The Standard Joy of Jazz Festival celebrated 20 of existence last weekend at Sandton Convention Centre. Organisers need to be commended for staging such a successful and memorable event.  Sponsors that came on board were from different sectors. They were all acknowledged by radio personalities that were introducing the artists that were performing.

Main sponsors of the event were long standing partner Standard Bank, MNS Attorneys, Department of Arts and Culture, City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government. In the run up to the event individuals that have played a part in promoting, writing and recording jazz were given honours.  It was planned to be a very successful event and it did not disappoint.

“Jazz is improvisation and chommies we will see a lot of it for the next three days”, said a lady to three of her friends on the opening night of the festival.  Held at Dinaledi, it was kickstarted by Thandiswa Mazwai whose album Belede was in high demand before it was even officially released last year.  With Bokani Dyer on piano, Ayanda Sikade on drums, Mthunzi Mvubu on trumpet and veteran bass player Herbie Tsoaeli.  The respect Mazwai has for her band members on stage can never go unnoticed.

Tutu Puoane who dropped a brand-new album entitled The Joni Mitchell Project, a tribute to the Canadian singer – songwriter followed Mazwai.  Puoane is a regular performer at the event and this was by far one of her best live performances.  The Pretoria born and now Belgium based vocalist received a standing ovation for her performance.

As the audience was in that high jazz mood and not ready to slow down, in walked Nnena Freelon.  Judging from the hairstyle that she spotted, she is definitely in touch with her African roots.  Freelon is a good vocalist and a great live performer.  Her body language and moves can easily tell if she is singing a happy or sad song.  She just ignored a man who stood on the fourth row and started shouting as she was performing her second song.  Live performance can make some people embarrass themselves at times.

Despite being 77 years old, vibraphonist and vocalist Roy Ayers did not reflect his age on stage.  He gave such an energetic performance that made jazz enthusiasts scream for more.  Most of his original recordings are re-recorded by younger musicians and he performed those songs to the delight of the audience.  Ayers came across as not only an experienced musician, but a perfectionist as well.

Friday and Saturday were also exciting and a nightmare for Marabi Jazz Lounge deciding which performances to attend and to miss. This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist, 25-year-old Benjamin Jephta brought a great line up of musicians to his performance at Diphala Stage.  These were Kyle Shepherd on piano, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Sisonke Xonti on saxophone and Siphelelo Mazibuko on drums. This as MC at the venue Brenda Sisane correctly pointed that his performance was an indication of the year he has had.

Dinaledi Stage was next to be visited where legendary pianist Abdullah Ibrahim was performing with Ekhaya Ensemble. South Africa is very blessed to have a living legend in Ibrahim. His performance was dignified, mature and well no doubt well-rehearsed before taking to the stage.  Known for his intolerance for late coming and clapping of hands before his songs are finished many year ago, this time around he stuck to his stage performance which earned him a standing ovation when his set was finished.

Joshua Redman got jazz enthusiasts captivated with his moves as he played his saxophone.  His band members were just as good as their bandleader.  Those that were asking themselves as to why they should be at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival were answered and their loyalty to the noble sound was highly rewarded.  A lot of musicians will try and emulate such moves by a saxophonist but will never be as close.

Before Redman, it was another sax player Branford Marsalis, whose mother recently passed away, that gave a sterling performance.  Known for being a true gentleman on and off the stage, he released an album entitles Upward Spiral which features vocalist Kurt Elling last year. This was not Marsalis’s first appearance at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival.  His younger brother Delfeayo and Wynton also made an appearance at the event in 2007 and 2011 respectively.

On Saturday, Mbira Stage saw a highly electrifying performance by Zoe Modiga.  Not only did she get the audience to participate in her singing, at one stage she ran into the crowd from one end of the stage to the next, a move that caught photographers by a huge surprise.  By the time she performed her last song, the venue was jampacked with many people.

She was followed by Caiphus Semenya who got the audience singing along and dancing to all his classics. The only time people were sitting was when he performed his first two songs.  He told a very interesting story of how the Crusaders recorded their famous song Way Back Home before he performed his vocal version of what was initially recorded as an instrumental tune.

Bassist Christian McBride is on a league of his own.  Despite recording with musicians from different genres his performance was strictly and uncompromisingly jazz.  He is known for teaching fundamentals of jazz bass and beyond, covering bebop, time, harmony, intonation, building bass lines, 2-feel and soloing.  He is one artist any jazz cat would not mind watching him performing live week in and week out. He certainly did not disappoint at the festival.

This event which had a hashtag #SBJOJ20 will be remembered for a very long time to come because the standard was very high.  This was the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz at its best.  Sandton was brought to a complete standstill for three days and the atmosphere was very warm as jazz cats from many parts of the continent and the globe came to enjoy a very well planned and largely successful event.