Monday 29 July 2013

John Mehegan's other recording in South Africa

I was not aware this 1959 recording existed until I stumbled upon it in a recent vinyl digging expedition. Jazz pianist and teacher John Mehegan holds a special place in South Africa's jazz history, having recorded what are said to be the first long-playing jazz records featuring black South Africans - Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa included. Read more about "Jazz In Africa" at Flat International here. Mehegan as pianist and teacher clearly contributed to and significantly influenced the playing of jazz in South Africa

Mehegan was a professor of jazz at the Julliard School of Music, and also at Yale University. In addition to writing multiple books, and a seminal four-volume series on jazz improvisation, the pianist made four recordings for Columbia and Savoy as leader. He also recorded with Billy Holiday, Charles Mingus, Kenny Dorham, Lionel Hampton, Slam Stewart and Dinah Washington.

It seems that Mehegan;'s capacity for empathy and improvisation stretched beyond his music. In 1957 Mehegan was branded as an 'uncooperative witness' by the House Committee on Un-American Activities during their investigations into Communist links to the music industry.

The LP featured here does not appear to be referenced much on the internet. Morris Goldberg does mention the recording in passing during an interview with Don Albert here. Goldberg goes on to say that Mehegan gave him a six hour lesson on jazz harmony around the time this album was recorded in South Africa. Goldberg recalls subsequently practicing Mehegan's exercises for many an hour thereafter, such that when Goldberg got to New York in 1961 and heard Coltrane playing in modal style it was already very familiar to him.

In addition to studying at the Manhattan School of Music from 1961, Goldberg would join Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa for further lessons with Mehegan in New York at night, exploring free jazz. Goldberg has returned to South Africa frequently, contributing to seminal recordings along the way. Ian Huntley made quite a few recordings of Morris Goldberg in Cape Town during the mid sixties. There is a 1966 recording which features Goldberg and Winston Mankunku playing Coltrane's "Ole" and a number of other free-oriented tracks, giving reference to how the cross-fertilization of Mehegan and Goldberg's New York experiences were assimilated back in South Africa. You can find that recording here. Other Ian Huntley jazz archive with Morris Goldberg can be found herehere and here, and there are still some more to come. The Urban Jazz Band and quartet recordings from 1975 can be found here and here.

Vocalist Peter Lotis will be known to many South Africans from the 60s and 70s as a radio personality and entertainer.

John Mehegan's Piano in Gold Burg
1. Gold Burg (Morris Goldberg)
2. It's Just the Gypsy in My Soul
3. Don't Be That Way
4. Mangos
5. Strange
6. Gee, baby, I'm so good to you
7. I hear Music
8. Dinah
9. Once Again In Love
10. Lush Life
11. Summer Time

John Mehegan (Piano); Morris Goldberg (Saxophone); Peter Lotis (vocals); Teddy Bowles (drums) Harry Tallas (bass).

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  1. fan-tas-tic ! after the one with costa et the other casual affair I was searching for his south african period ! It's a miracle, thanks a lot !

  2. IT's funny you mentioned John Mehegan as I lived at his house above the studio. I had the opportunity to record his wife Gay Mehegan before she past on. We found the master tape after 15 years missing. We Lebish Grinnell Music have digitized and mastered this recording of Gay playing John's 300 year old Steinway is pristine. If anyone that knows John, he trained his wife very well ans she is masterful on this master. Anyone interested in this recording?

  3. Thanks for the comments all - @Jamie: that is a fascinating story, thanks for sharing it - I would be interested to hear the recording of Gay playing

  4. thank... i love SA Jazz!!!!!

  5. Thanks for your most excellent blog.
    I would like to point out that track 7 is not "I Hear Music" (Burton Lane) but "Just Friends" another well-known standard.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Thanks Boogieman for the kind words and pointing out a difference on the title of track 7. The credit on the vinyl label says: "I hear music: (Lane-Arlen). I found a youtube of Billie Holiday singing "I hear music" and it does not sound the same ... finding another recorded version of "Just Friends" is more difficult. Cheers

  7. @Boogieman - just tracked down a Sam Jones and then two Chalrlie Parker versions of Just Friends - and I agree with you. Thanks for pointing out this anomaly

  8. Chris, thank you for posting this. I have most of my dad's albums but I've never even seen this one. Fantastic find! -Eben

  9. Guys, track 7 is neither "I Hear Music" nor "Just Friends" ! It is in fact, Jerome Kern's "The Song Is You".

  10. Thanks Publius for picking that one up - it amazes me how often the info provided on the sleeves of LPs can be incorrect

  11. Chris, I was just listening to this recording again and I think these are some of the best I've heard of my dad. If you have any other albums from his time in South Africa, I'd be very interested in hearing what you have. Thanks again for posting this album!


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