Even in our fully digitized era, print has its selling points: portability, durability, cheaper than an iPad. But timeliness? Not so much. I’m sending this completed, polished “In Memoriam” issue to the printer at the same time I’m editing an online obituary for Hugh Masekela. Surely the architect of South African jazz should’ve had a major part in this issue’s compilation of loving tributes, but the presses aren’t as easily stopped as they might seem from movies. Luckily we have the website too, so visit JazzTimes.com for a remembrance from a fellow musician who knew and loved Bra Hugh. In the meantime, here are my two cents: In 2009 I traveled to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, where I was able to glean some genuine understanding of the magnitude of his cultural importance. In a sweat-soaked concert celebrating his 70th birthday, Masekela threaded his lyrical flugelhorn through buoyant endemic grooves; as I wrote at the time, it skewed a bit pop-jazz for my taste. But the spiritual clout that emerged when he shouted and sang was truly astounding—like a salve for the hometown audience, not yet two decades removed from the fall of apartheid. Seven years later, when the Obamas hosted International Jazz Day at the White House, he entranced again, offering his “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)” alongside an all-star band. I’ve rarely witnessed such a natural leader, like strength and optimism personified. (There was another in the crowd that night.)
Masekela will certainly be included in the farewells segment at next year’s Jazz Congress, an event whose inaugural edition took place Jan. 11-12 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Presented by JALC and JazzTimes, it featured a diverse program of panels and learning sessions—many of which are still available for viewing through JALC’s website. A few personal favorites: Ethan Iverson and Wynton Marsalis sharing a thoughtful, diplomatic dialogue on jazz and race; an insightful discussion of jazz and gender featuring musicians like Ingrid Jensen and Terri Lyne Carrington; and a motivating keynote speech from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, excerpted in Opening Chorus. Please come hang with us in 2019.