I sat in my seat at the Durban ICC on Saturday night, completely engaged by Lee Ritenour. Swaying away on his guitar like a man lost in a Jazz bar with stories to tell the world, somewhere deep down in New Orleans, that’s when knew then I had found a love of Jazz.
This past weekend has been something quite noteworthy and furthermore life changing. So let me take you back to the beginning.
The Press Conference
On Friday afternoon dressed in my summer attire I headed down to The Chairman a lounge just off the Durban Beachfront. I had a press conference with the International Jazz Extravaganza legends! Familiar faces from all the different media, press and tourism publications were in attendance and quite it was great to see a few new faces, including Counselor of Durban Logie Naidoo.
Walking into The Chairman a place I have heard about several times, I felt as if I had truly stepped into another country. The interior design is something else, it was the perfect venue for such an event, and I could not do it justice by simply writing about it, this is my favorite image.
This is where I first met Lee Ritenour, Will Kennedy and Patricia. I also met Jay from Spyra Gyro all who would be sharing the stage on Saturday Night at the Durban ICC. It was interesting to listen to Jay talk about how his music had been a help to several people in Africa during the Apartheid times and that it was something that’s always touched him quite deeply as an artist. Lee told us about some of the programs that he has been involved with introduced me to The Yellow Jackets a band that Will Kennedy is part of.
Drinks and stunning food were also provided by The Chairman a huge thank you to the team who made that possible. After the press conference we were all able to mingle, chat and take a few photos. This where I bumped into Karli, and her friend Jo. Lovely to see the ladies again. I left then knowing that this was going to be an interesting journey.
The KZN Tour
On Saturday I woke up early with a jump in my step. It was 06h00 and the world was still sleeping away. I on the other hand couldn’t get down my coffee and breakfast fast enough to head out the front door. I was to meet some of the lovely ladies from Durban Tourism and both Lee and Jay’s band members, managers and producers for a press tour. We all met at the Hilton Hotel in Durban central and left on a shuttle bus to do some exploring.
Mandy our tour guide gave a educational speech to all on our bus as we drove through the city center and headed for the hills, known by the way of the Valley of 1000 Hills. First up we were treated to a traditional Zulu Dance Show at Phezulu. We were told the dance and story was an example of how a cultural Zulu wedding takes place. I watched as our guests enjoyed the show. There were several comedic moments and of course the beautiful sounds of the woman singing.
After which we the boarded onto a game drive vehicle and set off on our excursion, deep into the valley. We came across, Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, Bleesbok almost immediately. The rains have been good to the lands, as all the Zebra looked quite pregnant but as our ranger insured us, they were just a bit “chubby” round the edges. The views from the top of the reserve are outstanding. Without question one understands why it’s called the Valley of 1000’s Hills, rolling mountains in green, dusty red and grey blue seem to go on as far as the eye can see.
Just before ending our journey and after looking for the giraffes we finally found them. Our ranger was in the middle of telling us the different names and sexes of the giraffe when the back of the vehicle fell into a hushed collected “aaaaaaahhhhhhh”. Nestled next to the grass, with barely its head sticking out was a new born baby giraffe. Now when I say new born, we mean NEW BORN.
The ranger doubted the giraffe was more then 8-9 hours old. It stumbled onto it’s rather over large hindquarters and then upright to walk towards mom for a drink. It was still incredibly wobbly but found itself next to mom in no time. The other giraffes all stuck very close to little one and would often lean down and greet it with their heads. We looked on a little longer and then left the family to some peace and quiet with their new arrival.
And finally we headed off to lunch. The view at the restaurant in Phezulu is second to none and we were treated to some interesting meals. I must give credit to our guests as they were far more adventures in their choices than those of us from South Africa J several tried the Crocodile and Ostrich Burgers, while I went for my usual the Chicken Burger and Chips. All the meals were well prepared, great serving sizes if not slightly too big and the drinks cold.
This is where we all had the opportunity to talk between ourselves, properly introducing each other and making connections. Jay was the life of the party with endless interesting and funny stories to tell. I looked at Jay both then and one the night he played and it made me want to cry, I didn’t know why until Sunday night.
We all talked about everything from wild adventures, to living life and even Donald Trump! It was like sitting with a group of friends I hadn’t seen since high school and still getting on. I was also able to listen to Will Kennedy talk about the Yellow Jackets and see the love of the Jazz craft within him, just truly outstanding people. And then it was home time….sadly.
The International Jazz Extravaganza!
I don’t know what I expected, but it was 1000 times better than that. Walking up to the entrance of the Durban ICC with its bright lights and glass windows, you start feeling the energy in your bones. I was accompanied by my friend and German student Cihan who seemed quite impressed by the venue. Making our way to the Lounge before the show we were greeted and our tickets sorted out by a lovely lady at the Durban Tourism Desk.
The bouncers were friendly but smartly dressed and all business, making sure you were only let in with the right accreditation and friendly enough to show you to the next venue if you weren’t.
When Cihan and I walked in I think both our mouths dropped open. It was BEAUTIFUL! The mood lightening, the plush white leather seating, the soft carpets, the champagne stands, the open bar white ceramic bar in the centre of the room. Goodness gracious was I glad I dressed up. Several seating areas with large artistic designs filled the room; although never at any point did it feel or get cramped. The waiters and runners were so good that no empty glasses or plates were left on your table for more than two minutes. The open bar was stocked with almost everything you could think of and the food tables were just fantastic.
