South Africa’s Blue Notes’ Influence on European Free Music

Leaving Apartheid-era South Africa in 1964 to relocate in Europe brought more than personal liberation to a group of musical expatriates. For as Bandcamp Daily’s Piotr Orlov points out, the power and freedom in the playing of South Africa’s Blue Notes band soon invigorated the European Free Jazz scene. While the band’s mixture of Hard Bop and Xhosa melodies was unique enough, the members were also fluent in what the group’s alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana called “the fowl run”, local freeform playing equivalent to what saxophonist Abert Ayler was doing in the US. Although the group broke up shortly afterwards, members became involved in currents of European Free Music in Scandinavia and London from the 1970s onwards. Pianist Chris McGregor formed his large Brotherhood of Breath band which featured South Africans like bassist Harry Miller alongside such British players as saxophonist Mike Osborne. Trumpeter Mongezi Feza played in progressive groups like Keith Tippett‘s and Robert Fripp’s Centipede. Pukwana played with everyone from drummer Han Bennink to Toots & the Maytals; and bassist Johnny Mbizo Dyani worked regularly with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and in different bands with Norwegian alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, the Blue Notes only living  member, who returned to post-Apartheid South Africa – the others died in Europe – has worked with stylists as different as tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and guitarist Derek Bailey.