Legends of jazz

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The Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) has been one of Cape Town’s main attractions for over 16 years. With the growth and success of the festival, it has actively focused on not only contributing to the local economy in terms of revenue, but also through actively growing and investing in local talent.

In its bid to promote local skills development, the festival is currently offering a number of Arts Journalism, Photojournalism and Mentoring Arts Journalism programmes. The short courses will be using the festival as backdrop and context for developing and honing the skills needed to do justice to South Africa’s nuanced cultural narrative. The courses will further help participants to apply their knowledge to reporting any arts topic, whether for traditional press, broadcast or new media.

Affectionately referred to as “Africa’s Grandest Gathering”, the CTIJF is the largest music event in sub-Saharan Africa. It is famous for delivering a star-studded line-up featuring international and local artists in the jazz and jazz-related genres. This proudly South African event is hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) each year on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April.

The festival boasts multiple stages with over forty artists performing over two nights. The festival hosts an excess of 37 000 music lovers over the two show days and is combined with the CTIJF Sustainable Training & Development programme that aims to uplift and educate the youth.

According to the Jazz Festival team, the growth of digital media has seen an increase in the demand for content across the board. The festival reports that there is a hunger for specialist and unique pieces that spark interest and capture attention. “The arts and entertainment beats provide rich pickings for creating unique content, but spotting and reporting on these needs skill, particularly for short form writing.

Festival workshops

“Participants on the CTIJF programmes will have access to the festival’s workshops, master classes, and performances, and to some artists and other festival role-players behind the scenes. The courses will support them as they learn to drill down to the heart of the story and format it into newsworthy and engaging copy. They’ll also learn more about the history, context and content of the festival’s music,” the CTIJF team says.

Says Gwen Ansell who directs Arts Journalism: “Training is always a worthwhile investment. These courses cover relevant national curriculum and offer young reporters the chance to take home unique stories from the festival for publication and their portfolios.”

Building reporting capacity in an era of shrinking newsrooms and increasingly intense competition on multiple platforms, is tough, according to the Jazz Festival team. They point out that the media that wins the struggle for readers will be those that provide ‘a good read’ and thought provoking images; those that that can connect, engage with and retain often-fickle audiences. The festival organisers say editors and media owners can give their platforms a head start by offering their writers, photographers and arts/lifestyle team leaders access to ongoing training and skills development such as these courses.

Led by respected professionals, all three courses are well established (Arts Journalism is in its 14th year) and highly regarded by the industry. As a result, the festival attracts far more applicants than there are places available.

Local talent

As one of this year’s local featured artists, Cape Town songbird Lana Crowster will be gracing the Jazz Festival stage for the first time. Crowster, who recently won the festival’s espYoungLegends competition, will also be actively involved in some of the arts programmes on offer.

espAfrika, organiser of the world-renowned CTIJF, launched the new espYoungLegends initiative this year to discover up and coming jazz-inspired talent. espYoungLegends offered young unsigned musicians a chance to expose their talent to the espAfrika audience and a prize to perform at the prestigious CTIJF 2016 in front of thousands of festival-goers.

The competition attracted a significant number of high quality entries in its debut year.  Narrowing these down to the Top 20 and then the finishing Top 5 has been a dual process supported by a panel of judges and the public who lent their votes to the band Technical Image, ensuring they had a place in the final consideration of the Top 5.

After much deliberation, the panel (which included the espAfrika talent committee, musicians Camillo Lombard, Donveno Prins and DJ Eazy, together with facilitator Bev Scott-Brown) selected Lana Crowster as the inaugural winner.

“We are delighted to be able to welcome Lana as a performer to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. This multi-talented young woman was a clear winner.  Her vocals effortlessly and artistically mesmerised us and will certainly do the same for the fans who watch her,” enthused Domingo.

Bev Scott-Brown, who facilitated the process also remarked on Lana’s winning attributes, saying: “She is clearly focused and dedicated to becoming an artist and this was apparent in all aspects of her application. She is an all-round artist whose material is consistent and clear in terms of her style, all the hallmarks of a future star and exactly what we were looking for in this year’s winner.”

