Hugh Masekela & Larry Willis
@ the Royal Festival Hall
15 November 2013
Click an image to enlarge.
Hugh Masekela Desert Island Discs
Which 2 albums would you take with you to a desert island?
“If I was on a desert island I would not need any music
I would listen to the birds and the sea!” However…
I guess if I had to take two albums…
Louis Armstrong – The Ultimate Collection
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
Hugh Masekela biography
Ever since the day in 1954 when Archbishop Trevor Huddleston gave
him his trumpet, Masekela has played music that closely reflects
his beginnings as a little boy in Witbank. The street songs, church
songs, migrant labour work songs, political protest songs and the
sounds of the wide cross-section of ethnic culture South Africa
possesses from Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Khoi, San, Griqua, Sotho and
Tswana peoples of the South, South East, Central and Western Regions
to the Ndebele, Tsonga, Venda and Pedi provinces of the North and
North West. The urban sounds of the townships, the influences of
the Manhattan Brothers, Dorothy Masuka, the Dark City Sisters, the
Mahotella Queens and Mahlathini, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam
Makeba, Spokes Mashiyane, Lemmy Mabaso, Elijah Nkwanyana, Kippie
Moeketsi, Mackay Davashe, all these form an intrinsic part of his
musical roots, intertwined with vivid portraits of the struggles
and the sorrows, the joys and passions of his country.
After Huddleston asked the leader of the Johannesburg “Native”
Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda to teach him the rudiments of
trumpet playing, Masekela quickly proceeded to master the instrument
after having been inspired by the film “Young man with a horn”
in which Kirk Douglas portrayed the great American Jazz trumpeter,Bix
Beiderbecke. Soon, some of his music loving schoolmates also became
interested in playing instruments, leading to the formation of the
Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's very first youth orchestra
formed at St. Peters Secondary
School where the anti-apartheid priest was chaplain.
Huddleston was deported by the racist government of the time for
his emancipation militancy and when Masekela kept on badgering him
to help him leave the oppressive country for music education opportunities
abroad, the priest worked very hard to get him to England. After
playing in other dance bands led by the great Zakes Nkosi, Ntemi
Piliso, Elijah Nkwanyana and Kippie Moeketsi among others, he joined
the star studded African Jazz Revue in 1956. Following a Manhattan
Brothers tour of the country in 1958, he ended up playing in the
orchestra for the “King-Kong” musical written by Todd
Matshikiza, with Jonas Gwangwa and some of the afore mentioned musicians.
“King-Kong” was South Africa's first record breaking
theatrical success that toured the country for a sold out year with
Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers’ Nathan Mdledle in
the lead. The musical later went to London’s West End for
two years. At the end of 1959, Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie, Jonas,
Makhaya Ntshoko, Johnny Gertze and Hugh formed Jazz Epistle Verse
1, the Hugh Masekela first African group to record an LP and perform
to record-breaking audiences in J.H.B. & CapeTown through late
1959 to early 1960.After the March 21, 1960 Sharpville Massacre
where 69 Africans peacefully protesting the pass laws along with
thousands of their fellow comrades were mercilessly mowed down,
the ensuing national outrage caused the government to proclaim a
state of emergency and the banning of gatherings by more than ten
As the brutality of the Apartheid state increased, Masekela finally
left the country with the help of Trevor Huddleston and his friends
Yehudi Menuhin and Johnny Dankworth who got him admitted into London's
Guildhall School of music. Miriam Makeba who was already enjoying
major success in the USA later helped him with Harry Belafonte,
Dizzy Gillepsie and John Mehegan, to get admission to the Manhattan
school of Music in New York. Hugh finally met Louis Armstrong who
had sent the Huddleston Band a trumpet after Huddleston told the
trumpet king about the band he helped start back in South Africa
before his deportation. With immense help from Makeba and Belafonte,
Masekela eventually began to record, gaining his first breakthrough
with “The Americanization of Ooga-Booga” produced by
the late Tom Wilson who had been producer of Bob Dylan and Simon
& Garfunkel’s debut successes. Stewart Levine, his business
partner in Chissa Records went on to produce hit records for Masekela
on Uni Records, beginning with the “Emancipation of Hugh Masekela”
followed by “Alive and Well at the Whiskey” in 1967
and then “Promise ofA Future” which contained the gigantic
hit song “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968.
By the beginning of the 1970’s he had attained international
fame, selling out all of America’s festivals, auditoriums
and top niteries. Heeding the call of his African roots, he moved
to Guinea, then Liberia and Ghana after recording the historical
“Home is where music is” with Dudu Pukwana. After a
pilgrimage to Zaire in 1973, Masekela met Fela Kuti in Nigeria who
introduced him and Stewart Levine, to “Hedzoleh Soundz”
a grassroots Ghanaian band. For the next five years they produced
a string of ground breaking records, which included international
favourites such as “The Marketplace”, “Ashiko”.
“The Boy’z doin it”, “Vasco Da Gama”,
“African Secret Society” and the evergreen “Stimela”.
After a tour and two duet albums with Herp Albert, Masekela and
Miriam played a Christmas Day concert in Lesotho in 1980 where 75
000 people came to see them after they had been away for 20 years
from the region. In 1981, Hugh moved to Botswana where he started
the Botswana international School of Music with Dr. Khabi Mngoma.
His record label Jive Records, helped him to set up a mobile studio
in Gaborone where Stewart produced “Techno Bush” from
which came the hit single “Don’t Go Lose it Baby”
in 1984. He unexpectedly had to leave with his band Kalahari for
England, Hugh Masekela after his childhood friend George Phahle,
his wife Lindi Phahle along with 14 people were murdered by South
African defence force death squads in the pretext of raiding “communist
terrorist camps”manned by South African Anti-apartheid activists.
