Tracking the T-man

Peter Tladi does not remember the exact year in which Joy of Jazz began. Anybody who knows anything about Tladi’s contribution to the jazz scene — as promoter or manager — would know that the lack of memory has nothing to do with the event not being memorable.

Maybe it is a function of Tladi getting on in age. He does not put dates to the events, choosing to use eras rather than exact years. He is now 58 years old but it does seem like he has been in the industry for half a century.

But since he is into jazz, age is not the liability it is in other genres, where youth and sex appeal can be more important than talent.

Add George Wein, doyen of jazz promoters, to this equation and you will figure that Tladi intends to be around for some time to come.

Wein (83) is the founder of the world-famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and in 1954 organised the first outdoor jazz festival in the United States. Staged in Newport, Rhode Island, the festival was to grow and become one of the pilgrimage sites for jazz fans from all over the world.


“Up to this day Wein refuses to ride on the golf carts [ferrying fans from parking lots to the festival venues] and insists on using his walking stick. So you see, promoters never retire,” Tladi says.

Wein has inspired Tladi in more ways than one. His foundation helped musicians in New Orleans acquire their own homes and buy musical instruments.

It was the state of artists’ lives that prompted Tladi to relinquish his primary vocation as an artists’ manager to become a promoter, his greater claim to fame. “I used to manage Bra Hugh [Masekela] and one day I was saying to him while at a jazz show overseas, ‘I wish we could have something like this at home’. His response was ‘why don’t you do it?'”

A few years later a chance picnic in Dickinson Park on the banks of the Vaal River gave him a lightbulb moment. “Suddenly the idea was there. New Orleans has the Mississippi River, here we had the Vaal River and a beautiful park. The idea of creating a jazz festival was born.”

It was not all easy flowing though. “For the first show we had more musicians than fans. But we persevered.”

Dickinson Park jazz festivals have become must-attend events on the local cultural scene, with jazz and non-jazz fans flocking to the Vereeniging venue in their thousands. The event evolved into the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival, with the first few held at Pretoria’s State Theatre until the venue was mothballed for renovations.

It then moved to Johannesburg and has been running successfully ever since. “When we first came to Johannesburg, we played at venues such as the Turbine Hall (before it was refurbished into mining house offices). People thought I had gone crazy because the venue had broken windows and so on.

“But we had a lovely show there. Earl Klugh [the jazz guitarist] was there — one of the shows to remember,” says Tladi.

Inevitably, not all the acts he brought over in the past two decades are as memorable as the Klugh show. “I once brought a Dutch group called No Jazz. I always make a point to personally watch an act before I bring them over. I don’t depend on DVDs because they can be edited.

“I made an exception this one time and signed them on the basis of a recommendation. It turned out they played techno jazz and my jazz people were very angry with me. ‘Where did you get this guy from, how could you bring a band called No Jazz here?'”

Tladi insists that it is a lesson that has been learned. His see-for-yourself rule, his frequenting of jazz clubs and taverns asking jazz fans who they want to see, coupled with his desire to introduce artists not known here — decide the Joy of Jazz billing.

And this year the likes of Joshua Redman, Keiko Matsui, Roy Ayers, Tom Browne, Wayne Henderson and Lonnie Liston Smith will test whether Tladi’s method works.

He singles out Norwegian Tord Gustavsen and local idol Yvonne Chaka-Chaka as the artists who will pleasantly surprise.

Sadly for the fans of kwaito, Tladi says their heroes can go and chew on matchsticks elsewhere.

Unlike his role model George Wein, Tladi intends to retire: “I’d say in the next five years. I cannot stay on forever. I am not Mugabe.”

Setting standards in the local jazz scene
It’s taken for granted that commercial jazz events in this country fly under the blue and white banner of Standard Bank. It was at the Cape Town Jazz Festival, and it is driving the jazz platform at the National Arts Festival and its cub event, the National Youth Jazz Festival. The upcoming Joy of Jazz event in Johannesburg in August is its premiere event.

“Standark Bank’s involvement in jazz dates back to the mid-1990s, when jazz was a somewhat neglected art,” says Mandie van der Spuy, Standard Bank head of arts and jazz sponsorships.

“The jazz market has grown significantly in the past 10 years. We’re not saying that’s purely because of Standard Bank’s involvement but the genre has certainly gained broad appeal. Mostly we provide a platform for artists — from the top performers to underrated artists — to showcase and work together. We see Joy of Jazz as our flagship event. It’s an excellent platform for developing and promoting younger talent.”

Joy of Jazz attracts about 22 000 visitors every year. Grahamstown’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival, which runs concurrently with another Standard Bank investment, the National Arts Festival, has also grown over the years, and the National Youth Jazz Festival does something by way of encouraging a young artist’s prowess. “About 250 to 300 young musicians from all over the country engage in a five-day intensive course led by some of the best local and international artists.”

Van der Spuy says the bank does not offer bursaries, recording contracts or sponsor instruments or education in the field. “No, none of that, we keep our focus on the three main national events.”

She cites artists’ fees and travel expenses, especially for international talents, as “a substantial cost” for the bank when arranging the events, and ticket sales don’t even come close to compensating for the cost.

Still, what Standard Bank does for jazz, jazz does for Standard Bank, as its colours fly proudly over every major event associated with the popular art form. “It’s by and large an image-building form of sponsorship, it reinforces the brand,” says Van der Spuy.

Of course, should Standard Bank feel the returns are not worth the effort, it could always abandon ship. “All sponsorship programmes, whether they’re in arts or sports, are carefully reviewed — there’s no such thing as a permanent, forevermore commitment.”

o The Standard Bank Jazz Festival at the National Arts Festival features seasoned locals such as Carlo Mombelli, Marcus Wyatt, Sibongile Khumalo, Themba Mkhize and Louis Mhlanga. There are also new local heroes such as Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner Mark Fransman and schmaltzy R&B diva Lira.

In from the cold, catch Sweden’s Peter Asplund Quartet, Swedish bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg and the Northern European Jazz Quartet in collaboration with the UK’s David O’Higgins. From Israel the Human Factory boasts saxman Amikam Kimelman, who once played with Latin percussionist Airto Moreira.

Carl Allen, artistic director of the Julliard music school, who appears in the United Nations of Grahamstown gig, once drummed for Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock, among others. Then there’s Australian/Swiss trombonist Adrian Mears, who will play with Mombelli.

Traditional African music is showcased on the serious music platform of the festival, where a talk will be given by Nigerian musicologist Christian Onyeji. — Warren Foster

For details go to www.nationalartsfestival.co.za, or call 046 603 1103

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