In the spotlight: The Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontein, Johannesburg is hosting an anniversary celebration featuring top contemporary jazz musicians. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO
In the spotlight: The Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontein, Johannesburg is hosting an anniversary celebration featuring top contemporary jazz musicians. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO

Good times defined the mid-1990s up to the mid-2000s when contemporary jazz music ruled, venues for live jazz were dotted around almost all major cities and new jazz voices emerged to take centre stage.

However, in the late 2000s, jazz clubs across the country closed down, leaving contemporary jazz musicians with no place to call home.

This was mainly the result of sluggish economic growth and the Department of Health’s ban on cigarette advertising. Cigarette companies were big spenders on jazz concerts and festivals.

But it appears the live jazz scene is reawakening, especially in Johannesburg. At the forefront of this music circuit is The Orbit Jazz Club, in the now vibrant student suburb of Braamfontein.

Since opening in 2014, the club has hosted some of the country’s leading contemporary jazz musicians and has amassed international awards recognising its distinction as a jazz club.

The Orbit is hosting an anniversary festival featuring top names. The celebrations, called the #The4thMovement, will include the legendary Sibongile Khumalo with The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra, Tlale Makhene’s Swazi Gold, Steve Dyer’s Mantswe a Marabi and Luyanda Madope’s Connecting Generations.

It will also feature the reunion of the legendary Voice, almost 10 years since they last performed together.

This quintet consists of some of SA’s most seasoned musicians including Andile Yenana, Marcus Wyatt, Sidney Mnisi, Herbie Tsoaeli and Morabo Morajele.

The festival will also be the first time a new band, Trio Grande, will be presented to SA. The trio is a coming together of key figures — Feya Faku, Paul Hanmer and Louis Mhlanga.

In true jazz tradition, the celebrations will end with a free jam session led by award-winning pianist and producer Luyanda Madope.

The festival represents the evolution of contemporary jazz in post-apartheid SA.

At the start of this new era, many sectors of South African society were burgeoning with a sense of positivity, and many jazz groups and talented musicians confidently pursued their art and careers.

Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Bloemfontein witnessed the proliferation of live music venues, especially for live jazz.

Popular venues of the time included Johannesburg’s Kippies and Niki’s Oasis in Newtown, Barrington’s in Killarney, Blues Room in Sandton and Kind of Blue in Cresta. Moods and Flavours in Bloemfontein had a loyal crowd. Except for Niki’s Oasis, all these venues have since closed down.

The sound of kwaito took over the dance floors and airwaves, despite frequent complaints about the music’s lyrical deficiencies.

Leading recording companies made good profits as contemporary jazz musicians honed their craft, including focused pianist Hanmer with his exceptionally crafted debut Trains to Taung, Zimbabwean-born guitarist Louis Mhlanga, jazz improviser the late Zim Ngqawana with his original Zimology sound, the consummate professional and trumpet perfectionist Faku, the inimitable saxophonist Dyer, talented drummer Vusi Khumalo, gifted percussionist Makhene, vocally gifted Gloria Bosman, versatile vocalist Judith Sephuma and impressive guitar wizard and vocalist Selaelo Selota.

Younger musicians influenced by these pioneers included pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, pianist Thandi Ntuli, pianist Afrika Mkhize, guitarist Benjamin Jephta and pianist Kyle Shepherd.

In the late 2000s, the music landscape changed completely. Jazz clubs closed down one after another as the middle class moved to the suburbs and chose to dine and listen to music there.

"That really affected a lot of jazz clubs as people did not want to go out anymore, particularly into the inner city of Johannesburg," says The Orbit’s co-owner, Kevin Naidoo.

But the middle-class crowd is now returning, especially in Johannesburg’s gentrified parts of the city such as Maboneng, Newtown and Braamfontein, where The Orbit is situated and which offers them a safe haven.

"We chose Braamfontein to open The Orbit due to the fact that it is a student city surrounded by universities, and for that we were looking to the future," says Naidoo.

"Professionals work in offices around here. For us Braamfontein was ripe for a jazz club because the interest in the city is back, with people coming back to the city, and having a jazz club of international standard with several awards behind its name is the right thing for Braamfontein and its future."

#The4thMovement is at The Orbit in Braamfontein from March 13 to March 19, starting at 8pm.