Big band jazz: Trinity swings it in Cape Town

Every major city has its legendary jazz clubs, but Cape Town recently lost the musical landmark that was the Green Dolphin. Happily, the Trinity super-club now offers a dinner jazz programme – and a weekly slot for Big Band jazz in the New York style.

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 04 – 05 June 2011.

Big band jazz: Trinity swings it in Cape Town - Gavin Minter

Music-man Gavin Minter wears many hats in the jazz fraternity: he is a vocalist (recall the hits “My Cheri Amour” and “If We Had The Time”), a percussionist with frequent live and studio duties, and a master of the cajon (a Latin-American percussive box with a tray of bells). On occasion, he still picks up the saxophone that saw him rise to fame when he was fronting the ’90s fusion outfit Wired To The Floor and the acid-jazz group Jacidazz. Added to all this on-stage work, is his work behind the scenes as a conceptualiser and booker for jazz events and musicians. He worked as the entertainment manager for the sadly departed Green Dolphin jazz restaurant for over a decade, and knows first-hand the contribution of such a venue to the cultural life of the city – and the impact of its demise. Fortunately, though, the Mother’s City latest superclub, Trinity, has stepped up to the plate. They’re doing it in grand style, with everything from dinner-jazz trios to a weekly extravaganza of big band music, just like the “Big Band Mondays” sweeping capitals from New York to Chicago.

“The ‘Big Band Mondays’ are a format that was started in America in the ’50s,” explains Minter. “I’d heard about it in New York, and thought that it was something that was just happening there, at places like the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard. But it turns out to be something that runs from New York right up to Chicago, and the same sort of tradition is echoed across the continental jazz scene. It’s a great jazz format, with a traditional big band with four trombones, four trumpets and five saxophones. Ironically, when we first conceptualised the idea for Trinity, we were thinking about hosting it on a Sunday, but we found we couldn’t get the players – this one has a little slot somewhere, that one is doing a wedding, or whatever. That’s why, around the world, it’s a Monday thing, and now we have that in Cape Town too.”

Given that Trinity is three floors of “function venue experience”, it’s hardly surprising that they are kicking off the series in style. South African jazz diva Judith Sephuma – who has won five South African Music Awards, two Metro Awards and two KORA All Africa Music Awards – will grace the stage to front a full eighteen-piece jazz big band put together by Professor Mike Campbell.

“Judith is the biggest name in female jazz vocals in South Africa,” says Minter, “Even better, is that she’s done this format before with Mike – she cut her teeth as a vocalist on this music in the UCT Big Band when she was studying here. As for Mike, I firmly believe that there is no better big band writer and conductor in this country. He has written for pretty much everything that ended up as a big band chart and it wouldn’t be wrong to call him the father of big band in South Africa – except that, actually, he’s following in the footsteps of his father, Colin, who used to lead big bands before him.”

In addition to the “Monday Big Band” in the larger hall at the three-storey club, Trinity now also offers dinner jazz during the week. Although Cape Town still boasts regular jazz jam sessions at stalwart clubs like Swingers (Wetton), Tagore’s (Observatory) and West End (Landsdowne), and there’s a nascent resurgence of township jazz events (like Black Arts Production’s “Jazz It Up” in Gugulethu), the gap left by the closing of the Green Dolphin is still keenly felt, and this new venue goes some way towards plugging the gap.

“I’m at the forefront of hearing all the requests from the musicians for places to play,” says Minter. “People are always asking about gigs and it made me realise how important the Green Dolphin was for so many musicians. They cut their teeth on that stage, and it was an incubator for so many things. It fed the country’s jazz festivals, it fed people’s careers, it fed a stream of international players who came to our shores and it fed a way for sponsors to get involved with arts and culture and music. We had the Johnnie Walker ‘Jazz Impressions’ sessions, which also had a range of CDs, we had the Chivas Regal ‘New Jazz Talent’ showcase, we had things like the Oude Meester ‘Winter Theatre’ with gems like the Billie Holiday tribute. It was also more than just jazz, with the Levi’s ‘Vintage Sundays’ showcasing rock, pop and folk in an acoustic format, and the Windhoek Lager ‘Defrost’ session hosting R’nB. When a place like that closes, it leaves a gap, and Andrew Lilley phrased it so well when he spoke at the Dolphin’s closing jam and said how important the place was, not just as a place for musicians to get revenue from a gig, but as a place for jazz players to express themselves.”

Gavin Minter sings the American Songbook, new big band arrangements by the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra’s Goran Strandberg and material from his SAMA-nominted album “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Monday 20 June) and debuts a new septet featuring guest saxophonist Buddy Wells and with arrangements by Goran Strandberg (Saturday 11 June). Judith Sephuma performs for one night only at the Trinity “Big Band Mondays” with the eighteen-piece Mike Campbell Big Band on Monday 6 June (Trinity Funktion Room, 8pm to 10.30pm, R80 pre-booked or R100 door; 15 Bennett St, Green Point,  021-4180624). Future “Big Band Mondays” include a tribute to Count Basie (Monday 13 June) and percussionist John Hassan featured in a tribute to the great Latin Jazz composers like Tito Puente and Antonio Carlos Jobim (Monday 27 June).

* For dinner jazz, the Trinity Grill Room features a full menu of dinner jazz featuring including acclaimed vocalist Amanda Tiffin (Wednesday 8 June, Friday 17 June), swing-master Andrew Ford (Friday 10 June),  bebop piano doctor Andrew Lilley (Wednesday 15 June), the award-winning Bokani Dyer (Wednesday 22 June) and Richard Ceasar (Saturday 25 June, Wednesday 29 June). The bands in the Grill Room play from 7.30 to 10.30pm, with no cover charge. More on

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 04 – 05 June 2011. Find out more on