Jazz duo impressive performance

“Sublime” was how one audience member described the music of renowned South African jazz musicians and composers, Andre Petersen and Feya Faku.

The two gave a special concert hosted by the Mellon Foundation Jazz Heritage Project at the Rhodes Music Department recently, performing their own compositions, most of which had never been played for an audience before.  

“A lot of these songs we never played before people, but I knew because it’s Andre, it’s going to work,” says Faku, in his characteristic unassuming, quiet way.

He describes the process of improvising and composing as “not being afraid of the unknown,” as it is in the moment of not being sure what will happen next that takes the musicians ? and the audience ?  to unexpected places.

“Preparation unlocks revelation; that’s an illusion about art, it’s not entirely improvised, its composition, but sped up. Even when you ‘mess up’ what you feel and what you hear isn’t the same,” says Faku.

“I would not have been able to do a concert like this one a year or two ago,” says Petersen.

“I simply had not listened to enough music, both within the jazz idiom and beyond. The pleasure of listening gives you the freedom to play, as you discover so much every step of the way.”

The Music Department’s Beethoven Room went quiet as Petersen walked out and started strumming the baby grand piano’s strings- producing a sound that few had ever heard.

Playing without a programme, they concentrated on their virtuosic improvisations- with Faku belting out big, warm sounds on his trumpet, beautifully complemented by Petersen’s gentle and expansive melodies on the piano.

Iconic South African trumpeter Faku was born in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, and started playing without any formal training. As he described to the students attending the master class on the morning after the concert: “I didn’t choose music , music chose me.”

He received theory and practical lessons from Port Elizabeth musicians and later completed a Performers Diploma in Jazz Studies at the University of Natal.

Currently residing in Johannesburg, Feya has played and collaborated with many international and South African jazz musicians including Abdullah Ibrahim and Bheki Mseleku.

Considered as an integral musician of the emerging, post-apartheid generation, Petersen is an award-winning pianist, composer and educator. He studied classical piano at the University of Cape Town and completed his UNISA Teacher's Licentiate (UTLM) in 2002.

In 2011,he graduated with a Masters Degree (Jazz Studies) from the prestigious Lemmens Institute in Belgium (cum laude). Petersen has also worked with some of South Africa's leading musicians, including Winston Mankunku, Robbie Jansen, Errol Dyers and Makaya Ntshoko.

He has held posts as piano lecturer at the University of Cape Town, and UWC Performing Arts Centre and has conducted master classes at the Oslo Conservatory of Music, NJF Improvisation Seminar (Norway) and other parts of Europe.

His awards include first prize in the 2009 SAMRO Overseas Piano Scholarship Competition and receiving a special award at the 2010 Martial Solal International Jazz Piano Competition in Paris.

At the master class held the morning after the concert, they spoke at length about how challenging oneself as a musician and “not getting stuck in the practice room” leads to expression and experimentation.

As firm friends, they enjoy a special bond that enables them to improvise freely while performing, which requires trust, intuition and the ability to listen to one another, ensuring that ample space is created for each other’s expression.

The first time they played together was at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2002 which Petersen describes as a big break for him.

“For him to trust me was a great honour. If you don’t trust someone off-stage it’s pretty hard to play together - you can’t be free. And it’s that freedom that allows the audience to interpret for themselves what they are hearing and feeling.”

Photo and story by Anna-Karien Otto