Keeping jazz music alive

All proceeds of the memorobilia book Jazz Epistles: The Living Legends will be donated to foundations founded by Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and Dr. Jonas Gwangwa. Below are more details on these foundations.

Abdullah Ibrahim has for a long time conceived of an academy to train and develop young people in music, and the spiritual and life skills that will empower them to have an impact of South African society and beyond. The Abdullah Ibrahim Academy is a unique attempt to recreate these opportunities for learning and growth.

The Academy will induct a small number of gifted young people of school leaving age, and put them through an intensive musical and life-preparation process to ready them for further learning and development in their chosen field. They will enjoy a rigorous musical education, and they will also learn about history, philosophy, spirituality and physical discipline. This will be a profound, holistic preparation for life as a musician, and as a creative and positive force within their communities, and society as a whole.

The Abdullah Ibrahim Academy, launched in due to launch in December 2016, sets out to offer a transformative educational experience that will have a lasting impact on the lives of young people, and hopefully through them, on our society as a whole.


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The Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation has been created to preserve and promote African Heritage. Africa faces post-independence challenges that require creative solutions. To develop these, the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation has been founded by Hugh to preserve African Identity through the creation of cultural information facilities, the support and incubation of heritage arts, and the dissemination of this information and cultural inheritance throughout the African Diaspora and the world.

The Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation aims to re-introduce elements of heritage into the lives of African communities, by way of entertainment and heritage education. The Foundation works to achieve this through the nurturing and growing of a body of work which pays tribute to our African heritage through support of South African productions of music, theatre and film, as well as establishments such as museums and archives.

With a focus on history, language, arts, culture, the archives of memory of the aged and the growth potential of SMEs and youth, the Foundation endeavours to harness the gifts of our inherited knowledge and help to spread it far and wide without abandoning all that modern technology and Western civilization has to offer. This is an imperative legacy to safeguard for present and future generations. When future generations are requested to define themselves we do not want them to say: “They say we used to be Africans very, very long ago.”

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“Amandla” is a musical which tells the story of the most turbulent time in South African history and the consequent threat to culture. It was developed, directed and produced by the multi award winning and well respected musician and cultural custodian, Dr. Jonas Gwangwa. It is the tale of the torrid journey of the black majority of South Africa, interpreted through live performance – music, dance, the spoken word, poetry and song.


When world renowned musician Dr Jonas Gwangwa found himself face to face with Political Icon Oliver Tambo, summoned to create a production about South Africa’s struggle for freedom, how significant his work would become in the liberation movement, was one of the last considerations on his list. Amandla Cultural Ensemble is the name he gave to the group of musicians he spent nine months working with in the military camps of the ANC’s Angola base.

The Amandla Cultural Ensemble was such a mechanism for change. A tool to awaken the world to the reality of the Apartheid genocide. There has been no other production of its nature: with such exhilarating engaging music and dance, telling the truths of our history so effectively, soliciting support the world over, in one entity. The production travelled the world for 10 years mobilising support from non-profit organisations, and civil rights activists from over 50 countries.

JM Amandla

For more information, contact us directly or request the book Jazz Epistles: The Living Legends


The Top 5 Jazz Music Experiences in Joburg

Kohinoor Music store

The oldest and most iconic record shop in the city. A family business founded by Oom Rashid Valley, music producer and promoter said to be responsible for bringing Dollar Brand (featured in the book: Jazz Epistles The Living History )to Johannesburg in the late 1950s, and spreading the jazz love for generations, this store deserves heritage status.

This little record store was established in 1950 and until recently shared space in an inner city building with a major furniture shop. Kohinoor has since moved to smaller premises, but that’s not to say that this unique place isn’s still a veritable treasure trove for discerning jazz music collectors. The collection of rare and unusual albums is fantastic. While they have CDs, DVDs, LPs, and cassettes covering all music genres Kohinoor specialises in jazz and African music such as Afro-pop and kwaito. The store sells CDs, LPs and DVDs. With over 40 years’ experience in the industry, you are assured of the best service. You will find the records of artists such as Abdullah Ibrahim and Kippie Moketsie, among scores of others.


