This post is the first in a thread of four worthy bop-oriented albums recorded by a common core of eight jazz musicians (all featured on this recording) while they spent much of 1974 touring South and southern Africa. In kicking off chronologically with Kirk Lightsey’s February 1974 recording, a preface on the special role of one Lovelace Watkins is appropriate. Watkins signed Lightsey to accompany him for five years of playing all around the world from 1974 to 1979. Detroit-born Watkins was a charismatic and gifted singer whose travelling and musical networking seemed to open up opportunities for good things to happen around him.
In addition to being highly popular in Europe and Australia, “the Black Sinatra” gigged southern Africa multiple times over a period of ten years from 1971 to 1981. Having developed a massive fan base from earlier tours, it was in 1974 that Watkins was able to invest substantially in bringing out a big band of excellent U.S. jazz musicians to spend the year touring southern Africa. During this time the band members found the space and opportunity to headline their own gigs and also to record on various labels - working around prior contractual obligations.
The last three albums in this thread also feature Marshall Royal, Count Basie's saxophonist and band leader for more than twenty years.
An example of Watkins’ generous resourcefulness is evidenced by the December 1977 jazz concert he made happen for a crowd of 9,000 in Maseru, Lesotho – headlining with Dizzy Gillespie, and including the likes of Monk Montgomery and Kirk Lightsey. Watkins, who graduated from Rutgers University, gave all the proceeds from that concert towards bursaries for African students to study at Rutgers. Billboard mentions it here
Watkins recorded two albums in South Africa , both of which went gold. Watkins went to number 6 on the south African charts in 1974 with Neil Sedaka’s “The Way I Am”. Download that song here (15th Nov 1974). Watkins died aged 58 in 1995 of leukemia.
Kirk Lightsey’s enduring keyboard genius stretches back to the 1960s where he appears on five recordings with Chet Baker on the Prestige label. After his five-year stint with Watkins, Lightsey went on to tour with Dexter Gordon from 1979 to 1983. Since then, the last thirty years have cemented Lightsey’s reputation as a gifted modern Jazz pianist with a career that has included sessions with some of the world’s finest jazz instrumentalists, along with a series of classy recordings and solo performances of his own.
Habiba was “a concept thought up by trombonist Al Hall jnr. The sleeve notes record that Hall suggested the group try “to put our thoughts down musically on some of the aspects we have seen” (in southern Africa). “It is obvious that the rhythm and voicings of Africa have been deeply etched into these compostions by Kirk Lightsey and Rudolph Johnson.”
“On this album a combination of African rhythms and harmonies give licence to the inventive genius of the musicians who explore the moods of black Africa”.
Notable among the listing of U.S.-based jazz musicians is one South African, bass player, producer, writer and engineer, Johnny Boshoff. Boshoff's bass graces numerous genre's of South African recordings from Johnny Kongos, through prog-jazz rock band "Square Set", to Juluka. Boshoff ably filled in on three of these recordings because of contractual record label issues with Watkins' own bass player, Monk Montgomery. Montgomery headlines the next record to be shared in this thread, with a 1974 live concert at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. For now, enjoy what has become a sought after and highly rated album!
Recorded in South Africa 17/02/1974:
Kirk Lightsey (Keyboard);
Rudolph Johnson (Tenor Sax / Flute);
Johnny Boshoff (Bass);
Curtis Kirk (Drums);
Charles Mallory (Guitar);
All Hall jnr. (trombone);
Delbert Hill (Clarinet);
Danny Cortez (Trumpet).
Produced by Peter Thwaites and Peter Lotis
Recorded by Peter Thwaites in the Gallo Studios - February 1974. Album released in February 1975.
Habiba (Kirk Lightsey) 21:40
Here It Is (Rudolph Johnson) 11:57
Fresh Air (Kirk Lighstey) 5:32