Nduduzo Makathini is a South African jazz musician from Umgungundlovu, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He’s been described by All About Jazz as “a truly singular pianist, an astonishingly gifted composer, and a deeply nuanced thinker on the music…one of South Africa’s most remarkable talents.” (Hugh Mdlalose)
This past June we hosted Nduduzo Makhathini, a prolific South African Jazz pianist in the Blue Room for a two-night stint at the American Jazz Museum. He recently signed on to the legendary Blue Note label and is skyrocketing as one of the next “it” Jazz musicians around the world, blazing across the Jazz scene and inspiring awe. He spoke and played from a rooted place of ancestry, virtuosity, and just plain soul—transferable across language, life, and experience while being flanked by other great bandmates—Lonnie Plaxico (bassist from Chicago via New York), Francisco Mela (drummer from Santiago, Cuba via Boston) and our hometown’s very own Logan Richardson (saxophonist now residing in Los Angeles). With the great Bobby Watson, situated front and center and the bar, leaning forward and ear bent with a smile, I knew we were in for a treat but later realize that history was swirling all around us.
The playing was infectious. Hypnotically so, as connections between Kansas City and South Africa were dotted in each staccato note and drawn out in the musings and meditations of Makhathini’s compositions, humbling presence, as well as Richardson’s Charlie Parker-like passages throughout. Between the bass groove and summoning drums, ritual and royalty eagerly washed over the audience again and again. South Africa was one of the last countries on the continent to gain independence and Missouri one of the last states to release slaves. And Makhathini noted these connections, ties and transitions not though hardened memory and spite, rather a shared sense of history and healing. He spoke of breath in the last moments of George Floyd as an attempt to deaden the spirit even beyond the body, and how in music and living we must protect, nurture and extend that breath no matter what. The spirit must remain. We all share a similar cosmology in systems of racism and Apartheid that we must find release from and not oriented to. And if we ignore that reality, breathing becomes even more complicated.
I was transported that night to the shores of Durban, South Africa and cobbled streets of Havana, Cuba where between the swell of the ocean and the shelter of community—there exist an openness and pulsing melodies both responsive and beautifully raw.
I was transported that night to the shores of Durban, South Africa and cobbled streets of Havana, Cuba where between the swell of the ocean and the shelter of community—there exist an openness and pulsing melodies both responsive and beautifully raw. So too, our audience here in the Blue Room hung on e.v.e.r.y. single note as a sermon bellowed from each instrument. I stood next to someone mouth gapped the entire time who couldn’t help but say “I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world at this exact moment with a show and talent like this. Only here in Kansas City. Only in the Blue Room. It’s incredible what’s happening here at the American Jazz Museum.” Makhathini and band channeled other legends that night acknowledging Parker’s, Basie’s, McShann’s and other KC influences on their music and world. They and we were equally honored by Watson’s presence and contributions too, championing it all, and we, bearing witness to lineage and legacy onstage front and center. It is this through line that compels us forward, living and celebrating this musical heritage with unique opportunities to hear and take part in life altering concerts and programs.
We’re waving a big banner for our 25th Anniversary this year. Our In the Yard legendary 25th Anniversary Award ceremony, Music and Film event will be featured on August 25th and 27th as another chance to support, attend and be moved by our Kansas City influence and how national and international star musicians transform and tribute these traditions. If all the world’s a stage, this had to be the right place at the right time. Only in Kansas City at 18th and Vine. Join us.