Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya in tribute to The Jazz Epistles
South African Jazz Giant
- Monday, Apr 16, 2018
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About Abdullah Ibrahim
A performer, composer and outspoken chronicler of South Africa’s struggle with apartheid, Ibrahim became an international figure in jazz, whose music has always been a mixtures of influences from jazz and classical to gospel and traditional African music. South Africa’s most distinguished pianist and a world-respected master musician was born in 1934 in Cape Town and baptized Adolph Johannes Brand. His early musical memories were of traditional African Khoi-san songs and the Christian hymns, gospel tunes and spirituals that he heard from his grandmother, who was pianist for the local African Methodist Episcopalian church, and his mother, who led the choir.
He began piano lessons at the age of seven and made his professional debut at fifteen, playing and later recording with such local groups as the Tuxedo Slickers. He was in the forefront of playing bebop with a Cape Town flavor. 1958 saw the formation of the Dollar Brand Trio, closely followed by his groundbreaking septet, the Jazz Epistles.
After the notorious Sharpeville massacre of 1960, mixed-race bands and audiences were defying the increasingly strict apartheid laws, and jazz symbolized resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians. In 1962, with Nelson Mandela imprisoned, Brand left the country and took up a three-year contract at the Club Africana in Zürich. A meeting with Duke Ellington led to a recording session in Paris and invitations to perform at key European festivals, and on television and radio during the next two years.
Upon moving to New York, and appearing that year at the Newport Jazz Festival and Carnegie Hall, Ibrahim was called upon in 1966 to substitute as leader of the Ellington Orchestra in five concerts. Then followed a six-month tour with the Elvin Jones Quartet. In 1967 he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to attend the Juilliard School of Music.
In 1968 Brand returned to Cape Town, converted to Islam, and took the name Abdullah Ibrahim. His search for spiritual harmony is reflected in his resonant, emotive music.
In 1990 Mandela, freed from prison, invited him to come home to South Africa. The fraught emotions of reacclimatizing there are reflected his recordings of that period. He memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.
For more than a quarter-century he has toured the world extensively, appearing at major concert halls, clubs and festivals, giving sell-out performances, as solo artist or with other renowned artists. His discography runs to well over a hundred album credits and he still divides his time between Cape Town and New York.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“…his voice—so carved from the blood and gemstone of African earth—that comparing his tone and manner to anyone living or dead is really impossible.”
-All About Jazz
“A calm, steady heartbeat nourishes his music, fulfilling a meditative urge.”
– New York Times
“solos with intelligence, taste, and understatement…”
“The affection his fans feel for him was apparent in the roars that greeted his slow walk to the stage, and in the even louder standing ovation…”