Back O’ the Moon

The original Back O’ the Moon was a famous Shebeen in the 1950s, in Sophiatown. It was a special place where rich and poor, the elite and the ordinary folk alike would meet in their Sunday best and enjoy legendary music and great food.

The Back O’ the Moon Restaurant & Bar at Gold Reef City is a contemporary, jazz-inspired restaurant that welcomes those who appreciate the finer things in life.

Also featuring the Moon Light Lounge, a chic cognac and cigar bar, guests can enjoy a dining experience with an exquisite menu that features seafood, poultry, flame grills and aged steaks, a range of signature dishes and decadent desserts. This coupled with impeccable service and great live entertainment in a lavish, contemporary setting makes for a truly memorable experience.

Booking is essential


Marabi is the name for the urban culture that emerged from the slum yards of 1920s and 1930s in Johannesburg, a city that sprung to life in the late 1800s on the back of one of the world’s richest gold rushes. The historic area in which The Marabi Club is located, Doornfontein, now incorporated in Maboneng is the original home of Marabi.

While New York experienced the Harlem Rennaisance during that era, a cultural movement that nurtured an exciting new black identity based on a flourishing intellecual movement and an outpouring of artistic, literary and musical talent, the life of Doornfontein’s urban community was being shaped by the disruptive and original sounds of jazz at the shebeens that became central to community life for the city’s black working class. Marabi – the name is thought by some to have been derived from Marabastad, a township in Pretoria – became a lifestyle that started when work was done on Friday and ended on Sundays in time for the grind of the following week to begin. It represented an escape from the hardships of city life.

The Marabi Club’s interiors conjure the 1920s and 1930s in Johannesburg, a rough luxury evoked by a combination of facebrick walls, art-deco furniture, reclaimed wooden window frames behind which historical images tell the story of the urban metropolis. A low stage means the music is very much a part of your meal with tables placed right up to its edge. Warm lighting suffuses the bar and stage giving the space an intimate glow.


Sophiatown The Mix

Sophiatown was the home of jazz during the struggle and its streets were filled with dancing to the sound of trumpets and guitars. Today, that spirit is being brought back to life at the Mix, a community and creative hub added on to the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre. The music sounds so much sweeter if you know its rich history, request a copy of Jazz Epistles The Living History for an informative recollection of influential jazz artists in South African history. Also look up about Kofifi, Sophiatown’s other name, and go watch a show at the Mix. They have an active calendar with events happening each month to commemorate or celebrate jazz music talent.

This heritage centre in the historic neighbourhood of Sophiatown, the 1950’s home of South Africa’s Drum generation of artists, poets and musicians, also serves as an intimate jazz concert venue with Sophiatown Jazz Encounters usually taking place on the last Friday of each month and regularly starring some of the leading names in jazz in Johannesburg.

Guests are invited to bring their own drinks and snacks to the concert. The centre will provide glasses and ice. See the website for details on the latest events. Email or call +27 83 550 7130 or +27 11 447 3490 to book. Tickets cost R120 at the door, advanced bookings R110.

Here is a link to their next event called Icons of SA Jazz in Sophiatown: Mama Dorothy Masuka.



One of the hottest jazz spots in town, The Orbit has shipped its roots from Troyville to Braamfontein in an attempt to pair one of the best music genres with mouth watering cuisine within the confines of the city itself. From improv bebop to smooth styled music, the Orbit boasts it all.

The small Jazz Social Club was established in Troyeville, Johannesburg, in the early 2000’s by Aymeric Péguillan and 3 other partners. Peg’s Cosy Corner, as the venue was called, presented an intimate environment where musicians and jazz aficionados would hang around to listen to occasional live music and recordings till late at night around a drink.

