Workshopping Spree

Our final events in Zimbabwe were today’s two workshops. The first took place at the St. Giles Center in a room packed with young kids with some parents and staff at the back. The music teacher showed us the mbiras that some of the children were learning to play and gave us a quick lesson.20120209-151038.jpg

Then the school mbira ensemble got things rolling with a few tunes. After that we went through our usual workshop material, but it was intermixed with performances by the children and a few children’s songs. It was wonderful to be there and see the joy the kids had singing and clapping with us. A special moment came when we had the honor of performing with the mbira ensemble.


We left with great memories and a few mbiras.20120201-075312.jpg

Our second workshop took place at the Young Africa Skills Centre in Chitungwiza, an underserved area of about one million people outside of Harare. Jillian, Jasna and I took a short tour of the site with the program director and heard about the great work being done there to provide vocational training, educational support and other services to the area’s youth.

The workshop opened with some impressive breakdancing by a group of program participants. Very cool! We then went through the workshop with some spontaneous collaborations with singers near the end. We ended with our version of Bebop, getting the breakdancers back up for a nice finale!

We mostly did workshops here in Zimbabwe rather than concerts with collaboration being a thread running through everything. Even at the first performance we had the pleasure of playing with some of the talented Prince Edward School students. We had a fantastic visit, met a lot of wonderful people, heard a lot of nice music and saw a lot of beautiful sights.

We would have loved to have stayed longer, but for now we must move on.
PS further accounts of our visit:
ZimboJam article
ZimboJam video
ZimboJam facebook
All Africa article

Hello, Harare!

Today (Monday) was a day when we really started getting a feel for being in Harare.

We began with a workshop at the Zimbabwe College of Music. Some of the students were jazz performance majors, while others were studying ethnomusicology. The program (or programme, if you will) began with the student marimba ensemble performing several selections. It was a beautiful and energetic way to start. The ensemble used a family of Zimbabwean instruments similar to those pictured below.20120201-054300.jpg

We also heard the school’s jazz band which featured two very talented singers. We then proceeded with our workshop which ended with a spontaneously composed piece which incorporated the marimbas and jazz instruments. At one point, we had multiple master classes going on simultaneously on stage in a scene that was chaotic, but productive.

After we answered a number of questions, the session closed with the school’s jazz band playing a farewell song featuring their male vocalist. He is a talented entertainer with a beautiful voice and charismatic stage presence.


After lunch, we moved to the club Jazz 105 for another workshop. We had a some electrical challenges getting set up – no power cord for the keyboard, unreliable wall socket, problematic amplifier….. It took a while, but we finally got up and running. Again the program was supposed to begin with a performance by the local musicians, but things didn’t quite go as planned and it took some time before things got flowing. We were told that the group would include a lot of professional musicians so we did more jamming than we would at a normal workshop in order to hear them play and sing.

One of the main features was a performance of The Cool Crooners with us backing them. These three gentlemen were a true pleasure to meet and work with. They had taken a long bus ride up to Harare from their native Bulawayo to be at the event, which was a great honor for us.


A break at the hotel ensued before the official evening jam session back at the club. At the hotel, I noticed that my iPod Touch was missing (the very device that allows this blogging to take place). I was worried that I had permanently lost it, but as soon as we returned to Jazz 105, a local pianist whom I had met earlier brought it up to me. He had found it and set it aside. What a relief! This was only one example of how friendly and helpful people have been here.

We started off the evening by playing a few tunes, then brought up The Cool Crooners.


After that, it was a musical party as we freely mixed with local musicians performing a variety of styles. It was a lot of fun for us and it gave us a chance to get a taste of the local scene and hear some outstanding musicians. For another take on the evening, read the Newsday review

Thanks, Harare, for the good time!!


Living in the Limelight

Today (Sunday) was media day! At 10AM we met with over a half a dozen journalists representing various print and online publications and a photographer. They had very interesting questions.

Can you tell us how you’ll be interacting with people here in Zimbabwe?
Give a brief history of jazz.
How popular is jazz in the black community in America?
What is the relationship between jazz and blues?
Who are some of the jazz musicians you know from Zimbabwe? Do you know any from South Africa?

These and many other questions were thrown our way. We answered them to the best of our ability, but it is clear to us that we there is much that we do not know about Zimbabwean music and musicians. Being the curious individuals that we are, we used the occasion to learn more about the local scene. There are indeed many vary interesting and highly accomplished musicians from Zimbabwe, such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Louis Mhlanga, Thomas Mapfumo, The Cool Crooners (who we will be meeting), et al. In addition, mbira music is traditional among the Shona people and our knowledge of it is rudimentary. There is much for us to learn. (And there always will be.)

The embassy PR staff has done an amazing job of publicizing our visit and there have already been a number of press articles. Apparently there will be many more.

iZimbabwe article
The Zimbabwean article #1
The Zimbabwean article #2

After the radio interview, we learned of the possibility for one of us to be interviewed on Wednesday on live TV. It is a wonderful opportunity, but there is a catch: it is early in the morning. It took us a few hours to decide that Michael will do it. How did we become such celebrities?

