As part of VCU Jazz’s “International Partnerships Major Initiatives Award” grant from VCU and VCUarts, students and faculty of the Jazz Studies Programs of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) reunited in late September 2013, this time in Richmond. Our own Victor Haskins (trumpet), Justin Esposito (bass), C.J. Wolfe (drums), Brendan Schnabel (tenor sax), Chris Ryan (guitar), Trey Sorrells (alto sax), Prof. Antonio Garcia, and teams of additional VCU students hosted visiting UKZN students Sakhile Simani (trumpet), Linda Sikhakhane (tenor sax), Sebastian Goldswain (guitar), Lungelo Ngcobo (piano), Ildo Nandja (bass), and Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums) and their director, pianist Prof. Neil Gonsalves, for a great week in Richmond. In addition to performing at The Camel, the visitors sat in at several local clubs;
shared jam sessions, classes, and rehearsals with VCU students and faculty; toured in Your Ear Studios, the Black History Museum, the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, and several music stores; attended VCU concerts; shared a reception with VCU faculty and administration; and toured Richmond.
Reflecting back on the visit, Linda Sikhakhane said, “the music students were very good company to us and were willing to share in whichever way. I found a lot of interesting ways of absorbing the jazz language, mostly in classes led by Prof. Skip Gailes, taking basic patterns and building towards a complex way of playing. I also realized that students do attend a lot public performances, and that helps them a lot in terms of their sound. The history part of things was quite interesting when we visited the museums, to see that the way of living has changed over the past years.” Sphelelo Mazibuko offered: “I can’t get the right words to express the way the exchange has impacted my life. What a pleasure it has been to meet wonderful people from across the world. The musical experience has been mind-blowing. And the wonderful staff, musicians, and students from VCU made us feel like we were part of the VCU family.”
Our host students enjoyed the week just as much. Said C.J. Wolfe, “Our nightlife seemed to take a toll on them because they were not used to staying out late, plus we went out every night! In Durban had been the opposite for us because we would go to our B&B early and not be able to sleep for awhile.” Victor Haskins noted: “It was especially awesome to witness the community support for the UKZN ensemble when they played at The Camel to a packed house!” Trey Sorrells realized that “sometimes I would forget that they were visitors.” And Brendan Schnabel took in the civic view as well: “I think Richmond might be one of the greatest choices for first-time visitors to America. It offers the wide variety of activity and culture of a big city yet still has the personality and warmth of a small town. Similarly, Richmond is a line of demarcation of sorts for northern and southern American culture, blending the two in a unique way. This, combined with the important history of the city, make me believe our guests got so much out of this trip.”
Representatives from the two schools are now composing newly commissioned works for each other, to be premiered when they reunite in Durban and then again in Richmond in March. Reflections from each of the 12 core students are included below.
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My time in America was an absolute blast! I was so impressed with the level of welcome and hospitality shown to us by all we met, that I can’t wait for our return visit in March 2013. I have come away from Virginia with nothing but the utmost respect for the people both as musicians and people, and consider all I met!
One of the highlights was the opportunity to meet Siemon Allen, a South African now residing in the USA with a phenomenally large South African Jazz archive, and to share in his wealth of knowledge of all things Jazz. Our cultural visits to historic places like The Black History Museum in Jackson Ward and the Civil War Museum were also educational highlights, not to mention the many jam sessions with everyone from VCU Jazz students to VCU professors to complete strangers!
The visit to America was an eye-opener for all the students in the UKZN team, for each our first trip to America. It continued the fantastic relationship the two exchange groups have built with each other, and I’m looking forward to the next round of exchanges in March 2013!
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I had a great time in Richmond. It was an eye-opener: how the tradition of jazz is rich there, especially in terms of club gigs. There were gigs the whole week, which is very good and contributes a lot in terms of growth. I personally appreciate the per diem support: it really helped, as the food seemed to be a bit expensive compared to home. I also appreciate and acknowledge the hospitality and welcome from the VCU exchange group as well as the other individuals who helped out in with transport and contributed to a good time for us.
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The week we had in Richmond was very productive from the first day of our arrival till the last day of our stay there. I really liked the way our schedule was put together: from attending classes, master classes, the visits we had to different historical places, jam sessions—we all felt like we were at home; and all enjoyed our activities.
The highlight of the visit for me was all the information I got from students and lectures and people around Richmond, information that will improve my musicianship and my personality. I learned a lot. Getting together with the VCU team, especially the students, has doubled our friendship and connection.
