Jazz trumpeter, composer and flugelhorn player Marcus Wyatt returns from a residency in Basel to release his latest offering: an album honouring South African traditions and evidencing a rich thread of international cultural exchange.
Jazz trumpeter and flugelhorn player Marcus Wyatt was born in Port Elizabeth in 1971, survived his national service call-up by playing in the South African Naval Band, and went on to complete a music degree at Cape Town’s College of Music. A varied musical career followed, starting with late ’90s Cape bands like Kusasa and Truly Fully Hey Shoo Wow Band, stints with the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra and theatre, opera and classical gigs. Then came solo albums (“The Gathering“, “Africans In Space“) before he relocated to Johannesburg and co-founded Voice Quintet Legacy, a group whose raison d’etre was the exploration of an often-ignored South African jazz heritage. Now, he returns with “One Life In The Sun“, an album of songs composed in the once-destroyed suburb of Sophiatown, and recorded in Basel, Switzerland.
“I had been to Basel a few times, and played in the Bird’s Eye club there, where a man called Veit Arlt hosts South African bands,” says Wyatt. “He also co-ordinates Basel’s Centre for African Studies and, apart from being one of the nicest human beings I have met, he has been keeping South African jazz alive and well over there.” The club has seen performances from Cape Townians like Hilton Schilder (producing an album, “The Iconoclast“), drummer Kesivan Naidoo and the late Alex van Heerden, as well as the late saxophonist and composer Zim Ngqawana (resulting in another recorded gem, “Live at Bird’s Eye, 2008“).
“It was nice to experience that level of respect as an artist, even if it was just once, coming from here…”
“Last year, I was invited to a residency for a month,” says Wyatt. “They’ve built a new place for musicians, an amazing spot that was an old factory, now converted into housing for musicians, with a daycare centre, a restaurant and a recording studio. Every apartment is pretty amazing, with a sound-proofed practice room, and musicians pay rent according to what they earn. It was nice to experience that level of respect as an artist, even if it was just once, coming from here… But it was tight, with fifteen gigs and four different projects in that month.”
One of Wyatt’s four projects was the Blue Note Tribute, reprising the music of South African ’60s and ’70s exiles Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor and Johnny Dyani. Another was a quartet that started when he met Swiss tenor saxophonist Domenic Landolf at the South African National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. “I love his playing; he is one of my favourite tenors,” says Wyatt. The quartet was completed with the drummer from that same project, Dominic Igli, and Swiss upright bassist Baenz Oester.
“I’m quite fussy when it comes to piano players because there aren’t too many that really nail what I’m hearing in my head,”
“For my new album, I had in mind a quartet with two horns, and no chordal instruments like piano or guitar,” says Wyatt. “I’m quite fussy when it comes to piano players because there aren’t too many – when it comes to comping behind the soloist – that really nail what I’m hearing in my head. There are a lot of good piano players, but they tend to impose harmonies that I didn’t intend. Playing without that; it frees you up to a different sound. Maybe not necessarily the most user-friendly a sound, but one I wanted to explore, especially with players that have a sensibility to South African jazz. I was really happy when I was sitting last week with Mthunzi Mvubu (guest alto saxophonist at the Johannesburg launch). We got to the second or third track and he said, ‘Hey, man – there is no piano!’ He hadn’t noticed until then.”
2013 continues as a busy year for Wyatt, although with only a few performances on home soil. He will conduct the annual incarnation of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band at the National Arts Festival at Grahamstown in June and July (“I’m going to subject them to me, and probably some of my music,” he quips). The festival also sees him working with classical pianist Jill Richards and Spanish sound-designer and composer Francisco Lopez (“One of the more avant-garde classical things there’ll be,” says Wyatt). “I wish it could be more in South Africa,” says Wyatt, “But these European gigs are literally keeping me alive – and they keep me inspired.”
Language12, ‘Big Time with Braka’, “One Life In The Sun“, Carine Bonnefoy, Blue Notes Tribute
Wherever he is, Wyatt’s projects involve the sounds of South Africa. In July, his Language12 band plays the Paris Jazz Festival. September is Paris again, with Wyatt playing in “Big Time With Braka“, the culmination of a two-year collaboration of innovation and skills-exchange between French musicians and South African youth musicians – and featuring the Cape Town’s own Delft Big Band. October sees “One Life In The Sun” launched in Switzerland, as well as gigs with French jazz pianist and composer Carine Bonnefoy, the European corollary to her shows with Wyatt at the 2012 National Arts Festival. November promises Swiss shows for the Blue Notes Tribute. In August, if he can, Wyatt says he’s “thinking of a trip to Kenya – I’d love to go there, and hang out for a couple of weeks, and play with some musicians there.”
“‘One Life In The Sun‘ is quite a personal album,” concludes Wyatt. “It was a rough twelve months for me, and a lot of that is evidenced in the music – and it’s always nice that, as creative types, we have an outlet in music. But it’s also a celebration. I wasn’t the happiest of people when I was in Switzerland, for personal reasons, and this phrase was floating around in my head. ‘One Life In The Sun’. We South Africans love to complain, but we live in this beautiful, amazing space. We should make the most of it, and I don’t think I’ve always done that…”
Read full details of the Marcus Wyatt Cape Town launch here, or precis below:
Marcus Wyatt launches “One Life In The Sun” with live performances by Cape Town’s Buddy Wells (tenor saxophone) and Romy Brauteseth (upright bass) and Johannesburg’s Justin Badenhorst (drums), and special guests (Wednesday, 24 April at the Old Slave Church, 40 Long Street, Cape Town, 7.30pm, R100, pre-booking on 083-4560909).