After this press session, we split up. Greg stayed at the hotel while the rest of us, including Jillian and Jasna, headed to a mall for a quick lunch. From there Jillian, Michael and I went on to a radio station for a live interview with Jasna and Jeff staying behind to do some shopping. At the radio station, questions came again fast and sometimes unexpectedly. We answered as best we could. We are improvisers after all, but this really put our skills to the test.

The day had already been busy, but it was just beginning. We had a brief rest break before traveling to Prince Edward School for a sound check and concert. Here we were privileged to hear some of the talented highschool age student musicians in the jazz band program. They played before our concert and with us at the end. I hope that it was as fun for them as it was for us.


As has been the norm on this tour, we were inundated with questions after the show. We actually encourage this exchange and pass out business cards with our contact information on them so that people will be able to contact us even after we leave. It took a while for us to pack up and bring our conversations to a close, but we finally were able to get everything and everyone into the van. The evening closed again with a late meal before turning in. It was a full day.


Sunday morning

At Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation with Dennis waiting for a live interview with Terrence Mapurisana on his “jazz show”. It’s FM 92.85 for those of u back in the states with a very large antenna.
We’re told it’s a popular show and we’re hoping to get more awareness for the workshops and concerts over the next few days. We also did interviews with several print media groups before heading over here.
We have a very busy schedule in Zimbabwe and, based on what we’ve been told by our friends in the Ryan Cohan Quartet, who were here in 2008, we expect to meet some great musicians.

The Rest Day

On our schedule, today (Saturday) is marked as a “rest day”. In coordinating with the embassies on this tour, the Jazz at Lincoln Center staff has worked hard to keep some days completely free of any compulsory activities, be they workshops, concerts, media interviews or “welcome” dinners with embassy staff members. Even though we’re still at the beginning of our tour, a day of recharging is highly welcome. Through a combination of jet-lag and lack of sleep, I’m exhausted. A day like today gives us a chance to sleep-in and retire early while still having time to prepare for our upcoming events and see something of our surroundings. With the latter in mind, we make plans to go out to Lake Chivero Recreational Park, within which is a wildlife sanctuary. We are attracted by the possibility of seeing rhinos, giraffes and other creatures. Apparently these animals have, for the most part, been brought in from elsewhere, e.g. Hwange National Park and the Lake Kariba area (where the building of a hydroelectric dam caused the displacement of people and animals).

The park is a forty-five minute drive out of Harare. We leave around 11AM and take lunches. The plan is to make it our one activity for the day. Midday is most likely not the best time for seeing wildlife roaming around (it’s probably nap time for many animals), but in the hours that we are there we manage to see quite a variety of species: warthogs, tsessebes, zebras, impalas, wildebeests, baboons, monkeys and guinea fowl. Not to mention various birds, butterflies, bugs, lizards and numerous large, white anthills.


At Bushman’s Point, the remotest place on on our trip through the park, we see some ancient rock paintings. The highlight, however, is getting up close and personal with a white rhino.


We close the day at an upscale restaurant where Jillian has made reservations for us and we turn in early.


Lake Chivero Wildlife Park

One of the best things about our tour of Africa is that WE’RE IN AFRICA! For as long as I can remember I have wanted to come here to see the animals and today we took a drive through Lake Chivero Wildlife Park with the hopes of doing just that. Things started slowly–we spotted some monkeys on the way into the park, some road runners, and then nothing for a while aside from rocks or tree stumps that we mistook for animals. On one such occasion I turned around to reach for a water and saw a baboon strutting along the tall grass. After straining to see him in the bush, we drove for a half hour along the bumpy dirt road misidentifying inanimate objects until our host, Jillian spotted zebras in the distance! It is hard to see their stripes from far off because the intense African sun reflects so brightly off the white in their hides that they seem to glow.

There is such a thrill in looking for animals in the wild, not knowing if you’ll see any at all and feeling so lucky when you do. It wasn’t long after that we found a couple warthogs and then a huge white rhino! We eventually came to a point in the road where half a dozen zebras were grazing along side wildebeest, impalas, and some other sort of large deer. We stopped for lunch at the lake and saw rock art and dozens of lizards.

On the way out of the park a couple of cars were stopped on the road and we realized that an enormous rhino was grazing only a few meters from the road. What a prehistoric beast! I think drivers were stopped to look, but also reluctant to pass seeing how the rhino was facing the road and bigger than the cars they were driving! We saw several more baboons on the drive out, as well as guinea fowl and more monkeys. It was an awesome experience.





A Long Day of Travel

Today (Friday) we only had flying from Lilongwe, Malawi to Harare, Zimbabwe scheduled. Being the seasoned travelers that are now, we decided that this was not enough and we added in a side trip. Getting an early start we had just enough of a window to drive to Lake Malawi and back in time to catch our flight. After all, how could we come to Malawi and not see this attraction? The result was three long hours of driving for one short hour at the lake, but it was worth it.


