Festival brings together world jazz greats

Branford Marsalis Quartet. PHOTO | COURTESY
Branford Marsalis Quartet. PHOTO | COURTESY 

One of the country’s premier music events The Safaricom Jazz Festival takes place next week with an entire week of performances by top jazz ensembles from around the world.

There is a truly global appeal to this year’s festival: one of the best known figures of modern jazz and classical music from the US, a British jazz fusion band, an Israeli duo, two Italian maestros, a Belgian pianist and composer, a Nigerian guitarist and two Kenyan jazz bands.

Branford Marsalis

The name Marsalis has been synonymous with jazz in the United States for more than 60 years, thanks to the legendary pianist and music teacher Ellis Marsalis and his four musician sons, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason. Branford, the oldest in a family, has been playing the saxophone since his teenage and formed his own quartet in 1986.

This native of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, is one of the major figures of jazz and classical music with three Grammy Awards and a host of collaborations with other greats like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Branford Marsalis also plays with leading symphony orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and served as Creative Director for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during the 2012-13-concert season.

Just like his father, he too lays great emphasis on music education and has taught at universities across the US since 1996. The University of North Carolina awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree in 2012. The Branford Marsalis Quartet is the headline act at this year’s Safaricom Jazz Festival.

Francesco D’Orazio and Giampaolo

Two Italian performers, violinist Francesco D’Orazio and pianist Giampaolo Nuti will perform at the Michael Joseph Centre in Nairobi on February, at one of the first events of this year’s jazz festival.

D’Orazio has a large repertoire of music from his days as violinist of the L’Astree Ensemble in Turin, Italy, to his own classical, romantic and contemporary pieces.

He has appeared at the biggest concert venues in London, New York, Buenos Aires, Venice and Istanbul. Among the ensembles that he has performed include the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Turin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sicilian Orchestra and Orchestra of Madrid.

Pianist Giampaolo Nuti is a teacher and performer and has appeared widely around the world in recitals and in various chamber ensembles. He has performed concertos ranging from music by composers like Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Liszt.

This native of Florence has also recorded various albums including the complete works of the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke.

The two Italian maestros perform at the Michael Joseph Centre on Monday February 15 at 7.30pm.

Jef Neve

The Belgian pianist and composer Jef Neve and his Trio will be in Kenya for the Safaricom Jazz Festival and for the Belgian Week in Nairobi from February 17 to 21.

Neve has played with jazz bands, classical ensembles, pop bands and as a soloist with the Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra among others.

His first piano concerto premiered in May 2009 with the Brussels Philharmonic while his second concerto was first performed in 2012. Neve has also composed scores for Belgian film and TV soundtracks, documentaries and theatre productions.

Since 2008, his career has flourished on the international stage as a solo performer and with his group. They have performed at jazz festivals in major cities in the world, from Paris to Montreal, London to Rabat. Jef Neve returns to Kenya for the first time since he performed here in 2013.

Sons of Kemet

This is a British jazz quartet led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings together with two drummers Seb, Tom Skinner and tuba player Theon Cross.

The band takes its name from a Nubian king who reigned over Ancient Egypt and they bring an eclectic style that combines jazz, rock, Caribbean calypso and North African music influences. The Sons of Kemet has won a host of awards including Best Jazz Act in the UK Music of Black Origin Awards (MOBO) in 2013 and Jazz FM Instrumentalist of the Year Award in 2015.

The group’s second and latest album “Lest we forget what we came here to do” was released in 2015. For the last one month, Sons of Kemet has been on tour in South Africa performing alongside musicians like Kyle Shepherd in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The other acts appearing at this year’s Safaricom Jazz Festival are two Israeli performers, cellist Maya Belsitzman and drummer Matan Ephrat and the Nigerian guitarist Kunle Ayo who won many fans when he last performed in Kenya in 2014.

The local musicians fraternity will be represented by two bands, AfroSync and Different Faces led by Edward Parseen. Tickets for the festival that takes place on February 21 at the Safaricom Stadium are on sale for Sh1,000 at Safaricom Shops or via M-Ticketing 1511.

All proceeds from the event will once again benefit the Ghetto Classics, a music training programme for the youth in Korogocho, Nairobi.