Jazz, much like other music genres, has eras and each era is marked by its stars and the music they made. Swing jazz had Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and many other New Orleans cats. Bebop had Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, the Jazz Epistles and many others. Free jazz on the other side had the likes of Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis contributing to its growth. Each era and the artists who innovated and experimented with jazz, moved the music forward creating soundtracks for generations.
In 1934, composer George Gershwin composed the melody for Summertime, which became part of the 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess. It spiralled into what is now considered a jazz standard. In 1936, Billie Holiday made a recording of the song. Another notable rendition came from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in 1957 and Miles Davis added his in 1959. If you were a jazz lover growing up in the early 1940s to late 1950s, Summertime is likely to have been your soundtrack.
The Girl from Ipanema
If you were alive in the 1970s, The Girl from Ipanema was likely part of your jazz soundtrack. The Girl from Ipanema comes from the bossa nova era of Brazilian jazz and was composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1962. Lyrics were written by Vinicius de Moraes and Norman Gimbel in Portuguese and English, respectively. The song won a “Song of the year” Grammy award in 1965. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Byrd, Dennis Brown, Chad & Jeremy, Nat “King” Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Herb Alpert are all among the many jazz artists who liked the song so much they released their own versions of it.
Democracy, along with the unbanning of artists and the lift of censorship, ushered in a new era of music for South Africans young and old. As artists returned from exile, so did their sound. Caiphus Semenya’s Ziph’ Iinkomo, or any song from his illustrious catalogue from the period, is one of the sounds that taught a generation born in the late 1970s and early 1980s about South African jazz.
Semenya’s catalogue is as much a documentation of the changes in South African jazz as it is a soundtrack to the new South Africa.