While in England, Masekela conceived the Broadway musical “Sarafina”
with Mbongeni Ngema and recorded another runaway song “Bring
Back Nelson Mandela bring him back home to Soweto” with Kalahari
in 1986. After touring in “Graceland” with Paul Simon,
Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba, Masekela returned home following
the unbanning of political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela
in 1990. In 1991, he launched his first tour of South Africa called
“Sekunjalo, This is it” with Sankomota and Bayete. It
was a four-month tour, selling out in the country’s major
cities. His recent albums “Black to the Future”, “Sixty”,
“Greatest Hits” and “Time” have all gone
platinum. 2004 saw the publishing of “Still grazing”
Masekela’s biography which was published by Random House in
Masekela uses his position to give a platform to a fresh generation
of South African talent, some of whom will be performing with him
on his tours. Masekela was heavily influenced by African-American
music since his infancy, having been raised on the 78 RPM gramophone
records of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Ma
Rainey, Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Sy Oliver, Lucky Millinder,
Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Coleman Hawkins, Cab
Calloway, Fats Waller, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Louis Jordan,
The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, Billie Holiday and Charlie Christian.
In his teens, he fell in love with Dizzy Gillepsie, George Shearing,
Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Coltrane, Cannonball, Horace Silver,
Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Oscar Peterson, Bud Shank,
Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Jackie & Roy Kral, June
Christy, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bud Powell,
and Mahalia Jackson. He went to Manhattan School of Music with Dave
Grusin, Herbie Hancock, Chick Correa, David Izenzon, Donald Byrd,
Eric Dolphy, Edie Gomez, Richard
Davis, Ron Carter and many other jazz greats.
Masekela played on some of Bob Marley’s very first recordings
and his music has very strong Brazilian, Nigerian, Ghananian and
Congolese influences. Hugh Masekela has just released a new album
called “Revival” produced by Zwai Bala and Godfrey ‘Guffy’
Pilane, both of whom are considered to be hip hop, kwaito musicians.
However their collaboration with Masekela destroys that myth and
shows them to be extremely gifted and well rounded musicians instead.
Hugh Masekela has also just recorded an album of old and popular
standard ballads with a trio led by his Manhattan School of music
classmate Larry Willis from 43 years ago. Larry played piano in
Masekela’s debut American quartet which recorded the classic
“The Americanization of Ooga Booga” album in 1965. Along
with bassist John Heard and drummer Lorea Hart, they completed a
3 day live recording of the love songs. This had been a dream of
theirs for 4 decades. The album is called “Almost like being
in Jazz” and was released in 2007. In the last years Hugh
Masekela toured the USA, Europe, Asia and his home country extensively.
Numerous new recordings and some remixes of his most successful
cd’s were released.
In summer 2007, Masekela embarked on a tour of the United States
and Canada in support of the live recording, “Hugh Masekela:
Live at the Market Theatre”, touring with most of the band
mates that supported his highly regarded album, “Uptownship”.
Since October 2007 he is a Board Member of the Woyome Foundation
(THE WOYOME FOUNDATION FOR AFRICA (WOFA) is an International Charity
Foundation registered in Ghana with a strategic thrust of launching
a new offensive in the fight against HIV/AIDS.).
Larry Willis biography
Larry Willis was born in 1942 in Manhattan’s Harlem. Surprisingly,
he entered music not as a pianist but as a voice major, first at
New York’s High School of Music and Art for gifted students,
then at the Manhattan School of Music. His senior year in high school,
at 17, he had his first recording date, a classical gig with the
Music and Arts Choral Ensemble singing a Copland opera conducted
by no less then Leonard Bernstein.
But something even more important than that happened to Willis
at the beginning of that senior year. He started playing the piano
- no lessons, no teacher, just figuring it out by himself. By the
end of the winter, he was playing his first professional gigs in
a jazz trio with two of his classmates, Al Foster on drums and Eddie
Gomez on bass. No one knew it then, but that little trio was probably
the most distinguished high school jazz group in the country.
Soon after entering the Manhattan School of Music, Willis switched
from voice to music theory. For one, he was running head-on into
the all-too-evident barriers facing black musicians in the classical
On the positive side, Willis’ interest in jazz was turning
into passion. A fellow student, Hugh Masakela, heard him jamming
with Al Foster. Masekela was so impressed that he hooked Willis
up with John Mehegan, the legendary New York jazz piano teacher.
Those were Willis’ first-ever lessons. By the end of that
year at the Manhattan School, at age 19, Willis was playing regularly
with Jackie McLean, the great alto saxophone innovator.
I know of no more remarkable entry into jazz: a kid of 17 decides
to play the piano for the first time; four months later, he’s
playing gigs with a soon-to-be world class trio. A year and a half
after that, he’s making jazz history with the next giant of
the alto after Bird. Talk about a natural gift!
A year after Willis’ graduation in 1965, Jackie McLean gave
him his first recording date - Right Now, on Blue Note - and on
that first date recorded the first two pieces in a continuing stream
of Willis compositions.
Since then, Larry Willis has played on more than 300 records. He’s
played or recorded with almost every great jazz musician of the
modern era, stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw,
Hugh Masakela, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Stan Getz, Art Blakey,
Art Taylor, Clifford Jordan, Carmen McRae, and Shirley Horn. His
most recent CDs include a Larry Willis Quintet and four Larry Willis
Trio recordings plus two solo sessions (labels are Audioquest, Steeplechase,
Evidence and Mapleshade).
Willis’ extraordinary versatility as a pianist ranges from
rock and pop - he spent 7 years as keyboardist for Blood, Sweat
and Tears - to African, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music. He’s
one of the only non-Hispanic players who ever impressed Mario Bauza
as a Latin pianist.
Edited by Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.