Sunday, 8 April 2012


THE Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) dance orchestra played jazz scores by Glen Miller, Benny Carter, Benny Golson among others. Directed by the late Fela Sowande and Steve Rhodes at various times, the band was training ground for soloists and musicians with the talent for arranging. Former leader of Uhuru Professional Dance Band, Stan Plange always refers to his tutelage with the NBC Dance orchestra as most rewarding in that the experience taught him to arrange for the big band sound for which Uhuru was immediately recognisable.

The NBC Dance orchestra had several soloists including Appollos Fiberesima, E.C. Arinze, Chris Ajilo and the young Michael Falana, who, in fact pioneered modern jazz trumpeting on the instrument long before the emergence of Fela Ransome-Kuti.

Falana’s solos, most of which were muted came across beautifully in the mould of Miles Davis –– in terms of tonal conception. And because he had a lot of imagination most of which reflected in his phrasing, Falana was often allowed to extend his solos beyond what the scores allowed. But it was around 1962, when he began to record with such small groups featuring Joe Nez on vocals in highlife songs as Okwereke dikara; and You cheat me vocalised by Godwin Omabuwa of the Casanova Dandies that Falana’s trumpet began to come into full focus.

Falana recorded jazz-inspired highlife with Ghana’s Arthur Benny on guitar –– with saxophonist Olu Idienuma of Roy Chicago’s Rhythm Dandies on the one hand; and also recorded with the same guitarist playing with Etim Udo on alto saxophone on the other. Check out his trumpet solos on You cheat me and Okwerekedi-kara, which were recorded in 1962. They remain classics that can compare with Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown and Thad Jones.

JAZZ however took on total patronage in the hands of Fela Ransome-Kuti who came from London in 1963 to form a quintet. With base at Cool Cats Inn, Olaiya’s former residency, the band played every Monday night as Fela doubled on piano and trumpet with the late Emmanuel Ngomalio on fiddle bass; Don Amechi on guitar; and John Bull, drums. The late Sid Moss, Taiwo Okupe, Zeal Onyia, Steve Rhodes and others came in as guest artists on regular basis. But perhaps the most regular of them was Sid Moss who was sometimes made to rehearse with the band. He was a blues player with the influence of Oscar Peterson eloquently displayed in his phrasings and solo lines.

The Fela Ransome-Kuti quintet transformed into the Koola Lobitos with completely new personnel; and bass player Ngomalio who had now become a pianist went solo and performed at Eko Le Meridien while guitarist Don Amechi travelled abroad for greener pastures. The drummer, John Bull died in mysterious circumstances.

However, before the exit of the quintet, another jazz aggregation came into existence in 1964. Called The Jazz Preachers, the group featured Art Alade on piano, Ayo Vaughan who was a solid member of the NBC Dance Orchestra, played bass; Zeal Onyia was featured on trumpet; Chris Ajilo, tenor saxophone; Bayo Martins and Femi Asekun, drums.

The appearance of the Jazz Preachers provided a contrast to the strict modern jazz of the Fela Ransome-Kuti quintet. While the quintet thrived on well rehearsed tunes such as But not for me by Cole Porter, Errol Garner’s Misty, Milt Jackson’s Bags groove, Charlie Parker’s Billie’s Bounce, The Jazz Preachers, often claiming to “get together and blow,” played such classics as C Jam Blues and Perdido. The texture and structure of their jazz clearly showed that they were playing the mainstream type, which brought Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Count Bassie, Ben Webster, Glen miller and all to the limelight.

However, the band soon disbanded but was taken over by the pianist and singer Art Alade, who, in fact, used it to accomplish a number of sessions. Before his death, he was popular on the university circuit, especially Yaba College of Technology where he had a good understanding with the college’s Jazz Club President, Greg Odua who is now a sports analyst and broadcaster with Africa Independence Television (AIT). Together with Zeal Onyia and Etim Udo, Art did a number of shows at the Yaba College of Technology campus.

THE eighties ushered in a dynamic jazz experience with the coming into existence of Jazz 38. Perhaps the first female jazz singer in Nigeria was Mud Meyer who sang in the mould of Billy Holiday and Bessie Smith –– from the ‘50s to the ‘60s with various bands in Nigeria. But Fran Kuboye brought in a dynamic experience with a warm voice like Ella Fitzgerald and the new generation of female singers. With her husband Tunde Kuboye on bass guitar, Fran took jazz singing to a new level of creativity in Nigeria, later reaching its peak at this venue when the likes of Ngomalio and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti began to sit in and blow in the ‘80s. That was jazz at its best. After came Jazzville in Iwaya area of Lagos, founded and managed by Muyiwa Majekodumi. The period also had the weekly Jazz et al session at the former Bread & Butter at Allen Junction in Ikeja Lagos; where The ITAN Band and later Colours led by Bisade Olugunde performed.

The ‘90s saw the emergence of Kayode Olajide and the Weavers, playing at Art CafĂ©, Ikeja and the French Cultural Centre, Ikoyi on regular basis. Olajide provided an interesting menu for jazz devotees who loved jazz with African interpretations, playing flute, alto, tenor and soprano saxophones.

Peter King has always been there, fusing jazz with highlife and rock; but he was featured for almost two years monthly with his College Band at Ojez Club, Iwaya from 2002 to 2004 – on a programme called Jazz Alive. And his stint really kept jazz alive.

One of the female singers who has continued to keep jazz alive in Nigeria is Yinka Davies. Even though she has not performed on a particularly regular basis, whenever she finds herself in a jazz setting, for her, it is often a challenge.

There is now a crop of young jazz musicians most of whom have travelled to South Africa in search of more challenging jazz activity and opportunities. Guitarist Ayo Odutayo is one of them. A handful of Jazzists are taking the Nigerian Jazz Music to the next level. Popular among the vetereans are:

Saxophonists: Herbert Kunle Ajayi, Mike Aremu, Ayo Solanke, Jerry Omole, Dotun Bankole etc.

Trumpeters: Nathaniel Bassey, Uche Jombo etc.

Pianists: Wole Oni, Braithwaite Franklyn etc.

I shall be getting up close and personal with these people and other up coming Jazists so keep your fingers crossed.

Credits to Guardian Newsletter.

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