The lakeside stay ended with some purchases from a stand selling local handicrafts. Beautiful carvings, paintings, necklaces and bracelets were on display. I, for one, was very short on cash, but found the work too beautiful to pass up.


At the airport in Lilongwe airport, we said goodbye to Limbani Chipembere, Cultural Affairs Assistant at the US embassy. He and the others, like Felix Funsani, working with him did a fantastic job of getting us around the country, answering our endless questions, explaining the local culture and issues, going out of the way to show us things… We move on, but the beauty of the country and the people here will stay with us.

It is only at the airport that some of us realized that it was going to take two flights to get us to Harare: Lilongwe-Johannesburg & Johannesburg-Harare. We arrived late in the day, therefore, in Harare, where we were greeted by Jillian Bonnardeaux, local Assistant Public Affairs Officer, who thoroughly briefed us on our schedule and what to expect here in Zimbabwe. No adventures this evening, as we were thoroughly exhausted from our travels and headed to our rooms as soon as possible.

Beautiful Zomba!

Our time in Malawi has truly been a wonderful experience on many levels. Today, our final day here, we traveled from Blantyre to Zomba to work with a group of music students at Chancellor College. Once again, we were met with great enthusiasm. This hunger and excitement for something new has been consistent througout all of our travels here in Malawi and will never cease to amaze me. The students gladly participated in all of the activities during our workshop as we introduced them to a few elements of jazz and blues. Using our voices, we learned a basic 12-bar blues form, sang “Bag’s Groove”, worked on call-and-response, and even had a few people take entire solos. They picked up everything so fast!! I believe that this introduction to jazz really inspired a lot of the students. They all had many specific questions concerning various aspects of this great music. So far, this trip is reinforcing that fact that music can unite people faster than any other language, even if you aren’t familiar with a certain style or form. I’m looking forward to our next destination, Zimbabwe. Will the people we meet be equally excited about learning something new as the people of Malawi have been? We’ll keep you posted. Until next time, take care.

-Greg Ward

Malawi Wrapup

The trip to Zomba was indeed quite bumpy with the road being somewhat in disrepair. We managed to arrive, however, more or less on time, at our destination, Chancellor College. Here we worked with students and faculty members who had a more intellectual background and interest. This is not to say that they were any less enthusiastic and involved in the interactive parts of our program than the previous groups, but their questions were of a different nature. They were interested in the whys, whats and whens of jazz not just the how-tos. As at our previous workshops, there were many questions to answer and people to talk to even after the end of the program. It is wonderful to meet so many people who are curious about and interested in what we are doing.

This was the last of our scheduled activities in Malawi, so headed back towards Lilongwe where we were to spend one last night before catching a plane to Harare, Zimbabwe. We did not travel far before we stopped at the Hippo View Lodge, a restaurant/resort along the Shire River. We did not see any of the hippos or crocodiles who reside in the area, but lizards were in abundance and we had a wonderful meal and a great view of the river.


Our long trip back to Lilongwe included more views of the beautiful countryside and scenes of rural life here. We did, however, have a long stretch of very dense fog which made the driving treacherous.


Although it was dark when we arrived back at the hotel, Jeff, Michael and I had the intention of taking a walk to see the neighborhood. One of the Malawian bellmen convinced us, however, that that was not a good idea since darkness tended to bring people of questionable intent out into the street. A stroll around the gated grounds had to suffice.
PS NBL Times article

On to Zomba

Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon we gave our second clinic. The composition of the participants was that of professionals, whereas our previous group had mostly been student-level members of Music Crossroads. The knowledge of jazz again was minimal, but the interest and enthusiasm was high.

We returned to our hotel after the workshop, then Jeff and I went out to eat at a little restaurant that he had discovered a few blocks away. Our excursion included not only dinner, but also changing money (make sure you carefully count what you’re given) and handicraft purchases (involving Jeff in lengthy, multistage negotiations).

During our workshop, the electricity had flickered on and off three or four times so it wasn’t a complete surprise that it was off when we arrived at the club (Café Mibawa) for our evening performance. After a delay of about an hour power was restored and our performance took place. This was a somewhat noisy club environment in contrast to the extremely attentive audience that we’d had the night before. Still, it seemed that our music was well received.

After our performance, we packed up our gear and returned to the hotel, wich was only about two blocks away. Jeff and I both were interested in checking out the local band that was playing after us. So, we walked back to the club despite the warning in our tourbook that “U.S.citizens are urged to avoid traveling on foot at night, especially in urban areas, as armed muggings and assaults have increased”. At the club, we ran into a young bassist that Jeff had been working with earlier and we joined his table which included a photographer with whom I’d spoken in the afternoon. It felt like we were among friends. The band was a very tight, well-rehearsed unit playing covers of American pop tunes and Malawian dance music. Smokin’! It was well worth the effort to get out of the hotel and it gave us the opportunity to hear the high level of musicianship that exists here. We left when our hosts left and uneventfully returned to the hotel.


Our final event in Malawi will take place this morning in Zomba, which is about an hour’s drive from Blantyre. I’ve been informed that it can be foggy there and that the road is rough. We’ll soon see.