On April 27, South African Freedom Day, Ibrahim Abdullah and Ekaya Ensemble will perform music from the legendary album Jazz Epistle Verse 1 with trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane taking over for Hugh Masekela. With Hugh Masekela unable to travel to the United States from South Africa due to a fall he suffered, this concert will not be the 56-year long-awaited reunion for the two original Jazz Epistle members. However fans of South African jazz will rejoice because joining in to commemorate this historic day of freedom is South African jazz singer Dorothy Masuka, accompanied by bassist Bakithi Khumalo.
Here is a special message from Hugh Masekela sending his regrets for not being able to attend and best wishes to young trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane.
In 1959, the Jazz Epistles recorded the first all-black, modern jazz LP in South Africa, The Jazz Epistle, Verse 1. While the band played for record-breaking audiences in Johannesburg and Cape Town, only 500 copies of their album were made, and the recording was buried by the apartheid regime. By the early ’60s, the musicians went their separate ways, finding opportunities to leave their censored home country, looking for more promising careers in Europe and America.
Independently, members of the band found fame and acclaim both abroad and at home. Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim moved to New York under the guidance of Duke Ellington, and performed with a veritable Who’s Who of free jazz, including Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Archie Shepp. Trumpet player Hugh Masekela had a number-one hit in the U.S. in 1968 titled “Grazing in the Grass,” and his 1987 hit “Bring Him Home” became an anthem for the Free Mandela movement. Bassist Johny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoka both had musical careers in Europe, and Jonas Gwangwa, trombone player, led the ANC’s cultural ensemble Amandla, from 1980 to 1990.
This is certain to be a landmark event highlighting the important contributions black South African musicians have made to the jazz canon. It is a revival that should not be missed! The ensemble continues on to play the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival April 29 and the Atlanta Jazz Festival April 30. Learn more about the performance on April 27 at Town Hall and purchase tickets at Ticketmaster.