Twelve years later, a venue is reborn in Braamfontein, a booming and dynamic part of town, where Péguillan and his 2 partners, Dan Sermand & Kevin Naidoo, developed a concept that would lead the way in offering the best possible creative expression platform for jazz musicians in Johannesburg. After months of intense brainstorming, consultations with musicians and negotiations with stakeholders around the nature of the new venture, The Orbit, a Live Music venue and Bistro, finally came to life.


Did we forget one of your favourite Jazz experience spots in Johannesburg? Feel free to drop a comment or mail us with your suggestions.


Jazz Music: The Greats

To read the profiles of influential South African jazz musicians, request a copy of
Jazz Epistles The Living History. Below lists the five musicians who shaped the world of bebop and jazz from its onset.
Coleman Hawkins

The tenor saxophone is iconic of bebop and jazz music in general; and there is one person accountable for this: Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins innovation in swing and big band music was vital in the development of bebop in the mid 1940s. His contribution to the saxophone made the careers of people like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon possible. Hawkins’ original recording of “Body and Soul” in 1939 is considered a standard to which all tenor saxophonists set themselves. People like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Max Roach can essentially attribute their successful careers to their early work with the “Hawk.” His ability to improvise led him to cover completely new ground, previously untouched by his contemporaries; it is because of this that the tenor sax is now such an important improvisational element of jazz music.

Benny Goodman

Few can match the swingin’ sounds of Goodman’s Big Band. Benny Goodman, known as the “King of Swing,” led one of the most popular bands of the early 20th century. His 1938 concert at Carnegie hall is considered to be one of the most important live shows in American music history, as it showcased jazz’ coming to prominence as a respectable art form. Despite being a major player of big-band swing music, Goodman also helped the advancement of be-bop. Having a one of the first racially-integrated music groups and being a strong opposer of Jim Crow Laws, Goodman promoted racial-equality by not touring the Southern States. Goodman was both an important influence in popular and jazz music, as well as a prominent Civil Rights activist.

Miles Davis

One of the central figures of jazz in the 20th century, Miles Davis was at the forefront of multiple musical developments and the emergence of a plenitude of styles. He spearheaded the emergence of be-bop, hard bop, cool jazz, free jazz, fusion, funk and techno music. Keeping ahead of the game and consistently reinventing his musical style, the various lineups of his band, all of which were very successful, were always full of young brilliant players. Because of his success, many other artists were propelled to high levels of fame. Some of the famous jazz artists who owe their success to Miles include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, J.J. Johnson, Cannonball Adderley, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. Davis received various rewards in his lifetime, including eight Grammy Awards and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Miles Davis was one of the best, most innovative, popular and influential musicians of the 20th Century.

Charlie Parker

When one thinks of jazz, they think “Charlie Parker.” Known simply as “Bird,” Charlie Parker was a pioneering jazz alto-saxophone player, bebop musician and composer. His fast, virtuosic playing, clean tone, and improvisational abilities greatly influenced other musicians at the time. His innovation in writing songs, using complex chord progressions and revolutionary harmonic form, changed the standards for composition and greatly influenced other jazz artists. Parker helped to contribute to the hipster persona associated with jazz, as well as the idea that jazz musicians were artists and intellectuals rather than simply entertainers. At the time a huge amount of other artists tried to copy Parker’s style, and often his solos and licks exactly. His influence is seen in almost every other contemporary musician and renowned jazz composer, many of whom named some choice standards after the “Bird.”

Duke Ellington


Duke Ellington was a hugely popular pianist, composer and big-band leader. He was one of the most important band leaders in music. Although known for his pioneering in jazz, Ellington also excelled in a variety of other genres, including gospel, blues, classical, popular and soundtrack. Because of his charisma and inventive use of his orchestra, Ellington is essentially responsible for making jazz an art form, similar to classical music. He received a large variety of awards and honors including 13 Grammy awards, a Pulitzer prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a NAACP Spingarn Medal and Commemorative U.S. quarter to name a few. A considerable amount of musicians have been inspired by the “Duke,” including: Thelonius Monk, Sonny Stitt, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines and Joe Pass, as Ellington has proved to be one of the most important figures in jazz and music in general.

