Hilton Schilder: Out of hospital, but not out of danger

With the loss of Cape jazz legend Robbie Jansen painfully fresh in music lover’s minds, better news is that multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder, is well enough to leave hospital for concerts that include shows with guitar maestro Steve Newman.

Article first appeared in the Argus Good Weekeend, weekend of 2010/07/31-08/01.

A rallying cry went up from the Cape jazz fraternity when multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder was hospitalised last month due to kidney cancer. Musicians, ranging from Schilder’s band-mates in the groundbreaking ’80s-band, The Genuines, to colleagues in the traditional jazz fraternity, assembled to perform benefit concerts. Adding to the urgency was the all too recent memory of the hospitalisation Hilton Schilder‘s father, Tony Schilder, himself an acclaimed pianist responsible for, amongst others, period hits like “Montreal” and “Mr Cool”, as well as the scare when Robbie Jansen, dubbed “The Cape Doctor”, collapsed in 2004. Ironically, although Jansen recovered and went on to record the impressive “Nomad Jêz” and to play the first of a series of benefit concerts for Schilder, he succumbed to a long battle with emphysema-related respiratory problems, and died on 7 July. Tony Schilder was discharged from hospital, but is bed-ridden and requires constant frail-care attention from his wife, Val.
Hilton Schilder continues to undergo treatment, but is sufficiently well to be have accepted bookings for some short performances, even as the benefit concert series continues. “I’m feeling a little bit better,” he says by telephone between rest breaks and hospital visits. “The thyroid has been treated, although it needs more, and I’m having a little operation in two months’ time when the kidney is coming out.” Even in the face of adversity, the twinkle in the eye is not gone from the man who was nicknamed “The Iconoclast” after his impressive Basel-based recording of the same name.
“I’m feeling very positive,” he says, “Knowing that there are many people in the music business and outside, caring for me, is a great privilege and it makes things lighter. I’m very positive about the operation, and I’ve been composing all the time that I could in hospital.” His mood is unquenchably upbeat and optimistic but, of course, saddens when it comes to the passing of Robbie Jansen. “He was a big part of my life; we played together for such a long time, in so many places, and now he’s gone.” He pauses, in part to rest and gather energy; in part with the sadness of the realisation. “I’m starting to miss him now, thinking that we will never play together again.”
Two key figures in organising the raft of benefit concerts for Schilder, and in setting up a benefit trust for the musician and composer, are Michael Wentworth and Jai Reddy. The latter has worked for over two decades on stage and recording productions with Abdullah Ibrahim, Zim Ngqawana, Khaya Mahlangu and various US-based artists, as well as shows and productions for both Schilder and Jansen. “What happened to Robbie really just magnifies Hilton’s situation, especially with his dad, Tony, being dead for a while now. I’ve been involved in benefit concerts before – this must be the 17th or 18th that I’m doing over the years – and it’s about dignity. We know the standard of the musicians that we are dealing with – whether it is Robbie Jansen or Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee or Hilton Schilder – and, after everything they have given to us with the music, they shouldn’t be faced with having to beg for money to pay medical bills.”
“Hilton is holding up very well; sometimes it’s even difficult to see that he’s ill, on the good days, but there are also the bad days, where the energy levels are just low,”continues Reddy. “But he’s a positive character and his spirits are up and he’s convinced that things are going to be okay, and he’s a sensitive soul who really draws from the fact that so many people are concerned for him.  He’s been sitting at home between the hospital visits and getting cabin fever and he asked the doctors if he can play. They’ve said that if he’s got the strength, it’s okay, so he’s looking at playing a set or half a set with Errol Dyers and Steve Newman this weekend, and doing a show at the Fugard Theatre on the 8th of August, it’s a kind of cabaret, with maybe some solo pieces.”
The inimitable trio of Dyers, Newman and Schilder is a project that was birthed just a year ago, after the trio were booked for tribute gigs around Mandela Day. Steve Newman, back home from a sell-out run at Grahamstown and street-shows in Sandton as part of Johannesburg’s FIFA festivals, explains: “It started at this festival at Mandela Rhodes Place, with Jimmy Dludlu and all the big guns playing outdoors, and us booked inside. I’ve jammed with Errol for years and years now, and I’ve always played with Hilton. They’re amazing musicians; so easy to play with. When I did my set, I called them up and it was just great – I didn’t even know that Errol played flute and harmonica. It worked so well that we started booking our famous ‘short notice’ gigs at The Melting Pot or The Biscuit Mill, and we recorded the album. We’re itching to play all the time – and we played one FIFA gig in Joburg – but it’s difficult getting out of the Cape because none of us have transport, and it’s a bit expensive to get on a plane with all the gear! At the moment, it’s just Cape gigs, but we’re looking at the coast and Joburg. And Durban – Errol’s dad lives there, and I’m sure he’d love to hear what we’re doing.”
“Hilton is a sensitive soul,” says Reddy, “He reacts to all the positive energy, and it’s one of the things keeping him upbeat. For now, his annual projects on the European circuit have been postponed until the complications are sorted out, but he is composing prolifically at the moment, so there are a few albums in the wings when he gets better.  He is also looking at starting a developmental trust. When you are faced with questions like looking at your own mortality, you think about leaving a legacy that is more than just compositions and the music you have recorded. We’ll be looking at that now, as well as hosting the Benefit events.”
 “It’s true I’ve been composing,” says Schilder during the short conversation. “In hospital, lying awake one night a while song came to me, called ‘Rebirth’, which I wrote on the keyboard and when I could get to a piano, I played it there, and now I’ve already moved onto ‘Part 4’ of it. I want to thank everybody, especially Jai, who has given so much love and peace and light – I can feel their prayers and the things that are being done for me. I’m painting and writing and drawing and I’m very positive – I know this operation will go well.”
How you can help
  • For financial contributions to the Hilton Schilder Benefit Trust, deposits can be made to Brink & Thomas Attorneys Trust, ABSA (Branch: 632005; Account: 4070310853; Swift code: ABSAZAJJ) – please use reference “Schilder benefit” and your name.
  • To assist Tony Schilder, contact the Western Cape Musician’s Association at http://www.WCMA.co.za or +27(0)21-4217643 or +27(0)73-3990244.
  • Contributions to the Western Cape Musicians Association “Legends Benevolent fund”, which was set up to benefit all Western Cape musicians and has covered a portion of the ongoing medical and frail-care costs of Tony Schilder (now 73), can be made to First National Bank; Branch: Thibault, Branch code: 202509, Account name: Western Cape Musicians Association  Benevolent Fund, Account number: 62166099591.
  • Additional events as part of the Hilton Schilder Benefit Trust will be announced onwww.facebook.com: search for “Hilton Schilder Benefit”.
Article first appeared in the Argus Good Weekeend, weekend of 2010/07/31-08/01.