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Mon Dec 22 04:44:50 SAST 2014

Jazz : Bokani Dyer

KAREN RUTTER | 31 October, 2010 00:000 Comments

Bokani Dyer has just got off a plane from New York. He's jet-lagged but inspired, fired up from two weeks of nonstop music in the Big Apple.

The winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz 2011 is blown away by the breadth of talent he's heard, and eager to start working on his own chops back home.

Things have been going well for the 24-year-old pianist. The New York trip was the result of his second place in the Samro Overseas Scholarship Competition, which allowed him to take masterclasses at the Manhattan School of Music and watch concerts. "It was crazy - it really opened my eyes!" he says. "People would jam until four in the morning, and then go out and have doughnuts."

He's returned to receive the Standard Bank prize, part of which will enable him to create his own concert series at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown next year. "I've just finished recording my first album, Mirrors , so I'll definitely be featuring material from that in my show. And I'm starting work on my second recording, so that'll also feature," says Dyer. "I guess the emphasis will be on my original work ..."

Not bad for a musician who's had a fairly unconventional start. Born and raised in Botswana, Dyer didn't really get into music until his teens.

Then a friend taught him a few Janet Jackson songs on the piano, and he played around, improvising a little.

He decided some formal training was probably a good idea, and had lessons with a few people.

"By the time I decided I wanted to study at university, I had reached about Grade 3 performing level - but I had been composing for a while."

Dyer used two of his own compositions for his application to UCT's College of Music jazz programme, and was accepted, where "I had to work my ass off!" After graduation with a BMus (Hons), it was touring duties with jazz contenders such as saxophonists Moreira Chonguica and Shannon Mowday, and guitarist Jimmy Dludlu. Dyer also formed the Bokani Dyer Trio (with Shane Cooper on bass and Claude Cozens on drums), picking up a spot at last year's premier Cape Town Jazz Festival on the way.

Dyer may have come at music from an unusual angle, but he does have a famous dad who was an important musical influence.

Saxophonist/flautist Steve Dyer has played with Philip Tabane, Caiphus Semenya and the Amandla ANC Cultural Ensemble, as well as with his own band, Southern Freeway.

His son says: "I heard a lot of his music when I was growing up - both his own work and the music he loved to listen to. In recent years we've done some shows together, and I think there'll be more to come."

Dyer is hesitant to talk about his own style. But the fact that he's the go-to-piano guy for the likes of Dludlu, as well as singer Judith Sephuma and saxophonist Rus Nerwich, speaks for itself. "I guess I'm versatile - I like bringing in a lot of different styles, from African to classical and beyond," he says.

"But there's so much out there - when I was in New York I couldn't believe how many cutting-edge musicians there were. They're pushing the boundaries to packed audiences.

"I even jammed once or twice - it was a little intimidating, but more exhilarating."

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