Neil Tesser has written an informative post about Zim Ngqawana, the South African jazz musician who died at age 52 of a stroke May 10. Ngqawana, whose name is pronounced with a glottal “click” between the “N” and first “a,” performed at the 2007 Columbia/Harlem Festival of Global Jazz,” curated by George E. Lewis of Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies, Nqgawana, with his quartet, in that concert struck me as a powerful and original saxophonist and flutist, improvising with a heightened lyricism no doubt inspired by John Coltrane’s late period sound, but standing on its own. (photo by Dragan Tasic).
His music that night (and on Zimology, his one album I’ve heard) had little overt reference to the South Africa of, say, Paul Simon’s Graceland; rather, it was stately (at times as deep as that of sombre pianist Abdullah Ibrahim) and dynamic like the best of trumpeter Hugh Masekela — with whom Nqgawana had worked — but with no pop or commercial aspirations. The Mail and Guardian Online headlines Nqgawana as a “genius,” which is a tricky term, but I have admired and can recommend his music, and be sorry that he’ll play no more. (PS and full disclosure: The Columbia/Harlem Fest also hosted the first and so far only convention of international jazz journalists in the U.S.” “Jazz in the Global Imagination,” co-produced by the Jazz Journalists Association, of which I’m pres. . .)