Electric Jive blog post number 250:
Cracking an invite to play the Newport Jazz Festival was a big dream for many South African jazz musicians. The story goes that the Jazz Ministers were first invited to the play in the U.S. during 1972, but the apartheid government would not issue them with passports. Another story has it that Port Elizabeth’s Soul Jazzmen were the first choice invite to play Newport in 1976, and for reasons not clear, they could not make it. In the end in June 1976, the month that Soweto erupted in protest, the Jazz Ministers got to Newport.
An act of defiance while in the U.S. got the Jazz Ministers into trouble when they arrived back in South Africa. The Ministers were invited to participate in the bicentennial celebrations of US independence. They played the 52nd Street Jazz Fair, and also at the Washington Pigfoot club. But The Ministers were not the only South Africans invited to celebrate 200 years of independence. At the behest of the Gerald Ford administration, a South African warship was also participating in the celebrations. When the Jazz Ministers were invited to play on the deck of the South African warship, they refused. Within hours after arriving back in South Africa Johnny Mekoa – the founder of the band - was detained and interrogated by the security police.
Today’s contribution adds a rarity to the substantial Jazz Ministers discography we have shared already. An unusual aspect of this live recording is that it contains two songs featuring the fine voice of Victor Madoda Ndlazilwane.
Johnny Mekoa was pivotal in forming the Jazz Ministers in 1967. A 2003 article in the City Press records that the founding members of the band were Johnny Mekoa, alto saxophonist Aubrey Simani, tenor saxophonist Furnace Goduka, another tenor player Duncan Madondo, pianist Boy Ngwenya (previously with the Woody Woodpeckers), bassist Fanyana Sehloho and drummer Shepstone Sethoane.
Ndlazilwane only joined the group in 1970. The added arranging and composing genius of Victor Ndlazilwane propelled the band into a new and unique direction. One of Ndlazilwane’s first recordings with the Woody Woodpeckers can be heard on this 1952 recording of “African Jazz and Variety”.Two 1955 78rpms of the Woody Woodpeckers are included in this fantastic post from Siemon Allen here.
In 1959 Ndlazilwane played the role of "The Journalist" in the hit show King Kong and continued with the cast when the show was taken to London in 1961. The Woody Woodpeckers performed at the classic 1962 Castle Jazz Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu stadium.The 1972 album Nomvula's Jazz Dance can be found here. Zandile was recorded in 1975 with founding member Ngwenya back in the group. After Victor Ndlazilwane's death in April 1978 trumpeter Johnny Mekoa assumed leadership of the Ministers.
In 1984 they produced the very fine Ndizo Bono Na?
The Jazz Ministers Live At Newport Jazz Festival 1976
Shepstone Sothoane – drumsFakes Fanyana Sehloho – Bass
Nomvula Ndlazilwane – Piano (aged 15)
Victor Madoda Ndlazilwane – Saxophone – musical director, composer
Johnny Mekoa – Trumpet and Flugelhorn