UNT Student Brings South African Jazz to Denton

When UNT’s Music Entrepreneurship made a call for original concert ideas, the likes of which the music program had never seen, student Simeon Davis immediately knew he had an idea from across the globe. Winner of the inaugural UNT Innovative Music Programming Competition, Davis and several other musicians will go on to perform a concert centered around South African jazz at the Greater Denton Arts Council on November 9th.

As a college freshman, Davis traveled from South Africa where he had been living for 17 years to study at UNT’s College of Music - and he brought his love of jazz with him. “The first jazz album I ever heard was actually South African jazz. In the seventh grade, my brother came home with an Abdullah Ibrahim record,” Davis recalls, remembering his first experiences with this different type of music. His teacher, UNT professor Brad Leali, reminds Davis to “get back to his roots,” and for Davis, this means educating others about the music he grew up on.

 Photo by Mallory Frenza

Photo by Mallory Frenza

A major aspect of the Innovative Music Programming Competition was the need for a mixed media element. Recognizing the powerful combination of film and music, Davis chose to juxtapose important historical footage and speeches alongside works that express hope for the future of South Africa and the African continent as a whole. In the final round of the competition, Davis paired one work, entitled “Prayer for Nkosi” (from Marcus Wyatt’s 2002 release Africans in Space) next to footage from Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial Speech–a landmark event in the history of South African democracy and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Together, the works are forward-looking, emboldened and strengthened by one another.

South African jazz is similar to American jazz in many ways, but Davis points towards different rhythmic grooves, chord progressions and timbres as distinguishing factors. “The typical tenor sax in Cape Town jazz is different from that of, say, hard bop or other styles,” he explains. Davis knows that each culture has different elements to contribute musically, and being a jazz musician merits the ability of being able to draw upon many styles. “Jazz ostensibly came from a blending of different culture, and so honoring the jazz tradition is moving forward and creating something new. The concert is a combination of looking back and looking forward, as jazz has always done.” Davis hopes that concert attendees will walk away with a broader musical perspective, and with their eyes and ears open to artists from other countries.

South African Jazz: A Multimedia Cultural Celebration will be performed November 9th, 7:00p.m. at the Greater Denton Arts Council, with arrangements by Simeon Nathanael Davis. The performers will include Jonathan Shier, Brendan Malloy, Chris Rodriguez-Chen, Alex Souris, Tanakrit Korat, Dylan Castilleja and Brett Lamel. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged–as are eager listeners ready to explore a sound that Denton has not yet had the pleasure of experiencing.

Header courtesy of Mallory Frenza
Header design courtesy of Mateo Granadas