For Jazz Appreciation Month, let’s talk about jazz; sounds redundant but not so. Jazz is divided into a mirage of components but it is all music, from the roots of Africa that has been redressed, reconstructed, and individually created by each musician committed to interpret sounds (from rustling trees to birds to subway high volume screeches to children playing) engulfed with their life experiences and the backdrop of world affairs. This is a culmination of jazz or Black music or a spirited interpretation of life from love to transition, complications, pitfalls and all that happens all around.
Saxophonist, composer, and educator Andre Ward has based his musical foundation on his love for jazz and R&B. He makes no excuses about his spiritual connection to his favorite music group Earth, Wind & Fire, founded by Maurice White (drummer, vocalist). “I wanted my music to have the same spiritual flair and feeling as EWF with a message,” said Ward. “Their music included the whole vocabulary of musical genres, that’s what caught my attention.” Ward was motivated to play saxophone after watching the saxophonist Don Myrick playing with the Phenix Horns and later with EWF.
As a staunch fan of EWF, Ward explains, “jazz took me over at an early age, I was totally engaged in listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane but completely lost my mind over Cannonball Adderley. So, it doesn’t matter what genre I play, jazz is my foundation.”
Ward’s fifth album entitled Africa Rising (Orpheus Enterprises) was recently released. The company was co-founded by Charli Huggins (Melba Moore’s daughter). On the album, the Chicago native pays tribute to the sound of Earth Wind & Fire with “Secret Place” (with Chantel Hampton on vocals) and offers his jazz version to “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” an R&B classic by fellow Chicagoans the Emotions. The album’s latest single is Ward’s reimagining of Sade’s “Kiss of Life.” Ward noted, “who doesn’t love Sade, I wanted to put my voice and message on it. My doing covers allows me to put my footprint on classics while paying respect and homage to great musicians.”
The graduate of Berklee School of Music toured with Lalah Hathaway before joining R&B singers Will Downing, and later enjoying a nine-year stint with Freddie Jackson, with four years as the band’s musical director. He is hoping this current album will spark an interest for people to check out his earlier releases. Some of which made the Top 10 Contemporary Jazz Albums charts. “Africa Rising represents music as a universal language that promotes black excellence; hopefully, it empowers black audiences. Without role models and opportunities given to me none of this would be possible.”
Hugh Masekela’s trumpet gave him an international voice to actively fight against South Africa’s then horrendous atrocities of apartheid. His anti-apartheid compositions such as “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home” became anthems around the world. In the 1960s during his self-exile, he took up residence in New York City, where he was assisted and mentored by both activist and philanthropist Harry Belafonte and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. His love of country, activism and music were one in the same not to be divorced. This dual interpretative combination was the force that popularized his unique sound and experiences of South Africa and American Jazz.
Recently, before a live exuberate audience at Dizzy’s jazz club, Masekela was posthumously inducted into the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. The trumpeter’s children, Selema Masekela and Pula Twala, and his nephew, Mabusha Masekela, accepted the Ertegun Jazz Award from Seton Hawkins (Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Themba Khumalo (South African Tourism).
“My father was a man of the people and it is so important that we acknowledge what is happening here today,” said Selema Masekela. His induction carries on his legacy for our family and the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation. When signing anything for his fans, he always wrote ‘love and Teach’ and this is what he did his entire life.” Adorned
Now, the Ertegun Hall of Fame will be adorned with Masekela’s name among such jazz royalty as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.
The induction ceremony also featured a live performance by bandleader and trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni, pianist Zoe Molelekwa and alto saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu (both Manhattan School of Music students and recipients of HMHF scholarship), vocalist Naledi Masilo, guitarist Saidou Sangare, flugelhorn Lesedi Ntsane, bassist Jimmy Mngwand and drummer Kabelo Boy Mokhatla with special guest tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. Their exhilarating compositions of Masekela and originals by Mlangeni had many patrons up dancing, a rare sight at Dizzy’s plus multiple standing ovations and encores. The heavy South African contingency was a result of the South African Tourism Board.
The trumpeter, composer and leader of the ensemble Mlangeni was the only musician who was flown in from South Africa at the request of Seton Hawkins, Director of Public Programs and Education Resources at Jazz at Lincoln Center. While in New York, Mlangeni conducted informal jam sessions, performed his original music and discussed the music of South Africa at Brooklyn and York Colleges. “Seton is looking to share the music of South Africa and its culture in the states and hopefully develop an exchange program,” stated the trumpeter.
It was such a pleasure to finally see Mlangeni perform in New York, we met some years ago during my visits covering the Johannesburg and Cape Town Jazz Festivals. While there I also had the opportunity to see him perform in local jazz clubs in a variety of configurations as a leader and sideman, he even performed with a rock band in one of the festivals. His reputation precedes him as one of South Africa’s premiere trumpeters, who made quite an impression on the “big apple.” I was impressed years ago as some of my previous reviews will demonstrate. “My music represents the sounds of my extensive travel abroad which is an amalgamation of African music and my interpretations,” said Mlangeni. “There is good music and bad music like Duke Ellington said, I can’t worry about labels.
The trumpeter has recorded eight CDs including two recent releases entitled Oratorio of a “Forgotten Youth and Future is Now. He is currently working on a big band commission to include; chorus, string quartet and brass with a poet. The composition will be premiered on May 27 which is the Celebration of African Day.
“Jazz is a continuation of the Black diaspora from around the world,” said the trumpeter. We look to seeing more of him here in the city.