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Making jazz and taming crowds

Forty-year-old Brad Holmes is a well-known denizen of Jo’burg nightlife. But he is also a successful entrepreneur. In 14 years he has seen his business, the Bassline, grow from a small jazz club on Melville’s 7th Street to its present proportion in a large music hall in Newtown.

Today he is also co-director of a company called Dusty Moon Investments, which oversees the programming of the annual Arts Alive Festival that kicks off this weekend. The company, now in its final year of a three-year tender, conducts research on artists and audiences’ needs and appoints specialists to handle the programming of live poetry, theatre and dance.

It’s a big weekend for Holmes and company as they prepare for the single-day Jazz on the Lake event that, on Sunday, will see thousands of music fans descend on the park at Zoo Lake.

What are the features of the music programme this year?
We start on Sunday with Jazz on the Lake. We have a very strong lineup made up of Don Laka, Jimmy Dludlu, Simphiwe Dana, Zamajobe Sithole and more. It is the 80th birthday of Johannesburg so we intend to have quite a nice crowd and we are going to have a great party to celebrate.

Jazz on the Lake has been going forever. It is well secured, there is a strong disaster management plan — there are 43 road closures. We have about 800 people working on the gig — just to give you an indication of the enormity of it.

I have a logistics and disaster management coordinator Graham Dickson who has been doing it for years. It is polished, it’s now a formula and it is safe. We have no incidents, no alcohol. We have six double-decker busses running from the Civic Centre so people can park there and get a ride in. We employ 500 security guards, that’s how far we’ve gone to make sure people are going to have a really nice event.

About the music programming for Arts Alive, what are the strengths?
It’s a tested formula. Basically we have radio stations such as Khaya FM, MetroFM and SAfm on board and they own gigs. We have invited international R’n’B star, four Grammy nominee Tamia to perform at the specially built Jazz Dome on the Mary Fitzgerald Square. She is well known in South Africa and has done well here from a unit-sale perspective.

The object is to get people into the Newtown area and to give them something they identify with, like Tamia, and then do some arts programming around it.

What will happen is they will come to watch Tamia and will land up watching a really fantastic musician like the Austrian Robert Bachner, who is one of the world’s best trombone players. If people go to Nikki’s restaurant they are going to experience some great jazz on September 26 and 27.

There are 10 venues programmed for these nights — nine of them in Newtown. We have the funky German Cajus at Fuel Café, top Australian Jazz singer Catherine Lambert at Sophiatown restaurant and Brazilian hip-hoppers MnR at Capellos next door. Late night at Carfax we have the Japanese dance-music legend DJ Crush.

Up the road in Brixton we are holding reggae nights featuring French West Indies ragga-dance hall hero Admiral T and locals, The Admiral and Jahseed.

We are starting the dance and the theatre events early (the dance programme this year has 14 productions) so people can, for example, emerge from the Afrikan Cultural Centre where there will be a B-boy battle with world champions Pokemon Crew and they can get exposed to Eliades Ochoa.

Ochoa is the founding member of the Buena Vista Social Club, a Grammy award-winner and one of Cuba’s most recognised jazz legends. He is jetting in from Spain with a full band in tow.

There’s no doubt about it, Mail & Guardian readers will be Eliades fans. He is for a sophisticated crowd. But people need to get tickets early — these shows will sell out.

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