In 1990 two great South African musicians died within weeks of each other. They died in exile in Europe, and their deaths took away something special for their fellow-musicians and their myriads of fans.
The two musicians were pianist/composer/arranger Chris McGregor and alto player Mtutuzeli “Dudu” Pukwana.
Jazz musicians from all over Europe and indeed beyond had been deeply influenced by Chris and Dudu, and the other musicians of the amazing group known as The Blue Notes. When these two musicians died (fellow Blue Notes Mongezi Feza and Johnny Dyani had died earlier) many of their fellow-musicians felt that something needed to be done to acknowledge the impact of the Blue Notes on jazz in Britain and on the Continent, and so the ideas of the Dedication Orchestra and the Memorial Trust were born.
The Dedication Orchestra was formed under the leadership of the sole surviving Blue Note, Louis “Bra Tebs” Moholo-Moholo and recorded two outstanding albums featuring arrangements of compositions by Blue Notes members arranged by other musicians who had played in different formations with them.
The Dedication Orchestra made two albums released in 1992 and 1994 respectively, called Spirits Rejoice and Ixesha (Time), both on the Ogun lable. These albums featured arrangements of the Blue Notes songbook by such musicians as Keith Tippett, Mike Westbrook, Kenny Wheeler, Eddie Parker, Django Bates, Jim Dvorak, and Sean Bergin, among others. All the arrangers and musicians gave of their time and skills for the project.
All proceeds from the doors at concerts by the Dedication Orchestra and from the sales of the two CDs formed the capital of the Trust fund which has now achieved its purpose – providing a bursary for a student to study jazz at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town.
The Bursary was launched in Cape Town on 11 April 2012 at College of Music with performances by a student group under the leadership of Bheki Mkwane, the UCT Jazz Voices and a group comprising students under the leadership of Bra Tebs and with contributions by alto player Ntshuks Bonga.
Ogun’s Hazel Miller, longtime friend of South African jazz and widow of bass player Harry Miller, gave a short address outlining the Memorial Trust and the idea behind the Bursary.
The event was attended by many friends and family members of the late Blue Notes.
The Bursary was established with £25 000 capital, and in addition many of the charts of arrangements for and recordings of the Dedication Orchestra will be housed in the W.H. Bell Library at the SA College of Music.