But the joy came when the legendary composer and pianist sat down and started 'tickling the ivories' marking the opening of the 15th Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in Newtown, Johannesburg. Ibrahim sat silently during most part of the act, watching his six-member band with haunting concentration.It certainly takes a strong heart for an artist to entertain people two days after losing a wife but Ibrahim seemed to have surrendered his sorrows to the music. An hour later, after some heartfelt performance his group bowed to the crowd and left quietly without any word from the Cape Town pianist, formerly known as the Dollar Brand.
Another pianist, Amina Figurova who was standing in for yet another legendary pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal was next on stage. The 83-year-old Jamal could not make the trip from USA to Johannesburg for unexplained reasons.On Tuesday last week, the festival orgnisers had announced on Twitter saying, "Due to unforeseen circumstances Ahmad Jamal will not be joining us at #JoyofJazz but he will be replaced by Pianist Amina Figarova". Even though Figurova could not fill the great legend's boots, the show went on. American trumpeter, Terence Blanchard together with his five-piece band closed the festival's opening night with some great sounds.The highlight of the second night was South Africa's singing sensation, Zonke who has created waves with her latest album, Ina Ethe. Clad in sensual flowing white blouse and black and white leggings, the crowd loved her and sang along to her crossover sweet melodies like Feelings and Ngomso. When she got off the Mbira Stage, The Temptations took over. The crowd was taken down memory lane to the golden harmonies of yesteryears.
At Market Theatre stage, Themba Mkhize dished out a moving performance, constantly reminiscing how hard it used to be playing with a multiracial band during the dark days of Apartheid."It used to be very hard
to have this (multiracial band), we would be arrested for this. But today I can freely say; 'nge balungu bame'," he told the crowd. Other notable acts were Ivan Mazuze from Mozambique and Carmen Lundy Quartet, Rene Marie, Satchmo Sax Summit, Donald Harrison all from USA.The closing night of the festival saw one of South Africa's tough clashes in festival history as African jazz giants Stimela, Sipho Mabuse and Selaelo Selota performed concurrently at Mbira, Conga and Bassline stages, respectively. Trying to get a piece of each act involved a hard decision of leaving one show and dashing to a different stage.From Stimela, Ray Phiri brought a young Samuel Ndlovu who is a perfect fit in covering the late Nana Coyote's parts of Stimela songs. Phiri later agreed. "He is a perfect replacement, only lacking in Coyote's character," he said. Even though we will never hear Stimela's Coyote bark, Ndlovu was comfortable in the late veteran's verses.At Bassline, Sipho Mabuse was paying tribute to the late pianist, Zim Ngqawana. We arrived mid-way through his hypnotic Thaba Bosiu piece and just before he began Ngqawana's most recognised works, Qula Kwedini and Ebhofolo. At Conga, we got in just before Selota famously took off his shirt. Selota closed his set with the feisty song, Thirr... Pha... and soaked in sweat, he did his menacing hook punches in the air like a boxer and an amazing power waist thrusts like a Pantsula dancer.When all the acts closed on Day Three, the sombre feeling that hung over Newtown Precinct and jazz lovers when the tall quiet figure of Abdullah Ibrahim walked on the Dinaledi Stage during the opening night was gone. The Joy of Jazz was back in town with many artists having complied to many 'we want more' requests from the thousands of jazz pilgrims from across Africa and rest of the world.