Joe McBride: Jazz on the Rocks, and beyond

Jazz On The Rocks returns, with a seaside stage, a weekend of family camping and jazz-drenched nights and days – as well as renowned international jazz pianist and singer, Joe McBride.

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/02/19

Joe McBride: Jazz on the Rocks, and beyond

The annual Jazz On The Rocks festival is described as “all about families, camping, braaing, natural beauty, night skies filled with stars… and jazz” and “casual and chilled with a harmony between people and nature that’s seldom seen”. Now in its second year, the festival was started by Heart FM DJ Clarence Ford, co-founder of the erstwhile Manenberg’s jazz clubs, and first held at Oudekraal. For 2012, Jazz On The Rocks moves to Tietiesbaai, inside the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve and, quite literally, “on the rocks” on a stage suspended above the water. The specially constructed platform is to be secured without bolting anything into the rock, in keeping with the show’s environmental sub-theme.
“What?” exclaims Joe McBride by telephone from American headquarters, “No-one told me that?” He’s joking about the fact that the stage he’ll soon be on is literally “on the rocks”. McBride is no stranger to Cape Town, and to Cape audiences – he first toured here as part of the 1999 Jazzathon line-up. “Don’t worry, I’ve been to lots of dangerous places, and all I’m looking forward to is being back in South Africa and interacting with the people there, and meeting the musicians and friends I’ve met over the years.”
McBride comes with an impressive pedigree – in addition to sharing stages with the likes of Grover Washington JR, Kirk Whalum, Larry Carlton and Philip Bailey, he featured on a compilation album called “Smooth Africa”, a project in conjunction with America’s Heads Up International and South Africa’s Sheer Sound that sought to expose local jazz musicians to a wider international audience.
“There were two goals to ‘Smooth Africa’, volumes I and II,” McBride explains. “Firstly, to mingle the smooth artists of the United States and other places with South African musicians. Secondly, it was to give South African musicians more of a global platform, and I think it achieved that; giving musicians from different countries a chance to play together.”
Also joining McBride at Jazz On The Rocks is acclaimed touring saxophonist Andrew Young (UK). Local talent includes popular-jazz bands N2 and Airborne, SAMA winners and nominees Claire Phillips and Allou April. stalwarts Richard Caesar and Vernon Castle, ever-popular bassist Sammy Webber and showman Alistair Izobel and also Cape jazz guitarist Alvin Dyers and his jazz project, as well as keyboardist and producer Camillo Lombard’s “Tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes” and relocated Paraguayan Ernesto Latino’s “Latin Kings”. Heart FM DJ Brandon Leigh will anchor the event.
“It’s real exciting to be coming back,” says McBride, with enthusiasm evident in his voice. “The opportunity to play with South African musicians again, and to meet the Airborne group – that’s something I’m looking forward to. I’ve sent my music ahead of time, and I’m flying in early next week to do rehearsals with them. Then we’ll share the songs people know, and maybe a few surprises, with audiences over there.”
Back home in Dallas, Texas, McBride formed various ensembles, including the Texas Rhythm Club, an outfit created, in part, following the success of “Smooth Africa”. In fact, a South African element is in evidence on compositions like “Howzit in Dallas?” and “Yebo!”. “I tried to show the variety of musical talent in Texas,” he says. “People think of New York City or Los Angeles or London, but the talent in Texas – particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area – is truly world-class. Just like you have world talent across in Africa too. Everything we do in life influences us in some way or other, and writing music is all about capturing that.”
An interesting occurrence in interviewing jazz artists from the United States, the birthplace of the art-form, is learning that Stateside musicians face problems not dissimilar from local concerns. Times can be lean for a smooth jazz man like McBride, he admits. “The problems with the economy have really taken a chunk out of the music business in the USA and elsewhere. The advent of digital technology and downloads has also taken a bit out of musicians’ revenues and our way of life. I don’t know if the record label business will ever really recover from that. With the economy being slow, that affects where people can spend money listening to artists or buying music, but I think it’s been picking up.”
“That’s another influence,” he says. “It’s a way for us, as composers, to let people know, and to share with people that we feel the same way. Music, for a lot of people, is the solace. There’s the comfort of knowing that you’re not experiencing life all alone.”
Jazz On The Rocks aims to provide the solace of music, and of nature. The music ends each night at midnight “leaving the rest of the evening to enjoy the night sounds and watch a sky that is breathtaking”. There are also walking trails guided by a Park Ranger, and both lifesavers and jet-ski patrols to ensure safe swimming. Happily, the inaugural concert was a success of another sort: “Last year we also involved ‘Too Precious To Pollute’,” says Ford about the Western Cape’s anti-litter campaign, “After three days of partying there was not a bottle, can or crisp-packet to be seen.”
Jazz On The Rocks is from Friday 2 to Sunday 4 March at Tietiesbaai on the West Coast outside Cape Town. Day passes cost R165; details of a Saturday bus-service from Grand West to Tietiesbaai (R125), along with full programme details, can be found on http://www.JazzOnTheRocks.net.
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/02/19
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