Joy of Jazz, Johannesburg: A Review

“The scene is set for dreaming…” A wonderful opening line to one of the most sung jazz standards in the jazz universe, and sung by one of its boldest vocalists. It was mostly this song that had me hurrying to this year's Joy of Jazz as it was the first of many that found me gradually being drawn into the voice and music of Kurt Elling.
After listening to many Youtube videos of Elling performing in multiple cities, and after every performance finding myself awed at how he always manages to do more than just impress, I made it a priority to see him perform live before either his or my time on this earth was up.

A few months down the line, the 2012 Joy of Jazz team manages to get him in their line-up. My dream could come true after all, if I could get the tickets, which were quite hefty, if you ask me. You can never be sure if Jazz is still present in the afterlife, especially a jazz like Kurt Elling's. So it was a fair trade in the end.

On the night, Kurt was filled with so much playfulness and energy, and still managed to maintain a vocal dexterity and maturity. He and his band show that jazz, in its complexity can be fun, to those who thought it otherwise. This was no surprise. With Kendrick Scott “Oracle” on the drums and his long time companion whom he loves referring to, before a piano solo, as “Mousseux Laurence Hobgood”, the night was more than what I had hoped for. His version of “My Foolish Heart”, they didn't perform though, to my disappointment. I remember rushing to the front and shouting the name out as the last note of their performance drifted into the air. But it went unheard. I was still more than satisfied though, just hoping to increase the satisfaction by a little more Jazz.

If the Joy of Jazz team could have a virtuoso like Kurt Elling perform in their line-up, then I was sure that the other musicians they had on it also had something to give.

I was already sure about Marcus Wyatt. I'd seen him a couple of times performing live in Melville. His performance on the night was one of the few that drew my attention, not only to him, as an esteemed trumpeter, but to his whole team; as if Marcus Wyatt was a band name and not just a person. One of the pieces (Jagged), he said he'd written “with the guy in the white t-shirt in mind”, pointing to the band's drummer Justin Badenhorst. The piece is rightly named, with the trumpet and voice playing a jagged tune in unison before shortly being joined by a hip drum line. The rest of the piece then draws the listener's attention to drum, builds tension and ends it off abruptly with a low note and kick. The whole performance was well received but not according to emcee KG Moeketsi who urged the crowd to give Marcus Wyatt, the band, a standing ovation, that I believed was to come if the crowd was given more time.

Next on the line-up was Wycliffe Gordon. I had managed to research about him and his music shortly before the actual event and found some amazing pieces of his that I loved. There was one called Fantasy, which is a trombone solo, and another group performance he did with Aaron Diehl on the piano, whose performance impressed me enough to have me follow him separately. I had hoped for him to be performing with Aaron at Joy of Jazz, and I was happy to find that my hopes came true.

Before the performance, I overheard a fan say Mr. Gordon had forgotten his plunger at home on the previous night's performance, which he felt affected it somewhat. During this performance, I noted this but found that a good substitute was resorted to, a towel. Perhaps my ears are untrained or just not that sharp, but the performance was amazing regardless. Wycliffe Gordon is the first trombonist that I feel leaves a lasting impression on me. His music presses in places that the brass instruments are known to press.

Live jazz has become somewhat of a luxury; an invisible task on everyone's “Things you have to do before you die” list. Of course many aren't aware of this as yet, but that's just for the hosts of jazz concerts to say, “Don't worry. It's there. Just give it time.” And once you realise it, you're hooked. Then, no matter how expensive the tickets are, you'll always manage to come up with the means of feeding the addiction, no matter the cost because you're hard-wired to know that it is worth it.

It's Jazz!