“When Tutu Puoane received scholarship to further her music studies in The Netherlands, she never anticipated she would meet and fall in love with Ewout Pierreux.  The Belgian pianist noticed how confident the South African vocalist was in conducting herself in a male dominated industry.  Next month will mark 10 years of the couple’s marriage and are looking forward to spending more happy years together” 

Belgian pianist Ewout describes his South African born wife Tutu Puoane as one of the most extraordinarily multi-talented people he knows.  “She’s an intuitive natural in everything she does.  Her voice comes straight from heaven.  Privately she’s a great mom to our two children Mpho and Motsumi”, he told Jazz It Out.  He says his wife is generally nice to hang out with, although homesickness and missing her SA family can get her down from time to time.  Tutu describes Ewout as kind, loving, open minded, a great dad and a wonderful husband.  “He can also be a bit of a control freak but in a good way.  He always wants everything he does to be done properly and professionally”, she told Jazz It Out.

Tutu said she has quite a few labels: Wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, and vocalist.  “The one I value most though is simply Human”, she said.  Besides being a musician, Ewout is crazy about his family, a huge sports fan (especially soccer) and a complete petrol head.  Every now and then he likes to spend money on nice things.  Although he doesn’t really care about money, he likes to be paid well as an artist.  “I can be a control freak and have difficulties leaving responsibilities to other people”, he added.  Some of the things Tutu and Ewout have in common is the love for travelling, good food and wine.  “He’s more of wine lover that I am”, said Tutu with a chuckle.  “We share a similar sense of humour”, said Ewout.  They both have dislike for people who aren’t for real.

Vocalist Tutu Puoane. Picture by Mzi Mtolo

Born in Atteridgeville 41 years ago and grew up in Mamelodi, Tutu recalls that jazz was inescapable for people who grew up in Pretoria townships.  Music in general was a big part of most of the households and her home was no exception.  Those Saturday morning cleaning sessions and afternoon chilling sessions was what weekends were made of.  As a young girl, Tutu had posters of Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka on her bedroom wall.  Teenage years were filled with a lot of American R&B mainly Tevin Campbell, Johnny Gill,Karen White, Boys II Men and many others.  She also loved MarcAlex and Natalie Cole.

Forty-three-year-old Ewout, born in Halle, was very much a mainstream pop dude back in high school.  He always loved Bill Joel and Elton John, for a large part because both of them are great pianists.  Same with Stevie Wonder, although he came in his musical life a bit later, towards the end of his teens.  He had a brief period where he got into more guitar-rock genres, with Nirvana and the Pixies for example.  Ewout also loved Michael Jackson, Sting and The Police, as well as Toto. “On the classical side, I’ve always been a huge fan of Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff”, he said.

As a high school learner, Tutu didn’t know that there was a music diploma.  It was only after high school, when she enrolled at FUBA, that she learned that it was possible to further her musical studies.  Her teacher at FUBA, Geoff Mapaya, was the main reason she ended up at the University of Cape Town (UCT) College of Music.  “Mapaya came to my house and pleaded with my mom to let me accompany the FUBA ensemble to their auditions at UCT.  I got on the train with these guys to Cape Town to just sing a few songs with them as they auditioned”, she recalls.  What happened at the end of the audition is something that took Tutu by a huge surprise.  Professor Mike Campbell said to her: “Take these forms to your mom.  Fill them out and send them back.  Class starts in February next year”.  This is how she got into the UCT Music College.

Pianist Ewout Pierreux. Picture by Roger Vantilt

Her mom who insisted she first goes to a “proper” high school was very supportive.  However, it was her grandfather who was really concerned about the decision.  Tutu headed to UCT where she made friends with many music students including Marcus Wyatt, Buddy Wells, Judith Sephuma, Selaelo Selota, Jelena Reveshin, Virginia Davids and Musa Manzini to mention a few. Ewout’s father who played with several bands as an amateur saxophonist was quite happy with his son’s decision to study music. “He kind of got to relive his dream through me as circumstances didn’t allow for that back in his younger days”, with fond memories.  It was his choice to study jazz that had his parents concerned though.  “My parents weren’t very enthusiastic about my choice of jazz because they were very unfamiliar with that music, but after a while they came around”, he recalls.

Ewout went to study at the Lemmens Institute, Leuven where he was taught by some of the best musicians in the Belgian and European jazz scene.  These included Roy Van Rossum, Bert Joris, Dré Pallemaerts, Frank Vaganée, Peter Hertmans and Phillipe Aerts.  He further took masterclasses with Bill Carrothers, Brad Mehldau, Bobo Stenson, Bruce Barth and Kenny Werner amongst others.  His group of students were the first to enroll for jazz at the institution also had Bart Van Caenegem, his homeboy Bart Borremans and Yves Peeters. He graduated cum laude in 2001.  While Ewout was finishing his studies, something interesting was happening in Cape Town.

