Not even last Friday’s rain could stop jazz enthusiasts from attending the 29th Annual Jazz Jol hosted at University of KwaZulu – Natal’s (UKZN) Centre for Jazz and Popular Music. This year’s event was sponsored by Concerts SA, a joint South African/Norwegian live music development project housed within the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) Foundation. Durban-based bottled water brand known as ‘It’s Not Made In China’ donated water that was given to musicians that performed.

This year’s event included the performance by Sweet Concept which is a UKZN alumni band that featured New Zealand based Thabani Gapara on alto sax, Siyanqoba Mthethwa who is also the musical director for Joyous Celebration on piano, Siyanda Zulu on trumpet, Senzo Mdamba on bass who stood in for Bheka Mthethwa on bass and Sbu Zondi on drums.

Asked how this year’s Jazz Jol was different to some of the previous events, Thulile Zama, who is the concert and jazz centre co-ordinator at the UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music (also a niece to the author) said, “There were a few years where we didn’t have a big band.  The big band is very vibrant”.  She also described Sweet Concepts as musically gifted as individual artists.

The Jazz Jol is always a big event in the Durban jazz calendar.  Music students get to perform in front of an audience with their lecturers in attendance which is good for their confidence.  The audience that was in attendance on Friday was made up of students, pensioners and jazz enthusiasts which included visitors from Switzerland.

The event was kicked off by lecturer Burton Naidoo’s big band known as The La Liga Ensemble. The audience was excited sensing more great music for the evening.  They were followed by pre-recital candidates pianist Zibusiso Makhathini and saxophonist Phumlani Mtiti who took the event to another level. UKZN Voices directed by lecturer Debbie Mari gave soothing jazz sounds that filled the venue.

Naidoo was back, this time conducting the UKZN Big Band.  These music students performed their favourite music from legends including James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire to the present Mi Casa under the watchful eye of Naidoo.  He must be credited for giving confidence to the young music students. They were having lots of fun and interacting among themselves and with the audience which is what live performance is essentially about.

Sweet Concept, the most experienced act was the last to perform.  Their performance was a display that the UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music produces some of the best jazz artists including Feya Faku and Nduduzo Makhathini.  Theo Bophela who passed away this week also went to the same institution.

“Next year, which marks 30 years of the Jazz Jol, we hope the City of Ethekwini will come on board as one of the sponsors and probably choose a bigger venue even if it’s outside the university campus”, Thulile told Marabi Jazz Lounge.  Unfortunately, the performances made at the event are not recorded.  There’s not even a video recording.

Money generated through the sale of tickets for the Jazz Jol goes to funds for the Ronnie Madonsela Scholarship which provides bursaries for deserving students.  The scholarship covers everything from registration to tuition.  It also covers transportation to the Grahamstown Arts Festival and issuing of visas to the students that need to travel to festivals, workshops and conferences.

Some of the jazz cats that attended the event told Marabi Jazz Lounge that the Jazz Jol is very important for both the students and the music industry.  They believe that the exposure at the students’ level can lead to good careers as musicians once obtaining the qualification.

They said they are looking forward to next year’s event which they hope will leave good lasting memories.  One person even went to extent on saying the organisers of the event must have a huge media campaign with its own hashtag in the run up to the 30th Jazz Jol which must bring every jazz fan from Durban and beyond.