November 20th, 2015
The best for last. The final concert to this year’s Earshot Jazz Festival was legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, an innovator in the world music and jazz scene who continues to tour the globe as a performer, composer, singer, producer, and activist, enjoying world renown for almost 50 years after rising to prominence as a voice of opposition to apartheid rule in his homeland.
This iconic artist is best known for his Grammy-nominated hit single, “Grazing in the Grass,” which sold over four million copies in 1968 and made him an international star. He later played an integral role in Paul Simon’s tour behind the classic album Graceland, which was one of the first pop records to introduce African music to a broader public.
Born in the Witbank, South Africa, in 1939, Masekela received his first trumpet at the age of 14, from Father Trevor Huddleston, the deeply respected advocator of equal rights in his country. Soon after, the Huddleston Jazz Band was formed. Masekela began to hone his now signature Afro-Jazz sound in the late 1950s during a period of intense creative collaboration, before moving to New York in 1960 and enrolling in the Manhattan School of Music.
There, the young Masekela immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where nightly he watched greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, and Max Roach. Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Hugh was encouraged to develop his own unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences – his debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine.
His subsequent solo career has spanned five decades, during which time he has released over 40 albums (and been featured on countless more) and has worked with such diverse artists as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and the late Miriam Makeba.