On the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak lies the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) South African College of Music where for 30 years Associate Professor and Head of the Jazz Studies program, Mike Campbell has impacted the lives of students who have gone on to stellar musical careers on both the national and international scenes.
On August 23, Campbell will launch his first independent CD, Journey which he describes as “quite eclectic” as it was seven years in the making and involved many different players. It includes his favourite composition Sermon, written, as far back as 1990. Sermon was written just shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison that inspired him to reflect on “past pain” and “the prevailing feeling of cautious optimism in the country”.
Merging traditional big band sounds with local flair and indigenous jazz innovations is Campbell’s life’s work and passion. The compositions he chose to record reflect the sounds many Capetonians are familiar with and are evocative of an ever-evolving local flavour, and includes titles such as CT Kwela, Snoektown, Prayer for Nkosi, New Era and a homage to a marimba playing colleague named Bongani.
“Being that it was a personal project, I wanted to involve people who have been meaningful to me over the years, who have played a part in what I do and hopefully I’ve played a part in what they do. I decided to call the CD, Journey. That’s what it feels like, a journey through different states of mind, different ways of looking at music and connecting with different people,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who started the Jazz Studies programme at UCT by himself, teaching his first 10 students, every instrument they played and the course material, said he never thought the programme would grow to be “this big, not for a moment”.
Many of the players who worked on the CD were one time students or lecturers in the programme, and the list reads like the who’s who of South African jazz, from the likes of Darren English, Marcus Wyatt to Andrew Lilley and Selaelo Selota.
Campbell feels his music is “accessible and enjoyable to people” and shows context, a homage to South Africa and its culture.
Cape Town sounds like jazz, and not a day goes by without jazz being played somewhere in the city, from ensembles at the luxury hotels to jam sessions at the Cape Flats clubs to train or street brass players.