Jo’burg at Last

Today (Monday) we flew into the Jo’burg airport for fourth time on this tour. Finally we will be staying and have the opportunity to see the city.

We went directly from the airport to the Music Academy of Gauteng, a jazz school run by South African trumpeter Johnny Mekoa.
Some students played for us and then we played for them. After that we broke up into smaller groups for master classes which we thought would be more helpful than giving our usual workshop.

Some kids seemed to just be starting, but others already knew a lot and were eager to expand their knowledge. Lack of information and teaching materials seems to be an issue and hopefully we can send them some things that they’ll find helpful once we’ve returned to Chicago. It is a nice program with good facilities, wonderful kids and a great leader in Johnny. It was exciting to meet and hear these students and see their eagerness to learn. They deserve any support and encouragement that we can give them.

Final Day in Cape Town

Our last activity in the Cape Town area was a half-hour set at the Helderberg Nature Reserve, which is about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town.


We were sandwiched in between sets by Ian Smith’s band Virtual Jazz Reality and we again featured Adelia and Lorenzo of the Delft Big Band. This time though we added another trumpeter from the band named Marcell Adams. His talent had stood out at the masterclass and we wanted to give him a chance to shine. The audience seemed excited to hear these talented kids and was highly appreciative of their efforts.

The Helderberg Nature Reserve website says, “welcome to our corner of paradise.” Indeed, being in Cape Town has seemed like being in paradise. We will miss it, but again it is time to move on.


More from “Zim”: Financial Gazette column

Touresting in Cape Town

Today (Saturday) was another “rest day” and we all opted to act like tourists. After breakfast, Michael went off on his own while the rest of us decided to rent a car and drive to the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point): the southern tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian OIceans meet. This would allow us to see some of the terrain outside of Cape Town and, on the return trip, see a colony of African penguins.

First, though, Jeff and I had a project to complete. We’d noticed a band playing outside during the day near our hotel. It consisted of four older gentlemen from the Cape Flats area playing an early jazz style, sometimes referred to here as goema or ‘minstrel music‘. The instrumentation was highly effective, but unusual (alto sax, accordion, banjo and cello held and played like a guitar). The cellist only had three strings and Jeff, who had collected donated musical items to be handed out on our trip, happened to have some used cello strings with him. The gift was given and received appreciatively. I hope that it helps Mr. Pieterson and the Guys to continue to make beautiful music.20120204-221207.jpg

Our road trip began with a visit to Avis where we learned that the driver had to have three items with him or her: passport, driver’s license and credit card. Only Greg was prepared and so he became our designated driver. We then headed south along a coastal road. The scenery was stunning.20120204-220100.jpg20120204-220126.jpg20120204-220156.jpg

It took about two hours to arrive at Cape Point which was a busy tourist destination replete with giftshops, restaurant, information center, etc. A funicular takes people to the viewing area, but we opted to walk. The weather was wonderful! Sunny, warm, and windy. And I do mean windy! At times it was hard to hold on to hats and cameras. The views? Superb!20120205-010457.jpg20120204-220603.jpg20120205-005049.jpg20120204-220636.jpg20120204-220713.jpg
There were lots of baboons hanging out in the lower area near the parking lot and restaurant, where we stopped for lunch after our viewing session. Just before we left, one of them ran in and stole a bag of chips creating quite a stir in the process.

The next stop on our itinerary was Simon’s Town to see a colony of African penguins.20120204-220801.jpg20120205-010357.jpg

Next up was a farewell dinner near the hotel for Jasna, who was heading back to New York. She’s so easy to get along with and so knowledgeable about the Rhythm Road program and touring that was quite helpful having her along. We look forward to seeing her again in New York in March for the program’s wrapup dinner. FANTASTIC!20120204-220819.jpg

What a day! The area around Cape Town is exceptionally beautiful and it was great to see some little part of it!20120204-220836.jpg

The Mahogany Room

Tonight we played a one-set concert for the consulate general and invited guests at The Mahogany Room, a new jazz club in Cape Town. It is a nice, intimate space run by musicians Kesivan Naidoo (drummer) and Lee Thomson (trumpet).

The walls displayed photos of great South African jazz musicians. I was privileged to get a personal tour of this who’s who by Kesivan who pointed out such well known players as Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor, Basil Coetzee and others. Beautiful.

The club features a wonderful, restored, world-class Steinway grand piano. It was a nice change from the keyboards and other pianos that I’ve run into so far on this tour.

It’s a wonderful club run by nice people with a beautiful vision! Good luck. I hope that The Mahogany Room is a great success!


Early Morning Expresso

This morning (Friday) came extremely early in the form of a 4:30AM departure from the hotel to go to the SABC3 TV studios.

We performed two pieces – each one featuring a member of the Delft Big Band. Lorenzo played Tenor Madness with us and Adelia sang Misty.


We performed near the near the beginning of the program and then again near the end with a bit of Q&A preceding each song. That meant having and an hour and a half of down time that each of us attempted to put to good use.


Everything seemed to go smoothly. It was a pleasure to meet and collaborate with our young South African guest artists. We wish them the best in the future.

Our segments of the program may be seen here.

The Delft Big Band

Today (Thursday) we had a late start: an 11:30AM call for lunch with some local jazz musicians/educators. That meant that getting a good night’s sleep (for once) then partaking of the incredible hotel breakfast buffet. Among the hundreds of items available, I found upuma and vegetable curry. The perfect way to start the day!

During lunch we got a chance to hear about the vibrant jazz scene in South Africa and its ties to both the US and Europe. Of the countries on our tour, South Africa has, by far, the strongest and most important jazz tradition. Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), among others, are well-established and well-respected international stars. Ironically, I plan on going to hear Hugh Masekela in Evanston just a few days after returning to Chicago.

From lunch, we went to the SABC3 television studios for a sound check. We will be appearing tomorrow on expresso, a live TV show that airs between 5:30 and 8AM. Because of the early start, it was necessary to get set-up today.

This was followed by the day’s main event: a masterclass with the Delft Big Band. Delft is a township area on the outskirts of Cape Town that is underprivileged and lacking in resources. Band director and founder, Ian Smith, has done a wonderful job with the participating young men and women. The group first played a few of their charts for us with the last one being an arrangement of Chick Corea’s Spain. With Greg standing in as conductor, we worked on this for most of the allotted time focussing on bringing out details of phrasing and dynamics, but also talking about and working on other aspects of ensemble playing.


We finished with performances for the group by the quartet with vocalist Adelia Douw and trumpeter Lorenzo Blignault, who will be appearing with us on expresso, then a performance of Bebop by the quartet alone.

It was only afterward that we realized that this was our only opportunity to work with the band. Our tourbook had given us the impression that we would be working with them for several days leading up to a final Sunday performance. Apparently those plans never fully took shape. It is a nice group of young people and I hope that we can work with them again sometime.

Workshopping the Workshop

This being Jasna’s last official day as the evaluator on our trip, she held a meeting with us after breakfast to give us her comments about what we have been doing. The most important issues for me were about the workshops that we have been doing. She seemed generally happy with what we’ve done, but had good suggestions for expanding on our basic plan.

Since I’ve frequently mentioned workshops in this blog, I thought it important to try to explain what we do.

Our basic workshop starts with us playing something to introduce the sound of our music. This is going to be a medium to uptempo piece, but it isn’t always the same one. In some instances, the workshop participants precede this with some music of their own. It is very helpful when this occurs because it gives us a sense of who we are working with, their level and background.

Next we move into a B-flat blues with a walking bass line over which Michael engages the audience in a vocal call and response using various drum sounds and rhythms. This is improvised and depending on the audience can be various degrees of complexity. Phrases of different lengths are traded ending in a drum solo and the outhead.

The object is to have fun and demonstrate aspects of the jazz language and the imitative process by which most language (and music) skills are acquired. Verbal explanations are kept to a minimum and this has the added benefit of working with both English and non-English speakers.

Next we move to 12-blues form through singing bass notes and holding up the associated hand signal (1 finger for the I chord, 4 fingers for IV, 5 fingers for V).

Then a simple pentatonic blues tune, Bags’ Groove, is learned through the call and response process and basic improvisation on the blues is approached in the same way.

At this point the workshop could end with one last fast tune. Generally this would take about one hour and often we have more time than that to fill. We often move to questions or working with individuals at this point. Jasna’s suggestions had to do with fleshing out our basic plan and trying get the most out of what we are already doing.

One thing that we should do is play more. Any music can only be understood through listening to it.
#1) Our workshop audiences need to hear us play more tunes, not just exercises, as musical as they might be.

Some items we can stress by repeating them more in ways that increase the level of complexity or change the context. For example, if we teach a bass pattern and a melody, dividing the group in two and combining them is a good way to give a context for each individual part to be understood. Then the groups can switch roles and the exercise repeated. Bag’s Groove could be done with the melody sung against the bass notes with people clapping on 2 & 4 and a soloist improvising in between the melodic phrases. Now we have something!!
#2) We should do more of layering and combining the elements that we already teach.

We should try to keep everyone involved. If there is a soloist working on improvising, we should try to keep everyone doing something (singing or clapping). Individuals should not be focussed on at the expense of the group.
#3) Audience members should be active participants, not passive observers.

These are some of the suggestions for us to keep in mind. Giving this kind of workshop is challenging since each group is different and we must be flexible enough to be able to respond to their needs. The more aware we are of the possibilities inherent in our material, the more likely it is that we’ll give a successful workshop.

Next Stop: Cape Town

Today (Wednesday) was again a long day of travel made unnecessarily stressful by some miscalculations and misadventures. Our itinerary for the day was basically a two-hour flight at 1PM from Harare to Jo’burg (Johannesburg) followed by a two-hour layover then another two-hour flight to Cape Town. Simple enough, but then we agreed to do some exit interviews in the morning for use by the US embassy and arranged to go somewhere to ship some items back to the US. Everything ran late, of course, so we made it to the airport with little time to spare.

Going through security in Jo’burg, my full water bottle wasn’t questioned, but all of the metal hangers in my carry-on garment bag were confiscated despite the fact that I’d already gone through security a half dozen times on this trip with the same hangers. Bummer!

This was followed by an attempt to minimize our check-in time in which we broke our routine of checking in for a flight as a group and split up to check in as individuals. This did not work as planned and resulted in some unnecessary overweight luggage fees and a overly long wait while things were sorted out by a strict, but helpful South African Airways employee.

We finally did arrive in Cape Town, where we were met by two drivers sent by the US embassy. On the way to our hotel, it was quickly apparent that we had arrived in a thoroughly modern and completely “westernized” first-class city. Quite a contrast to Malawi or even Zimbabwe.



Our five-star hotel is in such contrast to what we’ve been experiencing that I find it shocking. This is exaggerated by the fact that the hotel is next to a waterfront development that reminds me of Navy Pier.



After checking in, it was late and we were tired, so Jeff, Greg and I went out to quickly find something to eat. It was closing time and we didn’t have many options but did find a good falafel place in the mall next to the hotel. Jeff and I went all in with pickled turnips and hot sauce, while Greg tracked down a burger at another place close by. Gelato brought the day to a beautiful close.

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!!