On being informed that she would grace the stage at the CTIJF, Lana commented: “I am humbled and overwhelmed by this honour. To be able to perform at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is a dream come true.”

Based on the success of this year’s event, espAfrika has also announced that the competition will run again.  “The espYoungLegends is now a permanent fixture on the CTIJF calendar and I would like to thank each and every one of the artists and groups who entered this year, we wish you well with your careers and hope to hear more from you in the future” stated Domingo.

International act

Another exciting artist that will be entertaining festival goers is the international sensation Meshell Ndegeocello. Described as mercurial and masterful, Ndegeocello has survived the best and worst of what a career in music has to offer.

Having eschewed genre for originality, celebrity for longevity, and musical trends for musical truths, she has lived through the boom and bust of the industry and emerged just as she entered – unequivocally herself.

It has been reported that fans have come to expect the unexpected from Meshell, and faithfully followed her on sojourns into soul, spoken word, R&B, jazz, hip-hop and rock, all bound by a lyrical, spiritual search for love, justice, respect, resolution, and happiness.

Being described as groove driven, infectiously melodic and lyrically meditative, Meshell’s latest album, Comet, Come To Me, finds her returning to the same well of creativity that launched her career. Her 11th release, it is possibly a culmination of all previous work: lush, vocal, seeking, wise, collaborative, and driven by the signature bounce and precise pocket of Ndegeocello on bass.

The album features special guests Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and Doyle Bramhall, along with long-time collaborators Christopher Bruce (guitar) and Jebin Bruni (keys), and Earl Harvin on drums. Assured of her place as an authentic musical thinker and an uncompromising artist, Comet continues to discover, examine, and explore all that music has to offer her and how she can return the gift.

“Comet, Come To Me was a little labor but a lot of love. It was made with my favorite collaborators, and it felt good to channel the sounds in my mind after having Nina in residence for a while,” says Meshell, referencing her last album, a tribute to Nina Simone. She is especially inspired by the collaborative process that comes with making an album.

“When I’m writing songs and recording the demos, I’m having my own awesome experience in my attic, or on a plane, or in a hotel room, just making my beats on my laptop. Then I get together with these people that I have an intimate musical relationship with, and we bring the songs to life.”

In addition to the twelve new tracks on Comet, Come to Me (15 including the bonus tracks available on her website), fans of Meshell’s will no doubt be intrigued by her cover of Whodini’s ‘Friends’, a seminal hip-hop track originally released in 1984.

Commenting on her inspiration for choosing this song, Meshell explains: “I play with a lot of people who play improvisational music and jazz, and I thought it would be fun to take something that they might think of as easy or straight-forward, and do something different with it. I also like how language is morphing, and 'friends' is such a malleable word, I don't even know what it means anymore.”

Instrumental gifts

A vast array of influences have informed all of Meshell’s albums, and there are traces of her native go-go, hip hop, R&B, new wave and punk in each. Each album has been a step away from the last, each used as a chance to investigate and integrate new sounds and ideas, and fans have been treated to everything from the deep-funk of Plantation Lullabies to the raw and confessional Bitter to the melodic, lyrical Weather. Possessed with instrumental gifts as diverse as her interests, Meshell composed, arranged and produced a jazz record in 2005. Her most recent release paid homage to Nina Simone, a kindred musical spirit and among Meshell's most cherished inspirations.

A bass player above all else, the Berlin-born artist who grew up in Washington DC, brings her warm, fat, and melodic groove to everything she does. She has appeared alongside the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston, and Chaka Khan. As for her own bass-playing influences, she credits Sting, Jaco Pastorius, Family Man Barrett, and Stevie Wonder. Meshell was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Bass Player magazine and remains one of few women who write the music, sing the songs, and lead the band.

In addition to her own recording, Meshell has been expanding her repertoire as a producer, producing three albums in the past year: British/Trinidadian poet and musician Anthony Joseph's new album, Time; Jason Moran's Fats Waller Tribute, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller; and a new album by Grammy-nominated Ruthie Foster.


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