I would like to say a big thanks to Prof. García for everything he did for the VCU and UKZN teams in making these exchanges possible. I look forward for the next visit!
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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor García and his team for hosting us. I really enjoyed myself in Richmond. I learned some other things, such as how to fuse business and music. It was great to meet and play with new people: everyone was so kind, caring, and warm. I’m really honoured to be part of this exchange programme, and I am looking forward to next year’s visits.
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I would like to thank Prof. García and the VCU team for hosting us in such a warm and exciting way. It was a very blessed and inspirational week in Virginia. First of all, the music students were very good company to us and were willing to share in whichever way. I found a lot of interesting ways of absorbing the jazz language, mostly in classes led by Prof. Skip Gailes, taking basic patterns and building towards a complex way of playing. I also realized that students do attend a lot public performances, and that helps them a lot in terms of their sound.
The history part of things was quite interesting when we visited the museums, to see that the way of living has changed over the past years. You find a lot of unity, and that has a very big impact in the music culture as well.
It was my first time in the States, but it felt like I’ve been there for years due to happiness brought by the sound and silence. I’m really looking forward to the March trip now knowing what America is about.
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I can’t get the right words to express the way the exchange has impacted my life. What a pleasure it has been to meet wonderful people from across the world. The musical experience has been mind-blowing.
My freshest memories of our trip to America began when we landed at the airport in Washington Dulles. The chilly weather in the morning reminded me of my hometown, Newcastle. I realized how much similarity American and Africa have. That on its own just made me feel like I was home, away from home.
Wow: the wonderful staff, musicians, and students from VCU made us feel like we were part of the VCU family. It was a pleasure to meet the CATS again (C.J., Victor, Trey, Brendan, Chris, and Justin), who have been more than just friends; they have shown us brotherhood.
The weather was beautiful; and it complemented the wonderful shows we attended in Richmond, from The Camel (Glenn Wilson Quintet, Rattlemouth, NoBS), Bogart’s (Victor Haskins Group), to VCU’s Vlahacevic Hall (Darryl Harper Faculty Jazz Recital, VCU Wind Ensemble). I enjoyed every moment we spend with the cats jamming and listenings to jazz over drink. What a pleasure it has to meet inspirational musician Profs. Gailes and Richards, to have them share information with us was a great opportunity.
My highlight would be meeting and listening to Prof. Tony Martucci peforming in The Glenn Wilson Quintet: what an excellent drummer! I realize we were at the reality of the sound of jazz, the pulse pushing forward unlike how we swing in South Africa. The forward-playing motion was amazing. I could realize that this language is big and needs to be explored. Pity I couldn’t get a chance to get a quick lesson from him, but I should say that just listening to him play at The Camel was a complete class.
I am glad we meet wonderful new friends: Colleen, Michelle, John, Nick, Abinnet, and more from VCU. It has been great; their hospitality was humbling. But I would like to give the greatest thanks to Profs. Neil Gonsalves and Tony García for working tirelessly for this trip: great musicians empowering great future musicians. Thanks also to the wonderful VCU administrators: great people; they were so welcoming. Thank you!! I truly cannot wait for the upcoming trip back to Richmond.
It’s all for the Love of Jazz. Showing Some Love!
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Having our African friends visit was a fun-filled, whirlwind week. It was only too bad it went by so fast. We started things off with a meet and greet/pizza/jam-session hang at Prof G.’s Sunday afternoon. It was great to see the guys as well as Neil and Nareen Gonsalves and get to make a little music right away. Later that night the cats joined us at C.J.’s and my gig at the Commercial Taphouse. The guys got to check out music from the Larri Branch Agenda and then sat in and played an inspiring version of “Oleo.”
The next night was the UKZN ensemble debut at The Camel here in town. It was so nice to hear their music here in Richmond. It was also really cool to hear the sound the cats had developed compositionally.
A few other great memories I have are hanging at John Bradberry’s with everyone, taking the guys out to the mall, and–always a favorite of mine–brunch at Kuba Kuba. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone again and anxious to see how things on both continents develop musically.
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Hosting the South African students in Richmond was another great learning experience. I appreciated what those guys had done for us while we were in Durban, and I wanted to help as much as possible.
Having them here made our daily lives seem more interesting because we were seeing through their eyes what we think is mundane. One of the funniest things was when they tried root beer at a pizza joint and told me that they call that flavor “bubble gum.”
