From the fact that the 200-seat ‘Theatre on the Square’ in Sandton was filled to capacity – mostly by ‘50-pluses’ – for a Sunday afternoon jazz concert speaks volumes for owner Daphne Kuhn’s enthusiasm for the genre and confirms that good quality music will always find a receptive audience.
Produced by impresario Tony Yoko, the programme – Conversations in Jazz – highlighted the considerable talents of visiting Dutch pianist Bert van den Brink, more than ably assisted by Justin Holcroft on tenor and soprano sax, Graeme Currie (bass), Andrew Massey (vocals) and Tony himself on drums.
In two sets of an hour each, they demonstrated that not only is main-stream jazz alive and well in Johannesburg but is also suitably appreci-ated.
Starting with a solo version of I didn’t know what time it was by van den Brink, who turned it into a mini-history of jazz piano styles, Yoko structured the programme around various ‘conversations’ between the players, sometimes in duo or trio format, with the full quintet blowing up a gentle storm on various standards and the occasional original com-position.
With little time to rehearse – van den Brink had only met the other mu-sicians on the morning of the concert — it says a lot for the standard of musicianship among the players that the ‘conversations’ were both meaningful and satisfying, and the obvious enthusiasm and rapport among all the players made for a relaxed and swinging afternoon
After his initial solos, van den Brink set the scene for the afternoon with a trio version of The Duke’s evergreen Satin Doll, taken at just the right tempo, and Currie and Yoko providing solid but unobtrusive sup-port.
Massey started with It Had to be You, with Holcroft on tenor, and Hon-eysuckle Rose – a la Anita O’Day — proving that he gets better with every outing, and Currie and van den Brink then tackled the difficult Mingus Fingus before the quintet closed out the first half with a rousing Cheek to Cheek where everyone got into the groove.
Massey and van den Brink opened the second half with a moody ver-sion of My Foolish Heart, Yoko joined van den Brink for a totally im-provised War and peace and then came for me the highlight of the after-noon. Holcroft on tenor, Massey and van den Brink made Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring – Jon Hendrick’s lyric being difficult to sing at the best of times — sound like it was written for a ‘rhythm-less’ trio.
‘Le tout ensemble’ brought the afternoon to a close with Miles Davis’ All Blues with a particularly moving solo from Holcroft on soprano, and the Sony Rollins classic Four – again with lyrics by Jon Hendricks — which swung like the clappers and belied Yoko’s concern about its ‘sudden death’ ending as everyone was right on cue.
Music of this high standard certainly deserves a wider audience, and one would like to hear these fine musos stretch out in a club setting. As Yoko said at the close of the concert, it’s so important to keep live jazz going in Johannesburg, and with its relatively intimate setting, ‘The Theatre on the Square’ is probably as good a venue as any to fulfill that mandate.