US musicians share stage with Zim’s Afrojazz stars

US jazz musical group, the Ryan Cohan Quartet, struck a new rhythm with Zimbabwe’s Afro-jazz when they conducted a workshop and concert at the Pakare Paye Arts Centre on Monday. The workshop was attended by nearly 25 Zimbabwean musicians including renowned artist Olver Mtukudzi, and his son Sam. Pakare Paye Arts Centre is the brainchild of Zimbabwean musician Mtukudzi and works to assist Zimbabweans in developing their various artistic skills.

During the workshop, the American jazz artists sought to blend Zimbabwe’s Afro pop with their solid jazz rooted in swing. Mtukudzi performed one of his hit songs for the visitors, featuring American Geof Bradfield on saxophone and renowned drummer Sam Mataure. Young artists joined the stage with unheralded young musicians, Poda Murwira and Munyaradzi Mataruse making an impression that will surely last long for the visiting jazz artists. Mataruse is one of the early products of the Pakare Paye Arts Centrer, having joined Pakare Paye at the age of 16 and coming from a background of traditional dance, Munyaradzi is now tuning more into what he describes as contemporary hard jazz/traditional fusion.

“One of the great features of jazz is its ability to incorporate music from all over the world and the communication that goes on among the musicians that get together to play,” said Ryan Cohan, composer and band leader for the US jazz group.

Cohan said the band’s music has its roots in swing jazz whose roots date back to the 1930s and 1940s.

“However, our modern music is swing with traditional emphasis,” he says. “Swing was probably the most popular style in jazz history and featured larger bands, more saxophones and high-hat cymbals, and a looser swing feeling based on eighth-note patterns,” said Cohan.

The visiting group members took turns to explain various elements of jazz music including rehearsals, communication and coordination, and also took time to listen to how Zimbabwean musicians went about their business.

“The essence of jazz lies in the beat,” says drummer Kobie Watkins who is also lauded as the “Swing Master of Chicago”. “It forms the harmonic foundation and maintains the pulse thereby supporting the soloist, giving him a firm foundation within which to improvise.”

“Everyone seems to respect and feel joyous about jazz. They receive it very well,” he said.

Jazz is definitely an eclectic art and definitely for an eclectic crowd,” all of whom find a lot in common in the music,” says the Swing Master

Reinforcing that point, Cohan said: “Jazz is difficult to define but easy to recognise. There are so many different definitions of what jazz is — depending on what part of the history you focus on.”

The Chicago-based group concluded the week-long Zimbabwe tour after a rock-solid performance with Jazz Invitation at the Mannenburg last night.

The tour was co-sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State and the Jazz at Lincoln Center programme under the banner “The Rhythm Road — American Music Abroad programme”.

The programme offers professional American jazz and urban music performers the chance to perform their music in countries with limited exposure to American culture. The Ryan Cohan Quartet is the second group to visit Zimbabwe under the programme following a successful tour by the hip hop group, Afar, in December 2006.

The group leaves Zimbabwe today for Jordan in the Middle East where they conclude their tour that began with a visit to Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda since January 29. — Staff Writer.

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