The trips to the museums were fun, places I had not even been to before then. Our nightlife seemed to take a toll on them because they were not used to staying out late, plus we went out every night! In Durban it had been the opposite for us because we would go to our B&B early and not be able to sleep for a while.
The time they spent here was very short, and it was bittersweet when they had to leave. I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see them again.
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Having the UKZN students here in Richmond for a week was a wonderful experience. It was great to get to introduce them to a different culture. It was especially awesome to witness the community support for the UKZN ensemble when they played at The Camel to a packed house!
When they weren’t performing, the UKZN team had the opportunity to visit the Black History Museum, Tredegar, and some malls and American stores—a fine introduction to the lifestyle here in America. During most of the days they also sat through some of our classes at VCU—Jazz Arranging, Jazz Form & Analysis, Improvisation, Music Industry, and ensembles. I think that it is cool and valuable to see how classes are taught and how people learn in a different place, because it can give insight into why someone thinks a certain way when one understands their natural environment.
On most nights they also had the chance to go and hear live music on the Richmond scene, where they actually came and sat in with my band’s weekly gig. Being able to share experiences—especially musical experiences—is one of the few ways to get really close to someone; and their presence was really special at the performance that night.
Those guys brought such a wonderful spirit and vibe wherever they went, and I feel as though that’s exactly the kind of treatment they received from everyone with which they interacted. I think I speak for all us on the VCU team in saying that we will miss sharing meals, music, stories, and hanging out. Our return trip to Durban in March cannot arrive soon enough!
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When we left South Africa in early August it was a sour moment, especially for me. I felt like there was so much more to learn from our friends there. Well, at the end of September they returned; and the learning process rapidly began again, immediately upon shaking their hands. We jammed for a while in Professor Garcia’s house. This was so much fun: every musician knows that communication not with words but with music is the best way to catch up.
Throughout the week we attended gigs played by local and not-so-local artists, both teams enjoying the music. One of my favorite moments was the UKZN hit at The Camel: they played extremely exciting music that was also true to their culture; and everyone in the audience seemed to have really liked it. It was really nice having their team in some of our classes.
Sometimes I would forget that they were visitors. I can’t wait to see them again in March. I’m pretty sure we all are going to have a lot to talk and play about.
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After coming back from a special experience with our friends in Durban, it felt like no time at all until we were on the receiving end of our exchange. I believed, like everyone else, that we owed our visitors as inviting an atmosphere as they had given us; and I believe we all stepped up to the occasion.
It was great that our guests were able to see so much live music in Richmond. From NoBS to Labragenda, Victor’s group, and their own performance at the Camel, I feel our UKZN counterparts could not have enjoyed a better representation of what our jazz music scene here in Richmond has to offer. Most impressive to me was the reception the students received at their own performance. I know they were touched by the unique charm and energy of Richmond club-goers, and it made me happy to see people on our end as excited about this exchange as the people in Durban were.
Reflecting further, I think Richmond might be one of the greatest choices for first-time visitors to America. It offers the wide variety of activity and culture of a big city yet still has the personality and warmth of a small town. Similarly, Richmond is a line of demarcation of sorts for northern and southern American culture, blending the two in a unique way. This, combined with the important history of the city, make me believe our guests got so much out of this trip. Both the UKZN team and our own VCU team have a lot to work with, and I’m excited for what next year’s reunions will hold in store for both of our communities.
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Re-kindling our experiences and relationships from our trip to Durban was a timeless venture. Upon the UKZN team’s arrival I was unsure of what their first impressions of Richmond, Virginia would be. With Richmond being the capital of the confederacy and having its own history with civil and human rights, there is common ground shared with South Africa’s history of Apartheid. Talking with the UKZN team about their impressions of the Apartheid with what they have experienced through older generations shows how far countries like the United States and South Africa have come within the development of human equality.
Equality was an impacting theme on the week we spent with our South African counterparts. When we were able to play and exchange with our guests, everyone was granted the same opportunity to have their voice heard within the context of the universal language we share that is jazz. This music allowed us to pick up right where we started in terms of developing and building upon the international relationships we have formed. When you share a cultural identity within a powerful force such as jazz, you share the keys to a special community. I garnered a sense of that community while hosting the UKZN Jazz Legacy Ensemble, and this foundation allows us to create something special and long-lasting through jazz music.
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