Thursday 24 January 2013

Free Jazz Experiments at Selwyn's Room (1966)

Selwyn Lissack - back in the day.
Picture by Ian Bruce Huntley
In a 1985 interview Sheila Wallis asks Winston Mankunku Ngozi about the mid 1960s: "Do you remember Selwyn Lissack? He said you used to have great jam sessions together at a house in Bantry Bay". Winston: "Ooh boy, we had a quartet, a beautiful group, those guys were really together. Selwyn on drums, Chris Schilder, Midge Pike, and at times with Merton Barrow. We would rehearse the whole night, play, play, play and play. We were doing the Art Centre then. I met a friend who was really into music - Ian Huntley. He had a lot of records, a photographer, a beautiful guy, he was in love with musicians. He bought me another saxophone."  (April 1985 edition of 'Think Jazz').

In talking to Selwyn Lissack this week, he emphasised the important and generous role played by Ian: "Ian, played a very important part in my comprehension of how to approach playing Jazz. I would go to Ian’s flat to listen to the tapes after a concert. They say the tapes never lie and this was a perfect way to learn and understand the music of that time." (see below for more).

Another gift that Ian gave to us all was to keep and preserve these recordings and share them with us now. In this previously unreleased fascinating ninety-minute experimental session Chris Schilder and Selwyn Lissack stand-out most often in their technically tight exploratory forays. Winston Manunku delights and surprises more in the second half.
In listening for the first time I had the experience of being seized in recognising snippets of music, and then being taken for a compelling diversionary ride, gripped in waiting to hear what comes next, and then occasionlly being brought back to familiar territory that I could not quite identify. The more I listen to these recordings the more I get to know and appreciate them as a product of talented jazz musicians at the top of their game.
Selwyn Lissack left South Africa in 1966, not long after these recordings were made. In 1969 after a three-year sojourn in England he recorded his only album as leader: "Friendship Next of Kin" with Mongezi Feza (trumpet), Harry Miller (bass), Mike Osborn (alto sax), Kenneth Terroade (tenor sax), Earl Freeman (bass and piano), and Louis Moholo (additional percussion). After contributing to another ground-breaking free jazz album in 1970, Lissack quit music, disgusted at feeling ripped off. Read more here. Lissack re-mastered and re-issued "Friendship Next of Kin" in 2006 - look out for it, it is becoming difficult to find again. It is not for nothing that Lissack was rated in a list of a top ten from the free jazz underground.
Ever pushing boundaries Lissack teamed up in a five-year collaborative relationship with Salvador Dali in the 1970s to produce ten holographic works of art. Watch a video of Lissack describing what they did here. Visit Selwyn Lissack's own website here.
Very close friends at the time, Selwyn and Ian recently re-connected via telephone - Selwyn in Tucson, Arizona, and Ian in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. I invited Selwyn to share a few words on his recollections of those times.

"In the early 1950’s it was not yet possible, to pursue a Jazz musical career, through the local school curriculum, in South Africa. Some schools could teach the basic classical fundamentals of music. It was difficult to find a teacher who enjoyed and under-stood the intricacy of Jazz music.

"Another set back was, as I had chosen the drums as an instrument, it was nearly impossible to find a space to practice, in a suburban area.

"In order to play without disturbing anyone, I would rent an office space in the city of Cape Town and soundproof the walls and ceiling. After some years of this activity, I was able to find a garage close to my home, where many, many hours were spent in the pursuit of learning how to play, Jazz music.   
"Chris, Midge and Winston would usually come to ‘Selwyn’s room’ to rehearse, for the Sunday concerts at the Art Center on the Green Point common. It was at this venue that Ian Huntley recorded a lot of the music that has been preserved to this day.

"Ian, played a very important part in my comprehension of how to approach playing Jazz. I would go to Ian’s flat, to listen to the tapes, after a concert. They say the tapes never lie and this was a perfect way to learn and understand the music of that time.  
"I had a choice selection of the best east-coast jazz musicians, to study and learn from.

"Learning to play perfect straight ahead time was hard enough but my ultimate goal was to find a different and original approach to playing time. Like a pulse. This was eventually was achieved, in future recordings, 'Friendship Next of Kin' and the 'Sun Is Coming Up.'

"All the time that was dedicated to ‘Selwyn's Room’ and other urban  recordings, is an important historical documentation, of the legacy of Ian’s love and devotion to the jazz world and the musicians of Cape Town.
I would like to thank him, for always being there to catch the moment, making it possible for me to advance and perfect my concept of playing Jazz."

Ian is hoping to make contact with Chris Schilder (Ebrahim Kalil Shihab) again too. In searching the web, I did manage to find this March 2012 video clip of the master still at work! He released a solo piano CD in 2010 and it appears to be already sold out. It is possible download it from itunes here and Amazon here, and for a very reasonable price from Look and Listen here.
Experiments At Selwyn's Room - Part One
Rapidshare here
Zippyshare here
If you have not yet listened to the earlier postings from Ian’s archive, you can find them here:

1. Winston Mankunku gem 

2. Love for Free: Hidden South African Jazz Archive revealed

3. The Blue Notes: A Journey of Faith

4. Chris McGregor Quintet Live in Geneva

5. Becoming Free In Cape Town

6. Last Night at the Room At The Top: Dyani and Pukwana

7. Kippie Moeketsi: The album he never made

8. Mankunku and Goldberg Go Free In Cape Town


  1. As always this looks brilliant - thanks very much to all concerned - Fred

  2. I've been looking for material by Anthony Cockson, but I've only found the song "Brother Iddo", which the people from the Likembe blog uploaded. Maybe you have something by them?

  3. Sorry, cant help you on that score J.G.G.

  4. Is there any chance of a re-up on this. I have just recently been turned on to Selwyn and would like to hear more from him. Thanks if possible.

  5. Will get round to fixing this Dogon - in the interim you can search and access all of Ian Huntley's recordings of Selwyn Lissack on the Huntley Archive on Electric Jive - just click on the photo on the top of the right-hand column of this blog - go to the photos page, and use the search function - it will highlight recordings, all of which can be downloaded.


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