TRIBUTE: Hugh Masekela (1939-2018) by Adam Glasser

Adam Glasser (left) with Hugh Masekela in 2014
on the occasion of the award of an Honorary Doctorate at
the University of York
(still from Uni of York video linked below)
South African virtuoso harmonica and keyboard player Adam Glasser, a major advocate of South African jazz in the UK, shares his personal memories of the great South African trumpeter and singer:

I felt Hugh Masekela’s passing  as a painful personal loss and had known him all my life.

He came to our house in Cape Town to my father Spike Glasser’s party when I was a small child. He mentions this in his autobiography which is really worth a read: Still Grazin' – if you can get a copy! He is an amazing story teller and raconteur and the book is like a history of South African township jazz and popular music – his memory is absolutely accurate. When we were driving once from York to Glasgow he told me a story in the car about his disastrous, brief marriage to the daughter of Cab Calloway and I read it later in the book again.

It wasn't until the 1990s  that I met him properly and worked with him on several occasions… first in the early '90s when he came to play at the Westminster Service of Bishop Trevor Huddleston and I accompanied him at the piano in the cathedral along with the Manhattan Brothers. I still have  a cassette tape of the rehearsal we did at Joe Mogotsi’s house in Wembley. It was a song called Polina, named after his mother.

Then I had another occasion to meet him when he came to rehearse a London choir of South Africans in July 1996 when Nelson Mandela came on a state visit to the UK and we all performed in the Royal Albert Hall under Hugh’s direction.

I saw him in concert many times but imagine my delight when I got a call from his manager when I was in Johannesburg in 2014 to rehearse with him for a concert in Glasgow at the Opening of the Commonwealth Games! I also accompanied him at York University that Summer when they gave him a Doctorate

You can see a video of this here:




And then a year later the last time I played for him was at a fundraising dinner for the Ubuntu Foundation at the Roundhouse in 2015.

The next year he went on tour with pianist Larry Willis and performed at Warwick University – it was the year that I was doing a King Kong project in 2016 at a jazz club in Johannesburg (a few months before the revival of King Kong in Cape Town) and I got a film producer friend to film an interview I did with him (not yet released) on the subject of King Kong – I showed him the original scores he had helped copy when he assisted my father with the music production of the show in my grandparents' house in Johannesburg.

The last time I saw him was at Ronnie Scott's at the end of 2016 and he was still playing sublimely.

Strange how much I miss him already... he sent me an SMS in November 2017 saying how he was battling his illness... he was a musical mentor and I am so glad I had the opportunity to actually work with him a few times over the years.

Adam Glasser won the SAMA Award for contemporary jazz album of the year in 2014

LINKS: Dr Jonathan Eato of the University of York remembers Hugh Masekela
Tribute by Gwen Ansell
Interview with Adam Glasser and Pinise Saul

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