After shows with the likes of Hugh Masekela and Harry Belafonte – and a jam with President Bill Clinton – saxophonist Morris Goldberg returns to South Africa for the National Arts Festival and Cape Town’s City Hall Sessions.
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 06/30
New York based composer, saxophonist, clarinetist, penny whistler and vocalist, Morris Goldberg played on Paul Simon’s pivotal “Graceland” album and on “Mannenberg (Is Where It’s Happening)”, the seminal Abdullah Ibrahim / Dollar Brand recording. He’s played private concerts for the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Mohammed Ali and studied at the Manhattan School of Music alongside Herbie Hancock, Yusef Lateef, Donald Byrd and Ron Carter. He has toured widely and frequently with South African icons like Hugh Masekela, Bayete and Sankomota, and played with US and UK greats like Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow and Phil Collins. Recent shows include private straight-ahead gigs with sought-after pianist John di Martino, New York’s Long Island Winter Festival with Randy Brecker and Lew Soloff and ongoing gigs with his own band, Ojoyo. He’s also had the rare distinction of playing with Bill Clinton. Now he returns to South Africa for concerts and workshops at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival and, in Cape Town, at the City Hall Sessions.
“I’m very excited to be coming there to get an infusion of soul, of being home in South Africa and absorbing the vibes,” say Goldberg by phone from New York where he composes, and also fronts his band, Ojoyo. “Years ago, I would play a bebop number and people here would say, ‘You play different from an American’. They were interested in where the music came from in the sense of sound and because of the country’s apartheid. One thing I’m happy about now, is that when we first played South African music over here, people had no clue. Now they’re more familiar with it – everybody knows Hugh Masekela in America, and there are many wonderful players from all over Africa – like Lionel Loueke – that are bringing in more new sounds. It is not so foreign here anymore.”
Goldberg was born in Observatory, Cape Town, and grew up listening to 78RPM Shellac LPs with the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie. His first performance was at the age of eight, playing harmonica at a Vic Davis show at the Sea Point Pavilion. Despite resistance from his parents about his interest in playing music professionally, he persevered and studied clarinet at the College of Music in Rondebosch with William Staniforth, where he also discovered Duke Ellington, bebop – and the saxophone. He rehearsed with his first band in Kuilsriver and, at age 17, met Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Sonny Pillay and Hugh Masekela, who introduced him – and Cape Town – to African jazz. With Chris McGregor he discovered the joys of a new music coming out of the American avant-garde, listening to Ornette Coleman.
Goldberg also coined the term “Safrojazz” to explain the sound he started composing after leaving South Africa and playing with other political and cultural exiles in New York in the 1970s. “What can I say – I trademarked the name but everybody uses it?” shrugs Goldberg. “It very accurately describes the music that I play. It has jazz influences along with African and South African influences. Where I grew up and learned to play is the wellspring of my music, even now. All the sounds that I heard then are in it, added to what I have experienced here in the States. For me, it’s still a very valid term.”
Then, of course, there’s the gig with the prez. “It was a private party; a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in the theatre district of New York and it just so happened that I had to play alto and tenor. He came up and introduced himself – I mean, of course you know who the president is, but he did,” relates Goldberg. “He is actually very interested in music: we had a ten minute chat about saxophone reeds and mouthpieces. He’s a very charismatic figure. I thought to myself, ‘This is so weird; I’m talking to to the president of the United States about reeds!’ People said to him, ‘Why don’t you play?’ so he took my tenor and I played alto and he played ‘My Funny Valentine’ for Hillary.” Goldberg pauses to let that sink in, and then adds with a grin, “He did well – if he practiced every day, he’d be good enough to get a job’.”
Goldberg has frequently returned to South Africa, playing the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown in 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999, and, in 2005, with his band, Ojoyo at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. 2012, though, sees him taking on an additional role. “I’ve been asked to do a workshop – one on my own and one with Ojoyo – where we’ll talk about techniques and practicing writing music in the Safrojazz vein. I’m looking forward to that – it’s good to give back and, hopefully, I’ll get to play with the students. I’m also really looking forward to just hearing the young musicians. I believe there’s a whole slew of them who’ve come up through various school programmes and that’s amazing for me. When I was a scholar, it was frowned upon to. To go to a music lesson was not encouraged and now music is there in the schools – and it’s jazz!”
* Morris Goldberg and Ojoyo play the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (Saturday 30 June at 7.30pm and Sunday 1 July at 5pm at the DSG Hall) with fellow South African emigres Bakithi Kumalo (bass), Rashid Lanie (piano) and Anton Fig (drums).
* On Thursday 4 July, Morris Goldberg is a featured artist for “The Bridge” as part of the Silent Revolution City Hall Sessions. He plays alongside Khaya Mahlangu, Errol Dyers and Zolani Mahola, directed by Kesivan Naidoo and Lee Thomson, and narrated by David Isaacs (Cape Town City Hall, Darling Street, 7.30pm, R80). The City Hall Session also feature Closet Snare, with guest vocalists Inge Beckmann (Lark), EJ von Lyrik (ex Godessa) and keyboardist Bokani Dyer (Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year), and the 12-piece City Hall Chamber String Ensemble; as well as sets by Joe Nina and MXO (Friday 6 July, R80-R120) and Madala Kunene and Caiphus Semenya (Saturday 7 July, R100 – R150). Tickets from Computicket.com and 0861 9158000 and Shoprite/Checkers. More onOjoyo.com and http://j.mp/NL79kn.This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 06/30