Nelson Mandela called him “South Africa’s Mozart”, he was a member of the first jazz band in South Africa to record an album, and has Duke Ellington to thank for launching his international career – South African jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim makes a rare Bay Area appearance in a four-concert program at SFJAZZ this week.
With a background which combines American jazz, ‘township jive’, Cape Malay, gospel and classical music, Cape Town-born pianist and composer Ibrahim developed his own very distinctive musical style, and – along with one-time bandmate Hugh Masekela – is regarded as one of the greatest jazz artists to emerge from South Africa.
It was as a member of the Jazz Epistles – formed in 1959 with saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko – that Abdullah Ibrahim notched up the honor of recording the first jazz album by South African musicians.
In the early 1960s, whilst performing in Zurich, Ibrahim caught the eye of Duke Ellington, who became a mentor to the young pianist, helping him to secure a recording contract, and for whom Ibrahim substituted on a number of concert performances in 1965, leading Ellington’s orchestra. A career as an international jazz musician was inevitable, and has included the release of an amazing 50 albums, which includes solo performances, orchestral music and soundtracks.
At SFJAZZ this week, Abdullah Ibrahim will appear for two performances – playing solo, and appearing with one of his newest ensembles, the Japanese-inspired Mukashi Trio. Mukashi translates as “once upon a time” and, featuring Ibrahim on piano, with Cleave Guyton Jr – on alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and piccolo – and Noah Jackson on bass and cello, the trio is certainly set to tell San Francisco jazz lovers some stories.
The Mukashi Trio performs in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on April 28 and 29.
These performances are followed by two concerts in which Abdullah Ibrahim appears with his septet Ekaya, the original of which he formed in the early 1980s – with altoist Carlos Ward, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Ben Riley. Today’s Ekaya line-up features Ibrahim on piano, with Cleave Guyton Jr – on alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and piccolo – Bobby LaVell on tenor saxophone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, Andrae Murchison on trombone and trumpet, Noah Jackson on bass and cello and Will Terrill on drums.
“Each member of Ekaya,” says Downbeat, “solos with intelligence, taste, and understatement…” – say no more!
Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya appear in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on April 30 and May 1.
For more information on all of this week’s performances, and for tickets, visit www.sfjazz.org