In 2001, Tutu Puoane finished her vocal studies at the music college at UCT.  What she did upon graduation was something very brave.  The young musician turned down a big contract with a major South African record company and decided to grab with both hands a once in a lifetime opportunity.  She accepted a most generous offer to of Dutch pianist Jack van Poll, who was living and teaching in Cape Town at the time to go and study in Europe in order to develop to the fullest her unique talents as a jazz vocalist and performer.  The scholarship took her to The Hague, Netherlands for only one year.  Bassist and vocalist Chantal Wille, who was also sponsored by van Poll to further her studies her studies at Antwerp conservatory was in the same band with Ewout.  If she could not avail herself for performing at some of the gigs, she would ask Tutu to board a train from The Hague to Antwerp.

With their children Mpho and Motsumi. Picture by Marcus Wyatt

“I went to Ewout’s place for a rehearsal and I never left.  I’m still staying at his place which is now our place and we are still rehearsing, 18 years later”, Tutu said with a smile.  But it was not love at first sight.  “It was certainly the love of music that connected us.  We pretty much had the same CD collection’ she told Jazz It Out.  “I guess it took a while, although I know I was instantly impressed with her on a music and personal level”, Ewout looking back to their early encounters.  Both Tutu and Ewout agree that if it was not music, they probably would not have met.  “The fact that we soon found out we had similar tastes in music was a plus.  She always mentions that she was impressed that I was also crazy about Bill Withers and Meshell Ndegeocello”, Ewout told Jazz It Out.

The Belgian pianist also learnt a lot about South African jazz through his wife.  His first visit to SA in 2004 changed his life on a personal and musical level.  “People’s spirits felt so much freer than I was used to in Europe. I felt it everywhere, in and out of music, and it brought my musical existence to a whole new level”, he said.  On a more technical level, SA jazz showed him a lot about great natural rhythm and he absorbed some typical harmonies that really helped shaped his own mind.  He doesn’t think he taught his wife any lessons in European jazz which is something Tutu concurs with.

Tutu’s 2009 recording titled “Quiet Now” which won the SAMA in 2010

The 2004 recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award has recorded 8 albums including two that won South African Music Awards (SAMA), “Quiet Now” (2009) which won the SAMA in 2010 and “Mama Africa” (2010) which won the SAMA in 2011.  Her beautiful voice has been noticed by Toots Thielemans and Dianne Reeves who have since become her fans.  Tutu has performed at several festivals hosted in South Africa such as Cape Town International Jazz Festival and Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival with Ewout on the piano.  She leads her own quartet and is also a vocalist for the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

Ewout on the other hand does a lot of work as a sideman for mostly Belgian based projects and has grown into one of the leading Belgian jazz pianists.  Most important bands he works with are Tutu Puoane and Rebirth::Collective.  Together with South African trumpeter Marcus Wyatt (who studied with Tutu at UCT), he co-leads ‘Small World’, a musical cooperation project between Belgium and South Africa.  He regularly sits in with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.  Besides Belgium, he regularly performs in The Nertherlands, France, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Germany.  As an educator he teaches jazz piano and ensemble at ‘de Kunsthumaniora’, an arts high school in Antwerp.  He is also one of the regular piano instructors of the years jazz drummer workshop in Dworp, Brussels, organized by Halewynstichting vzw.

Next month will mark 10 ten years since the jazz couple got married.  For Tutu, Valentine’s Day is just another day.  “Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the day”, she said.  Ewout also shares her sentiments.  He believes love is something to practice everyday of the year.  “The way the day has been commercialized overshadows the real point”, he said.  One of the things he is grateful for is that he and Tutu are lucky to have found each other and are a loyal couple. “Besides the fact that we get to play together and share beautiful moments on stage, we simply love each other very much” he added.  Tutu confessed she wouldn’t live in Belgium without Ewout.  “I think we both can’t imagine life without the other”, she added.

Tutu Puoane & Ewout Pierreux – Together (Jef Neve) Live

The father to daughter Mpho and son Motsumi offered this advice to young couples in the music industry: “Be honest and humble, no matter what.  Talk to your partner because communication is everything”.  Tutu advised couples to be independent within their marriages.  “Yes, couples become one unit when they marry but never lose sight of the fact that you are still an individual person.  You have dreams and ideas of your own. Support each other in those independent ideas and dreams.  Help each other fulfil them. Don’t be jealous of each other and communicate, then communicate some more.  This is weird coming from me because I’m the worse communicator ever”, she emphasized.

To interact with Tutu on social media, like her Facebook Page, follow her on Twitter @TutuPuoane and @tutupoane on Instagram.  Connect with her on LinkedIn, subscribe to her YouTube channel and visit her website tutupuoanemusic.com.  Ewout is also on Facebook as Ewout Pierreux.  Follow him on Instagram @ewoutpierreux, connect with him on LinkedIn and subscribe to his YouTube channel.  We wish the couple a happy Valentine’s Day and a happy 10th wedding anniversary in advance.