Shane Cooper: Standard Bank Award winner for Jazz, plus ‘Card on Spokes’

Jazz bassist and Card On Spoke founder Shane Cooper is the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist award winner for jazz. The win means he’s recorded a new jazz album and will play the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, even as he keeps pushing electronic music – and hosting Cape Town’s first Ableton Live group.

Shane Cooper, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, on the cover of the National Arts Festival programme. Supplied (National Arts Festival)

Shane Cooper, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, on the cover of the National Arts Festival programme.
Supplied (National Arts Festival)

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/05/12.

27-year-old Shane Cooper is on a buzz after finalising the recording of his debut solo jazz album last week, although there hasn’t been much time for it to sink in: immediately after the recording, he went into the studio again to lay down bass tracks for globe-trotting Cape Town vocalist Melanie Scholtz (the 2010 winner of the dames Standard Bank Young Artist Award), presented a talk to the inaugural meeting of the Cape Town chapter of an Ableton Live group, played a Card On Spokes set at the debut “Seafood“, and continued to prepare for the Swiss collaboration he will also be playing in at the National Arts Festival.

“I was totally taken aback when I got the call to say that I had won this year’s award,” Shane Cooper says. “I don’t even know what’s involved in the process, and who makes the decisions, and I have never made music to try and win anything like a South African Music Award or anything else. I was shocked and then, of course, when it sank in, truly honoured. As corny as it sounds, I just love that I get to make a living from playing music. The Standard Bank award is just a great bonus added to that.”

‘I wanted a body of work that came out of a similar headspace’

– Shane Cooper on 2013 jazz album, produced by Carlo Mombelli

As part of his year as the nominated Young Artist for Jazz, Cooper must present two performances at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, and received funding to complete his album.

“The album is a ten track CD: three tunes that I’ve written over the last few years – this was a chance to put them down and get closure – and then songs I have written since the beginning of the year,” Cooper says. “I wanted a body of work that came out of a similar headspace, and I wrote the songs with this band in mind.”

It features pianist Bokani Dyer and drummer Kesivan Naidoo, both previous Cape-based recipients of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, guitarist Reza Khota, tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells and young alto saxophone talent Justin Bellairs, with production by Johannesburg-based bass maestro Carlo Mombelli.

“The jazz community in Cape Town is very strong,” says Cooper. “At the moment, there’s a host of great young players who’re coming up too – and they’re writing their own music too, not just playing standards and covers. Justin is one of those, a really hot player who has featured with bands like Babu, and Kesivan and The Lights, but is still new to the scene because he’s only about twenty! Venues like The Mahogany Room are a huge help – somewhere where people can play their own music and an audience will actually listen. Then there’s The Crypt that’s just opened, and Tagore’s in Observatory. That makes three functioning jazz venues in the city, and that’s better than we’ve had in years.”

Cooper’s efforts take on an international bent too, when he performs with Swiss saxophonist Marc Stucki and trombonist Andreas Tschopp at the National Arts Festival. Both are members of the Jazz Werkstatt in Bern, Switzerland, an annual festival of music curated by young musicians from that city, and will tour South Africa and Swaziland with Cooper. After the jazz extravaganzas, though, it is back to electronic music for Cooper, and Card On Spokes.

Shane Cooper, by Jonx Pillemer courtesty of Jonx Pillemer

Shane Cooper, by Jonx Pillemer courtesty of Jonx Pillemer

 ‘Both of those scenes are strong in their own right, but they seldom meet.’

– Shane Cooper on Cape Town’s jazz music, and the Cape Town’s electronic music

“It has taken a back seat for the last little while, while I’ve been focusing my energy on bass-playing and writing acoustic jazz music,” says Cooper. “All of my endeavours are in either the jazz or electronic music worlds and both of those scenes are strong in their own right, but they seldom meet. I’m not active in the rock or classical worlds, but I think they don’t meet much either. I think they could meet more often, but in an interesting way, not a ‘cut-and-paste’ kind of thing. I’m not sure how yet, but I would like to do a live Card On Spokes gig, getting my jazz and rock friends involved in that. For now, though, I’m just focusing on doing well in each world. In September or October there will be a new Card On Spokes EP, featuring Sakhile Moleshe (GoldfishSoul Housing Project) on vocals, and with a song with (jazz vocalist) Nicky Schrire.”

Although Cape Town claims this bright young musician now, he is loyal to his birth-town of Port Elizabeth. “Although music for me is not a competition, or something that’s about ‘which city is best’, you do feel a connection with people that are from where you were born,” says Cooper. “When (young double bass player) Romy Breuteseth came to study at the UCT College of Music, I was really proud. She came from the same school as me, Victoria Park High in P.E., and I gave her a bass lesson when she was, like, fourteen. Then there’s Siya Charles, a young trombonist who is also from P.E., and making waves. Whenever that happens, or I find out that someone who’s made it cakes from there, I feel a connection. You don’t have to leave to make a difference, and I’m just as proud of the people who are keeping jazz alive in Port Elizabeth, and making the scene happen there, even if it is a very background thing.”

The Shane Cooper Quintet plays on Friday 17 May at The Crypt (St George’s Cathedral, c/o Wale and Adderley Streets, 8pm, R45; bookings 079-6834658; details TheCryptJazz.com).

* After an unofficial launch at the National Arts Festival, Shane Cooper’s album will be launched at Cape Town’s Mahogany Room in late July.

* Shane Cooper (bass) plays with Jazz Werkstatt‘s Marc Stucki (saxophone) and Andreas Tschopp (trombone), and South Africa’s Kyle Shepherd (piano) and Kesvian Naidoo(drums) on 21/22 June (see ProHelvetia.org.za for details).

* “Seafood” is every second Sunday at Cold Turkey – https://www.facebook.com/ColdTurkeySA and http://twitter.com/ColdTurks

* More on ShaneCooperMusic.com and CardOnSpokes.com.

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/05/12.

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