Joy of Jazz: Adam Glasser is a man on a mission

He wants to teach more South Africans how to play the harmonica.

“One of the things I’m hoping to do”, he said, “is to get more people in South Africa interested in playing the harmonica, particularly the kind that I play. It’s not a blues harmonica but the kind which can play a lot of South African jazz melodies, township tunes and gospel. It’s a more flexible harmonica and it’s small and inexpensive.”

Glasser, who now lives in Britain, will be conducting a workshop in Johannesburg on August 22 in which he will show upcoming musicians the art of harmonica playing.

He loves coming back to South Africa and he does so whenever there is work or an opportunity to interact with other musicians in a workshop environment. “I try to give back as much as possible,” he said.

“I’ve always had SA jazz in my soul as a child, but its only in the last few years that I was really able to come back home and play jazz and interact with SA musicians. I have done that through the harmonica and through playing at various gigs. I’ve met some great musicians.”

An exciting aspect of his Johannesburg visit is that he is putting together a band which, he said, “will express both sides of me, the UK side and the South African side.”

At his Standard Bank Joy of Jazz performance, he will be playing tracks from his album, Mzansi, which was recorded last year.

“I will be using two great SA musicians, Nduduzo Makhathini on keyboards and Concord Nkabinde on bass, and from London I will be bringing Ghanaian drummer Frank Tontoh, who is the son of the founder of ‘70s group Osibisa and he has a real feel for South African jazz. The band also includes top Australian jazz fusion guitarist Carl Orr.

“I’ve put together a band of two halves, and in a way that kind of represents my background of being South African and being abroad for a long time.”

Glasser was born in Cambridge England, where his father, South African composer Stanley ‘Spike’ Glasser, was studying music at Kings’ College.


Adam’s family then returned to South Africa where he grew up influenced by his father’s involvement as musical director of South African musical productions such as King Kong in 1959 and the lesser known Mr Paljas in 1962, both of which featured a number of key South African jazz musicians.

As a teenager in Johannesburg, the young Glasser hung out at Dorkay House with legendary horn players such as Barney Rachabane, Mackay Davashe and guitarist Allen Kwela, who were all part of a lively jazz scene. Today he remembers with fondness the time he spent at this revered musical meeting place which holds a special place in the jazz annals of the country.

He has a keen interest in languages and he has set his sights on becoming more proficient in Zulu, an idea that was triggered when he began learning the lyrics of different songs, especially mbaquanga.

“One of the most relaxing things I’ve developed is transcribing tunes and investigating them deeply and, I think, it’s a powerful way of me connecting with the music in South Africa.”

•    Standard Bank Joy of Jazz runs in nine venues in Newtown from August 22 to 24. Adam Glasser performs on the Dinaledi Stage on Saturday August 24.

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