There were forever flowing snacks designed with such classy touches I almost didn’t want to eat anything in fear of ruining them. A main table of various pasta dishes was available near the back of the lounge where you could get in a hearty dinner meal and an interesting setup of ice tea was available to the right of the room.
This was clearly a classy event and it was so well done. I have to give HUGE congratulations to everyone who was involved in setting it up. Between intervals the snacks changed and the lounge was cleared and reset. Oh and I finally got to meet the legendary East Coast Radio DJ, Darren Maule to whom I have been listening to for years.
I don’t really know where to start or what to say or who to talk about first. Every single act at the First International Jazz Extravaganza blew my mind!
Possibly I should mention that the festival was kicked off by 10 year old Luthando Jackson. I am not joking. Luthando, whose fingers seem to have more control of his instrument than I have of my life, was just amazing.
You know when a great singer opens their mouth and the first few lyrics are so clear they cut you like crystal and without knowing why, you’ve found yourself in a deep hole of emotion, unable what to feel first? That is Luthando Jackson. At 10 years old he had me questioning what I was doing with my life. This young man, who is an old soul is going to go so far in life, he has already travelled many miles and will continue to do so. He’s one of the “precious” ones in our world, one of those we need to take care of.
After that the legendary Nduduzo Makhathini hit the stage and as he said “with all he’s friends”. If you don’t know who this man is, or what he is about you need to stop reading this, go YouTube yourself some Nduduzo and then come back. There was one point where I was watching the live feed on the big screens and I honestly found myself trying to figure out if the camera could keep up with the speed of this man’s fingers. It was like watching comic hero Quicksilver playing the piano, but this man was real, in front of us and giving the performance of a life time. He mentioned that his mom was in the audience, let me tell you if I was he’s mom I would have been one of those “soccer moms” screaming and yelling from the sidelines “That’s my boy, that’s my boy”!
To those who were playing attention I started watching the absolute fire the band members were feeding off each other, Bass player Benjamin Jephta was seemingly in other world while playing yet him and Nduduzo would egg each other one, just brilliant! Later on the band was joined by Baritone singer Sakhile who performed “Imagine Race”.
After our interval and some more delicious snacks from the lounge Cihan and I made our way back to our seats to really get the party started! Fortunately Jay and Spyro Gyra had the same idea and started it for us. Jay’s comedic and free personality and character is amplified in their music. Will Kennedy on the drums had people going insane (I think the term is bat shit crazy but we’ll keep it classy) and the Cuban influence from………. had me in tears at one point!
This is something I credit to older generation musicians. There is something that they are able to achieve and bring to a live performance that I am afraid not many artists of today’s world can. When I worked in Abu Dhabi in a very well known Hotel, I had the privileged of working with many celebrities, up and coming stars, rap legends, childhood loves and “people my dad listened too”.
And you know who I still think was the best performer I have ever watched live? One of those people my dad listened too. Paul McCartney did 6 encores at the after concert at one of the F1 evenings and even after the 6th encores the crowd would not budge. He had very little musical back up, no audio tune or nonsense like that and he performed like the legend we have all been told the Beatles were.
This is what Spyro Gyra brought back to me on Saturday night! This is what made me cry. It is a rare, rare gift to have and you can’t buy it you can’t fake it, you have it and it leaves with you when you do.
Within the performance by Spryo Gyra the crowd was brought to life, we danced we sang, we clapped we were really part of the “music making” and I thought that was a lovely aspect of the concert. Jay told the crowd that Durban was he’s new favourite city in South Africa which of course earned him a standing ovation and forever-love from us Durbanites. I’d imagine if you asked a teenager to explain it, the phrase would be “ #YouCanSitWithUs”.
And then last but not least were Lee Ritenour and the band.
And there we were again, “watching Lee sway along like a man lost in a Jazz bar with stories to tell the world, somewhere deep down in New Orleans”.
Lee’s music was quite the change from Spyro Gyra, a different form of Jazz, quite the bit of electric guitar which I enjoyed and far more soul influenced. Coming to the end of the evening I watched as Patricia had the crowd off their seats and dancing and she belted out one of her legendary tracks, this crowd was satisfied.
The only mention I have on a negative scale would be the people who don’t respect the artists or their fans in the crowd. I was quite annoyed and upset about the group of VERY loud ladies behind us and next to us at one point in the show. They were so loud that I couldn’t hear the musicians? If you’re going to talk that loud to each other over the music and on your cell phone, please have enough respect to stand outside of the concert hall. The conversation which I really couldn’t help but hearing had nothing to do with music or jazz or even the event, but boyfriends and some topics that were just not socially friendly anyway. Thankfully our Jazz legends all knew exactly which key to hit and bring me straight back into their music trance.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Cee will be at the next International Jazz Festival. No doubt about it.
To the artists who all played, wow. Just wow. You have changed my outlook on Jazz and further inspired me to truly never give up on what I am working and fighting towards, talking to you and having that one on one time was truly inspirational.
To the folks of Durban, and South Africa! This is what happens when we do it right. All those who have brought tickets, who attended the event, who sponsored anything towards making this happen, this is what we can do when we work together. Well Done!
I can’t wait for my next adventure and I can’t wait to work with and meet more amazing people.
And As Always…
You can find me under the name: CeecesTravel on all my social media platforms: Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram.