Our headline act for the November edition of the First Thursdays Sessions is all-star trumpeter Darren English. Born in Cape Town in 1990, Darren’s musical journey began at Muizenberg High School, which led to studies at UCT, as well as Norway and eventually Georgia State University, where he graduated with a Masters in Jazz Studies.
Darren’s career thus far has included a two-year touring stint with Jimmy Dludlu, also having played with the likes of Mark Fransman, Feya Faku and the late Robbie Jansen and Zim Ngqawana. In 2014 he featured with Grammy nominee Russell Gunn’s Krunk Orchestra at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Darren now lives in Atlanta where he regularly performs across jazz venues and festivals.
Check out Darren’s answers to our questions below.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where did your love for music begin and what lead you to pursue the trumpet? I always enjoyed listening to different genres of music growing up, but was only introduced to playing music toward the end of Grade 8. I didn’t choose the trumpet at all, my music teacher/mentor at the time, Fred Kuit, gave me a cornet to take home over the Christmas holiday along with albums by Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Doc Cheatham, Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis. After listening to those albums and trying to imitate those players, I fell in love with the trumpet.
You’ve lived in the States for a while now. How would you compare playing abroad to playing locally? I moved to Atlanta in 2012. It’s been the best move of my career to be Stateside. I wish I enjoyed playing in South Africa as much as I do the US, but the sad reality is that we don’t have a great infrastructure supporting live music nor do we receive much support in attendance in SA (regarding straight-ahead jazz). You have to wait for the international jazz festival to happen to be able to see out-of-town acts, or to experience various jazz outfits. Where in the US, you get to have that same “festival” excitement weekly. When I was a teenager, there were at least 5 dedicated jazz venues in Cape Town, where as today— it’s tough to find out where exactly jazz music is happening. However, I do still very much enjoy performing with my brothers and sisters in SA, and always look forward to making music back home!
At the age of 22, you released your debut album under Atlanta’s top jazz label, Hot Shoe Records, which features trumpeters Russell Gunn and Joe Gransden. How did that all come together? I was at a jam session one night at Twain’s in Decatur (that I frequented every Tuesday) when the CEO of the label, Tony Wasilewski, approached me saying that he’s been hearing me for about a year at sessions around Atlanta, and he’d like to sign me to his label to capture where I was at then, on record. A few weeks after our first meeting, I saw him again at Twain’s, and this time he drew up a contract and we discussed exactly what and who would be perfect for the album. My initial quartet was on the recording and I was fortunate enough to feature four of my favourite artists, vocalist Carmen Bradford, saxophonist Greg Tardy, and trumpeters Russell Gunn and Joe Gransden. I’m proud of the record as my first, and I’m still extremely grateful for everything Hot Shoe Records has done and is still doing for my career.
What advice would you give to young jazz-influenced musicians looking to break into the local and international jazz scene? There are some amazing younger musicians in SA currently, I really don’t feel like I can give anyone any advice. What has definitely worked for me is to practice… practice playing! Work at your craft to a level that you can literally go anywhere in the world and fit right in.
What would you say is the highlight of your career that you’re most proud of? I have a few as of recent. Some of the awards we received recently with our album Imagine Nation. We received the Global Peace Song Award for “Pledge for Peace” which I composed as part of a suite for freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. Being a recipient of the Georgia State USA 40-Under-40 Most Influential and Innovative Award. As of this past year, my highlight has definitely been spending days together with Jimmy Heath (who just celebrated his 93rd birthday) and playing with him with the pianoless quartet. He’s been more than a mentor to me – a true giant and legend of this music we love.
Who’s doing interesting stuff on the local scene that you’d recommend checking out? There are a ton of great players on the scene locally, doing amazing work. I don’t get out too much to stay current, but one of my favourite musicians doing amazing things who I’d recommend checking out is Mandla Mlangeni. I’d also check out Cape Town MC Niko10Long! He’s the truth at what he does! I’ve been working with him on a project that we’ll showcase next year with film director Kurt Orderson.
Top 5 desert island albums (of any genre)?
1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
2. Beauty of Sunrise – Bheki Mseleku
3. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake
4. The Melody at Night With You – Keith Jarrett
5. Jazz in Film – Terence Blanchard
Where can people follow your musical movements and find more of your music?
My website: darrenenglishmusic.com
Facebook: Darren English (personal and artist page)
Darren English will be taking the stage at the sixth edition of the First Thursdays Sessions on Thursday 7 November 2019. The performance starts at 9pm, followed by a DJ set by Johannesburg-based DJ cake_kidd from 10pm. Upstairs at the Gin Bar (Melting Pot Cafeteria), 64a Wale Street. The Spring season of the First Thursdays Sessions is presented by Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky and produced by Thursdays Projects. Event staging is provided by LEVO Staging & Audio.