SA Field Band Foundation Gets Big Boost from Lincoln Center


Your Correspondent was in the right place at the right time on Friday evening, attending a function designed to raise awareness about the Field Band Foundation, an organization whose purpose is to keep at-risk youth in South Africa off the streets. The FBF offers kids the chance to learn an instrument, acquire a little creative discipline, and get involved with the world-wide marching band movement. At any given time, over 5,000 young men and women in SA are blowing horns, beating drums and having fun, courtesy the FBF.

Over the past two weeks, the Foundation has played host to jazz musicians from the Lincoln Center in New York, USA – led by the extraordinary Wycliff Gordon, a trombonist who leaves the indelible impression of a master practitioner of New Orleans (pronounced N’Ohlins) jazz. The group of FBF kids on steel drums and xylophones who welcomed us to the reception were a tough act to follow – but when, in an act of impromptu generosity for which I and my Lovely Assistant will forever be grateful, Wycliff walked out with his septet, and began to play, we momentarily lost all sense of time and place.

Was this really the Cape Town suburb of Bishopscourt, on a cold, wet, dreary night, or had we been transported to a midsummer’s bandstand in some pre-Katrina New Orleansean city park? Such was the warmth and joy of the music – we could’ve (and should’ve) taken off our scarves and coats and danced barefoot.

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The septet comprises consummate jazzmen and -women, chief among them Wycliff himself, who does the thing that top jazz people do so well, inflate with dignity and cut-loose cussedness at the same time when he’s playing. His trombone swung around and around and seemed to fill the room. Come to think of it, though, he might have been shaded slightly by the astounding Doreen Ketchins, on clarinet, who was a revelation – she barely seemed in control of the wild, wrestling object grasped between her hands. They played two long numbers (including the “Muskrat Ramble”) and then retired – and the cold, dark night crowded in again.

What an evening! Thanks to the Lincoln Center, the FBF and the US State Department (which underwrote the exercise) for making it possible.

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