The Blue Notes

Blue Notes was a South African jazz sextet. It featured Chris McGregor on piano and Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana, Dudu Paukwana, Dudu Feza, Dudu Pikwana, Dudu Tumwana, Nikele Moyake, Dudu Feza, Dudu Feza, Dudu Feza, Dudu Feza, Dudu Moholo, and Johnny Dyani, on trumpets, and Louis Moholo, on drums. They left their homeland in 1964 to pursue a career in Europe, where they continued to record and play through the 1970s. Their music is considered one of the greatest free jazz bands of all time. They incorporated African styles like Kwela into progressive jazz ideas at the time, and are still regarded as one of the best. The band was originally based in Cape Town but they rose to prominence at the 1963 National Jazz Festival, Johannesburg. Jazz – the African Sound was the name of an album that was recorded after the festival. However, it was not a Blue Notes album per se but rather an album featuring some Blue Notes from a large band formed by McGregor. The big band was meant to continue touring but it proved ineffective. The Blue Notes remained as a quintet and then sextet. They remained in Johannesburg and established a residency at Johannesburg’s Downbeat club. However, they returned to Cape Town to record their first studio recordings for South African Broadcasting Corporation. The Proper Music label released the recordings on a CD called Township Bop in 2002. This CD showed that the band was playing in a more straight forward bebop style than their later work. It also traced the formation of the definitive sextet. Only three of the final line-up members (McGregor Pukwana, Moyake) were present at the first sessions. Feza, Dyani, and Moholo had all joined the band by the end of the sessions. They understood, like fellow South African jazz musicians Dollar Brand or Hugh Masekela that they couldn’t play freely unless they were able to escape the oppressive political and social climate in their country. They were particularly vulnerable to police harassment as they were a mixed-race band with McGregor being the only white member. They left South Africa in mid 1964. The group decided to stay in Europe after a performance at the 1964 Antibes Jazz Festival, France. After spending some time in France, they moved to Switzerland and took up residences at clubs in Zurich, Geneva, and Switzerland for almost a year. They played a brief residency at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London, in April 1965. After that, they decided to stay in Britain. Their arrival coincided with a decline in jazz’s fortunes in the UK. Recording and gigging opportunities started to dry up. They were also suspected of being deliberately excluded from the British jazz scene by local musicians who saw them as interlopers. McGregor identified a pivotal moment in their musical approach as the time they spent in Copenhagen, Denmark. After returning to London, they were soon to be seen playing almost exclusively at The Old Place on Gerrard Street. This was the former home Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It had been transformed into an experimental space for the new British avant-garde jazz scene. They are considered to be a major influence on the emerging generation of British jazz musicians who emerged in the 1960s. They have been praised by many artists, including John Stevens, Evan Parker, John Stevens, John Surman, and John Tippett as true pioneers and an enormous influence. The group began to disintegrate by 1965. Feza returned home to Copenhagen while Dyani and Moholo toured South America with the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy – later recording the album The Forest and the Zoo on the ESP-Disk label. Moyake, however, had already decided to permanently return to South Africa after their arrival in the UK. In 1968, Joe Boyd produced the first recording opportunity for Blue Notes for the Polydor label. The Chris McGregor Group was credited with the recording of Very Urgent. This was a Blue Notes album, despite the fact that the pianist is the star of the recording. All the other members were back in London contributing to it. This album was a contrast to the 1964 South African recordings. It demonstrates their growing free jazz leanings. A second recording was made by Polydor in the same year but it was not released until 2008. (Up to Earth – Fledg’ling FLED 3069). There were many combinations of the group that recorded for Ogun’s label. McGregor started his Brotherhood of Breath big-band project around this time. The band, which was essentially born from the addition British musicians to the Blue Notes core line-up, would see its full realization in the 1970s. Brotherhood of Breath was essentially the successor to The Blue Notes. However, the name of the original band was still used for various projects in the 1970s. Pukwana Feza, Moholo, and Feza were all members of Assagai in the 1970s. In 1965, Nikele Moyake returned home to South Africa. A year later, he died from a brain tumor. Ronnie Beer, a South African who was a member of The Blue Notes, eventually took his place. Mongezi Feza was a member of the Blue Notes with Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean, as well as Henry Cow, before he died in 1975 at age 30. Blue Notes For Mongezi was a tribute to Mongezi, and the other Blue Notes regrouped. Johnny Dyani moved to Denmark with Don Cherry and Mal Waldron in the 1970s. In 1986, he died. This prompted another reunion of the Blue Notes to record Blue Notes for Johnny. Chris McGregor continued his Brotherhood of Breath in different forms until his passing in 1990. Since the 1970s, he had lived in France. Dudu Pukwana maintained his records in Britain under both his own leadership as well as with McGregor. McGregor died in 1990, just a month after Dudu Pukwana. Only Louis Moholo remains alive from the final line-up. He has recorded many recordings with musicians such as Stan Tracey, Evan Parker, and Cecil Taylor. While he has returned to South Africa to live, he continues to tour with various groups under the name Louis Moholo Moholo. The Dedication Orchestra was formed by him. This is a large band of all-star improvisors who are dedicated to performing the music of South African exiles. The Blue Notes’ contribution to South African music was officially recognized by President Thabo Mbeki, who awarded the group the silver national Order of Ikhamanga. According to the citation, “Blue Notes dates back to a golden era in South Africa’s music history.” They were a notable jazz band in international halls of glory due to their unique and eclectic South African jazz rendition. They were once one the most well-known jazz bands in the country and defied the country’s tyrannical laws on race in order to perform. From Wikipedia

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