Louis Armstrong

Arguably one of the most important figures in American history, Louis Armstong, known as “Satchmo” or “Pops” was an incredibly influential jazz trumpet player and singer from New Orleans. He is recognized as one of the greatest musicians of all time having a major role in the creation of modern jazz. With his virtuosic abilities on the trumpet, he is largely accountable for the recognition of the trumpet as a solo instrument in jazz music. He is also one of the first scat singers and is responsible for its popularization. His singing influenced people like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, while his trumpet playing inspired the likes of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. His influence on music as a whole is almost immeasurable, both in terms of his singing and trumpet playing which have earned him a variety of honors and awards.


Jazz in Exile

Jazz was a popular medium of expression that challenged the apartheid system during the 1950s and 1960s. At music venues in the “affluent white Johannesburg suburbs of Park Town and Houghton daughters of wealthy Jewish families hosted African musicians, often providing a relaxed friendly atmosphere in which integrated groups could ‘jam’ together.

In this milieu of social ambiguity and underground revolt even interracial love affairs where not unheard of despite the fact that under strict South Africa’s sex laws stiff penalties are laid down against all black and white “shenanigans”. The subsequent closure of these venues dispersed artists to various parts of South Africa and across its borders. Some of these artists were white who were ANC sympathisers whilst some were merely seeking to avoid conscription into the army.

Jazz was “exiled” by virtue of the government’s harsh repressive laws that shut down venues were large gatherings of people of colour were prohibited. Jazz musicians were faced with a choice – to leave South Africa or to remain. Some musicians defected in 1961 by using the opportunity that opened up with the King Kong musical tour to London such as Jonas Gwangwa pictured below.

JM Jonas Gwangwa

The musicians who practiced jazz as an art form shared in a common purpose – a common sense of disenfranchisement and common struggle against apartheid. Most of these musicians suffered under limited opportunities to earn their living, the common official disregard of their art and the segregation of society. Hugh Masekela adds that “music became an even more important weapon in the struggle as any possibility of open legitimate protest had come to an end after the Sharpeville massacre”

The book Jazz Epistles The Living History looks at the story of  how three artists: Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and Jonas Gwangwa practiced jazz music whilst in exile abroad.

Text taken from – Music and Exile: The making of Culture and Identity by Chats Devroop

Where did Jazz music originate from?

It all started around 1819 in Congo Square, an outdoor space in New Orleans where slaves would congregate on Sundays when they didn’t have to work – they would sing, play music and dance, swaying back and forth to the songs of their home countries. By the 1850S, most of the New Orleans theatres, the stages were overtaken by racist minstrel shows, in which white performers sang and danced in blackface to upbeat tunes mocking the slave trade past time. By the 1860s, Jazz music became the background marching bank music to the ongoing American Civil War.

When the war ended in 1865, all of these musical styles blended to form a new genre called ragtime, which syncopated the previous rhythms and made songs that everyone wanted to dance to. Around the same time, former slaves from other parts of the American south brought the blues to Louisiana, combining spiritual music from the Baptist church with secular lyrics that told the painful stories of slaves’ lives.

The mixture of African and European culture began, of course, long before the slave dances in Congo Square–in fact, at least one thousand years prior to the founding of New Orleans in 1718. The question of African influence on ancient Western culture has become a matter of heated debate in recent years.


Blues musicians used the trumpets and trombones left over from wartime music to mimic the sound of their voices, literally singing out their pain through their instruments. It made the blues even more mournful, even more poignant and even more cathartic for anyone listening.

When ragtime and the blues came together, it created a completely novel style of music – a truly American art form. In the late 1890s, syncopation joined with soulful melodies, upbeat dance tunes united with the sultry sound of brass instruments, and jazz began to emerge.

To find out how South African artists influenced the Jazz industry, click here to request the Jazz Epistles Living History