One warm Saturday afternoon in October 1962 South Africa' leading jazz bands competed in a football stadium in Moroka-Jabavu, fifteen miles south-west of Johannesburg. It was the first large-scale Festival in South Africa, the first of its kind in Africa.
The Festival was sponsored by the Brewers of Castle Lager who invited eight groups: from Johannesburg, the Jazz Dazzlers and the Jazz Giants, from Cape Town, the Chris McGregor Septet and the Jazz Ambassadors; from Bloemfontein, the All Stars; from East London, Eric Nomvete's Big 5; from Port Elizabeth, the Friendly City 6; and from Benoni, the Jazz Messengers No. 2.
Union Artists arranged the Festival. They have been organising African jazz since 1958, providing facilities for tuition and finding outlets for performers. The '62 Festival was their most ambitious jazz project yet, a development of their early Township Jazz concerts, the Battle of the Bands and the first Festival which they staged in the Johannesburg City Hall in 1961.
No-one knows when jazz began in South Africa. Its short history is that of a few groups, none of which has lasted for more than a few months. One of the earliest was the Johannesburg Shanty town Sextet, from whom Mackay Davashe in 1958 drew the personnel for his first Jazz Dazzlers. Dollar Brand's Jazz Epistles (CONT 14), formed by the Cape pianist in late 1959, had as their leadmen three Dazzlers, but the Epistles, in turn, broke up when two of these, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa left to study in New York. Brand and the rhythm section (CONT ZB 8047) followed soon after, playing at the Club Afrika in Zurich and with Duke Ellington in Paris.
The premature departure of the Epistles was a setback for South African jazz. At the 1961 Festival the music was interesting but none of the groups had worked together with the same intensity as the Epistles and none had their individual brilliance.
But at the 1962 Festival the Epistles were hardly remembered. New names like Dudu Pukwana, Cups-and-Saucers and Mongezi Feza, and old-timers Chris McGregor (at 26 an old-timer), Eric Nomvete and Christopher Columbus, played jazz that was a great development on Epistle music. They had listened to and absorbed what had taken place in American music since 1959: the soul music of Silver, Coltrane and Mingus, the new tonalities of Coleman, Dolphy and Cecil Taylor.
The Moroka-Jabavu Festival was significant for another reason. For the first time the scale of jazz activity in this country could be appreciated, its expressions compared. Never before had musicians had the chance of listening to and learning from each other's music. From the note and personnel-swopping that took place there, came the new McGregor group (some of McGregor's Septet plus a few Giants and Dazzlers). Today they are playing the most advanced jazz ever heard in this country.
Maybe the most important thing about the Festival was the fact that the musicians played all day to people who enjoyed hearing good music. 4,000 fans sat on the grass, families grouped under sun umbrellas, tight-pantsed girls twisted on the grass. Musicians, organisers, judges, listeners: all were mixed together in a packed arc radiating from the bandstand.
But a Festival is more than the music played there. Audience, the place, the weather, the holiday - all are part of a particular feeling, a peculiar mixture of relaxation and razor-edge concentration. You feel it at Newport... and you felt it at Moroka-Jabavu.
Consequently Festival music is different from studio or club music. It is relaxed but yet competitive and tense. In having to reach further, it has to be played on a scale much larger than the music of the intimate nightclub. Festivals are shows and musicians naturally become big showmen.
The music on this record is less than one-quarter of that played at the Festival. Each competing group performed twice, in the afternoon having to play their arrangement of the standard WHEN THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN. McGregor's SAINTS is on side one as well as two short compositions McGregor wrote for the workshop he ran for young musicians at the Mermaid Club in Cape Town. Most of his group at the Festival were youngsters from this workshop.
Also on side one Dudu Pukwana and the Giants play a funky number by American saxophonist Hank Mobley. Dudu who was adjudged the best musician at the Festival, has taken over as the leading alto in South Africa, a role for long held by Kippie Moeketsi. Moeketsi, the only Epistle left in South Africa, performed with the Dazzlers at the Festival and his idiosyncratic playing on alto and clarinet helped them greatly in winning the overall competition for the best group. As part of the prize, the Dazzlers toured for 3 months playing-mainly for charities and always to excited audiences.
Of the remaining bands, two are featured on the second side. The Jazz Ambassadors from Cape Town were not a strictly professional group but musicians who had played together only casually before. Almost all their music came from the brilliant tenor Cups-and-Saucers, at his best in the ballad WHAT IS THERE TO SAY. Eric Nomvete's Big 5 (actually a sextet) were the Festival favourites. They formed only a few days before the Festival, but nevertheless played with verve and vigour. Veteran Nomvete, in bowtie and braces, and teenager Feza (the best trumpet at the Festival) carried the group, playing music more distinctly derivative from African music than any others. Especially so is Nomvete's PONDO BLUES which is built from a repeated four-bar theme with a strong folk flavour.
Between competing bands, vocalists entertained the crowd. Included on this record are four numbers, two each by Ben "Satch" Masinga and the Woody Woodpeckers. Masinga is the most accomplished African pop vocalist in South Africa. He took over the role of Popcorn during the London run of King Kong and was making his name in London nightclubs when he was forced to return to South Africa.
Also in King Kong were the original Woody Woodpeckers. Two of them, Victor Ndlazilwana and Bennet Masango, returned to South Africa and joined with their pianist and Katzenjammer Kid Johnny Tsagane to form the group who performed at the Festival. Most of their music is composed or arranged by Ndlazilwana, one of Africa's most versatile talents. The Woodpeckers have, since the departure of the Manhattan Brothers become the leading vocal group in South Africa.
Such was the success of this Festival that the chances are that there will be more to follow. Whatever their place in the future of South African jazz may be, Moroka-Jabavu 1962 will be the fountain from which they spring; and this record will remain an historical document - the first collection of the top jazz voices in South Africa.
Record edited and notes by Julian Beinart
THE CHRIS McGREGOR SEPTET
Chris McGregor - piano
Sammy Maritz - bass
Monty Weber - drums
Christopher Columbus - tenor sax
Ronnie Beer - tenor sax
Danayi Dlova - alto sax
Willy Nettie - trombone
THE WOODY WOODPECKERS
THE JAZZ GIANTS
Dudu Pukwana - alto sax
Goodman "Tete" Mbambisa - piano
Martin Mgijima - bass
Early Mabuza - drums
Nick Moyake - tenor sax
Elija Nkwayane - trumpet
THE JAZZ DAZZLERS
Mackay Davashe - tenor sax
Patrick Matshikiza - piano
Saint Moikangoa - bass
Early Mabuza - drums
Kippie Moeketsi - alto sax
Blythe Mbityana - trombone
Dennis Mpali - trumpet
THE JAZZ AMBASSADORS
Cups-and-Saucers - tenor sax
Temba Matole - piano
Lami Zokufa - bass
Louis Moholo - drums
Lango Davis - trumpet
ERIC NOMVETE'S BIG FIVE
Eric Nomvete - tenor sax
Shakes Mgudlwa - piano
Dannie Sibanyoni - bass
Dick Khoza - drums
Aubrey Simane - alto
Mongezi Feza - trumpet
Cover Design: Julian Beinart
Cover Photograph: Peter Magubane
Thanks to Warren Siebrits for making this LP available.