TUNING GREAT notes
IT WAS in the Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein that I had the privilege of coming face to face with a man whose music has been admired not only in South Africa but around the world.
Frail but passionate about his music, Winston Mankunku Ngozi was quite talkative and animated when he spoke about his labour of love - tuning those great notes that have distinguished him as being in a class of his own.
Before I met this great man of the saxophone I had heard many a jazz snob say that jazz novices tend to think that what passes as jazz these days is really jazz.
No. That is not jazz and the "real" jazz, they argued, was that performed by the likes of Mankunku. His jazz was deep, they said. What deep means I am not sure.
What I do know is that he was respected and admired as an artist. But what several people also do knew, and I came to know from several jazz sources that were at liberty to share their notes with journalists about Bra Winston, is that he actually liked the bottle.
He battled this demon for so many years but out of respect for the dead I have no intention of belabouring the subject.
What is important though, since he is gone and will not come back, is for the living to appreciate the "real" jazz heritage he left us.
Mankunku became a legend in his own time and is a name that evokes powerful musical images not only for close followers of South African township jazz but for music lovers all over southern Africa.
Over the last three decades, formative years in the development of SA jazz, Mankunku had been a beacon for trends and styles in the genre.
Finally Mankunku had become the foremost exponent of the tenor saxophone in South Africa and one of the most respected composers of jazz.
Born in Retreat, Cape Town, in 1943, Mankunku was the first-born in a musical family. He started "fooling around" on the piano at the age of seven, and later tried his hand at both clarinet and trumpet.
But in mid-teens he decided that the sound of the saxophone was the sound he wanted, and started to learn the alto, then the tenor saxophone. During this period, he cites John Coltrane, local saxophonist "Cups & Saucers", pianist Merton Barrow, as well as bassist Midge Pike, in whose band the young Mankunku received his initiation as a professional musician, as major influences.
Over the years he worked with major South African jazz artists, from Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana to Barney Rachabane and Victor Ntoni. He was also involved in various projects with the legendary Port Elizabeth group The Soul Jazz Men.
Funeral arrangements were not finalised at the time of going to press.