The longer it took Standard Bank to award their Young Artist of the Year for Jazz to Kyle Shepherd the more ridiculous and untenable the situation became. But this year the judges did what they should have done a few years ago by awarding the gong to Shepherd, easily one of the most talented and visionary South African artists of his generation.
The jazz composer and pianist has three albums to his name. There is fineART, A Portrait of Home and South African History !X. Even though he is only 26, in terms of his music and discography, Shepherd is something of a veteran.
"It does help me a lot because I have a lot of ideas that I want to put down," Shepherd said about the practical significance of the award. We were sitting in the foyer of a hotel in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, before his gig at Wits University on Saturday. "I would like to play in South Africa more because I have been doing most of my gigs abroad for the past two years."
Shepherd explained that of the 50 or so concerts he has played over the past 24 months, over half of them have been abroad. He is about to go on a 17-gig tour of Japan, Malaysia and India. The launch of his solo piano project, recorded while in Japan, will be done next month.
His performance in Johannesburg comes at a time when the city's troubadours, jazz fans and students of the music are undergoing soul searching. Unlike Cape Town, the country's commercial cog doesn't have a dedicated venue for jazz music. "I am not sure how much jazz concerts and jazz clubs there are in Joburg apart from the gig scene. I am not in the scene so I don't really know what’s going on but from what I have heard it is a bit quiet at the moment," said Shepherd.
There are, to be sure, spots that are setting up the infrastructure for the music: the Afrikan Freedom Station and Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre come to mind; both places are in Westdene. Then there is Niki's Oasis in Newtown.
Talking about his show on Saturday, Shepherd said he won't stray from his accustomed format of the trio featuring Shane Cooper on double bass and Jonno Sweetman on drums. "For any pianist composer, which I am, the trio format is ideal because you can sculpt melodies yourself. It's not by any means an ego thing but I play my own melodies. I live the melodies, sometimes I am even compelled to play the saxophone myself … "
Why such an assured young artist went unacknowledged for so long is surely the stuff of South African jazz folklore.
The Kyle Shepherd Trio? plays on October 19 at The Atrium from at 8pm. The Atrium is on East Campus, Wits University, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
To book go to www.strictlytickets.com or call 082 553 5901. Tickets are R120.