from the shadows of euphoria and despair, like the watchful blinking eye of a god, insists on the rhythm of sanity and the real.

Terrific jazz trio from Japan

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto’s trio, double bass and drum, with the Japanese maestro himself on piano, was the highlight of the evening, and testimony to the passing insights of two strangers we met during the evening.

Ardent photographer and jazzophile Tsediso, was in more than two minds about which performances to attend, as he scribbled, and then rescribbled on the festival program, and then finally gasped a plea to the heavens, begging for miracle of being in two places at once.

His dilemma: Yamamoto’s or father of local prodigy Afrika Mkhize, Themba.

A second insight came from freelance multimedia journalist Gareth, and was much simpler, on the surface that is: “honour your craft”, he said.

These words and Yamamoto’s performance on the stage provided some lessons and insights, and a few moments close to nirvana. Fortunately or not, they do not readily translate real life nor into words.

Rather the music speaks to you, for itself.

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