Things began to fall into place for this 40-year-old, mixed-race Cape Town pianist when he came to Johannesburg in 1987. Before that, he used to play hit-songs in hotels along the coast around Durban in salaried bands. « We would be by the pool, watching the country burn on television« , he remembers. Johannesburg the African was a revelation. The town brought him into direct contact with the country, whilst also enabling him to meet the black musicians of his generation, including the Don Lakas, Vusi Khumalos, and McCoy Mrubatas. Considering them graced with a « powerful heritage« , the mixed-race Paul Hanmer initially felt lost. « I didn’t know what the Hanmer used to sing 200 years ago« , he explains. Deeply rooted prejudice had, for that matter, convinced him that a pale face guy with glasses could not even hope to play, as only black people were lucky enough to have that gift
Little by little, he started to feel that he belonged to the town and the musicians’ supportive world. He became very close friends with McCoy Mrubata, a saxophonist who toured for a long time with the reggae singer Lucky Dube and with Hugh Masekela. After his first record, Window to Elsewhere, his second 1995 album, Trains to Taung, was successfully released two years later, selling over 20 000 copies. This excellent record reflects Paul Hanmer’s veneration for Keith Jarrett, a respect that is even greater still than that he has for Abdullah Ibrahim, the king of South African jazz piano. Although he recognises his hometown, Cape Town, in Abdullah Ibrahim’s music, to him, Keith Jarrett remains the master. « As soon as I heard the very first notes, I knew that he had classical training yet was also capable of wonderfully interpreting the American standards« , he explains. « That’s why I’m where I am. I learnt my instrument, the piano’s traditions, including baroque music, the renaissance, and the romantic What I thought was a handicap was in fact a fantastic preparation« .
It was only in Johannesburg and listening to Keith Jarrett that Paul Hanmer understood who he was, what it meant to be mixed-race, to have absorbed European culture and at the same time be African. His music is born out of this dual heritage. « I belong to South African music, but not necessarily jazz« , he explains. « If you mean jazz in the general sense of the term, then yes. If jazz incorporates folk music, the country’s indigenous culture, then yes. If jazz incorporates the use of European, American, and African harmonic forms, then yes. If it incorporates improvisation, yes, definitely, I play jazz« . Jazz then, but South African jazz.
///Article N° : 5521