BY BENSON IDONIJE
EVEN though as a global phenomenon, jazz is accepted only by a small section of the community, it has always been there to serve as the catalyst for transforming other music forms to higher levels of creativity. But over the years, jazz has not succeeded in performing this role in Nigeria because the attitude is not quite right on the part of the listening audience and even the jazz musicians themselves.
On the other hand, efforts have been made to establish a jazz listening culture by supposedly creative musicians who, in no time, withdrew to play music of a more popular nature for commercial reasons. There have been others who, because they would not survive on jazz, abandoned the music to take up lucrative jobs to keep body and soul together.
Still, there are some who, out of frustration arising from the fact that their efforts are not appreciated, have gone to South Africa where there is a flourishing jazz scene – to show case their talents. This category of musicians can be easily absolved from blame because they have gone out in search of outlets and opportunities for furthering their professions. Kunle Ayo, a guitarist whose career began from here and who is making it big in South Africa currently needs to be congratulated for remaining in the business of playing jazz and seeking performance venues that would challenge his creative abilities.
Another musician who has found himself in South Africa is Ayodele Solanke, a saxophonist of no mean feat whose tonal conception falls between Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley. These musicians have the right attitude and are furthering their careers regardless of the fact that they are not in Nigeria. They have only left the country to face the challenges of the music because there is no point playing in an environment where your creativity is not challenged and put to test by fellow musicians who know the business; and an audience that is not in anyway appreciative. If these gentlemen remained on the Nigerian scene, they would not be able to measure their progress and advancement.
The people I quarrelled with are the ones who abandoned the music to pursue other careers. Kayode Olajide is a fine example. He was at the centre of the new jazz activity that happened in the 90s, and some of us threw our weights behind him in terms of personal patronage and publicity. While all of this lasted, he was also a manager in a paints manufacturing company in Ikeja, Lagos. In all probability, he was comfortable.
Kayode Olajide fused jazz with African music, the way it had not been done before, introducing talking drums and other African traditional instruments into its orchestral configuration. He had a lot of promise.
When foreign jazz artists came on the invitation of the American Embassy or the French Cultural Centre, Olajide was one of the available artists on the saxophone, who could match their solo capabilities when Nigerians were invited to perform alongside foreign jazz men.
Olajide had regular gigs at the French Cultural Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos and alternated this venue with Art Café in Ikeja. Some of us always kept faith with him in these locations, where he received cheers and ovation for what he was doing, doubling on alto and tenor saxophones and occasionally playing the flute and the soprano, where he had a good tone.
Olajide created quite some sensation over five years ago when the American Embassy paid glowing tributes to the late Nina Simone at Jazzville. He was there with Yinka Davies, Nigeria’s lady of song and Peter King.
Olajide caught the attention of most of the devotees for his fusion of African music with jazz when he added extra vibes to My Favourite Things made popular in the avantgarde jazz idiom by John Coltrane.
But suddenly, Olajide, who had done so much for the jazz scene and was expected to take the music to a new level, disappeared from the scene. Sadly enough, I am told that he is not pursuing music as a career in Europe.
The case of Heavy Wind Adeniji is understandable. He too checked out after laying a solid foundation for some saxophone promise, where he blew the horn as if he was aspiring someday to the level of Sonny Rollins or Brandford Marsalis. He may not be into music full time, but one is happy that he still finds time to play the instrument. Only the other day, his father laid on me a new CD of Afrobeat that he recorded with his new band in America, and I found it quite intriguing – his singing, saxophone solos, arrangement technique and song-writing.
One individual who is not affecting the young generation with his great talent is Nathaniel Bassey, who is playing exclusively for a church in Victoria Island; and would not come out to be recognised and emulated by others. He used to team up with Ayodele Solanke, whose group, Uncommon, reached the peak of their career with a performance at Eko Le Meridien a few years ago. He would agree to record in the studio but would perhaps not want to be seen to be associating with any other group except the one that he leads in the church. Much as I see this as a mark of reverence for the work of God, Nathaniel owes the new generation of Nigerian jazz musicians a duty to teach them how to play the trumpet and advance it to a creative height.
The Nigerian jazz club organised and led by Ben Ufeli has contributed much to the awareness of jazz as an art forum. The club has helped to showcase artists who would otherwise be completely unknown. I have not heard about the jazz club lately but one would like to advise that emerging instrumentalists should develop the right attitude to the music. Only an attitude that sees jazz as a spiritual thing and not a vehicle for fame, glory and success, can withstand the challenges posed by the music.
The next Lagos International Jazz Festival has been shifted to June 2009. A platform for rekindling the renaissance of jazz, the festival requires sponsorship from the big multi-national companies, banks, airlines, telecommunication companies and all who will be fulfilling their social responsibility to the nation and contributing to a cultural advancement as corporate organisations.
Perhaps the most guilty section of the community with regard to the neglect and abandonment of jazz is the electronic media, which are not doing anything today to promote jazz.
Even in America and Britain where jazz still has some considerable presence, several radio and television stations still carry jazz programmes for the promotion of the artform.
In London, no fewer than three stations broadcast jazz every week, especially on the FM. In addition, the city boasts of several jazz clubs including Ronie Scot’s and Art café, which have jazz activities almost everyday.
Jazz requires more promotion here in Nigeria, where the music is completely dormant. The electronic media should play the role of helping to uplift the standard of music and musicians by promoting jazz and classical music on the airwaves. You will be amazed the way what our musicians hear influences them.
I know many musicians across Nigeria and Ghana, who were inspired by NBC Jazz Club, which I presented from 1963 to 1967 and Stereo Jazz Club, which was aired from the 70s to the 90s. Musicians such as Ghanaian, Mac Tontoh, formerly of Osibisa and the likes of Ayo Solanke and others were inspired by the jazz they heard on radio every Thursday night.
Jazz, like classical music are minority programmes, which are appreciated by only a few, but as art music, they help to inspire all the other forms of music in terms of equipping the artiste with the requirements for uplifting their various types of music and taking them to higher levels of creativity.