Sean Sanby headlines the February 2020 edition of the First Thursdays Sessions jazz programme. Sean has been performing on the Cape Town jazz scene for a number of years – playing with artists such as Mandisi Dyantyis, Zoe Modiga, Frank Paco, and Mandla Mlangeni. For the past year Sean has been on tour with the international tour of Matilda the Musical, having recently returned to release his new album, coming out on 5 March. We asked Sean a few questions. Read on to see what he had to say.
What has your journey been as a jazz musician so far? Where did it all start, and how did you end up where you are right now? I had always done music in school, I played in the big band and almost every other ensemble that I could get into. I think I first encountered jazz at the Grahamstown Jazz Festival. It exposed me to a whole range of music and different approaches to playing – I was hooked. I went on to study jazz performance at SACM, UCT. I loved being immersed in the music. Being surrounded by musicians and lectures all the time pushed me to become familiar with playing and performing music as well as understanding what I was doing. I think in this way I was able to start developing my own sound. Composing has always been a huge part of music for me. I’d always end up trying to practice something and get distracted by other ideas which would then develop into songs. This past year I have been playing bass and traveling around with the international production of Matilda the Musical. It was a big change and an even bigger learning experience coming from a jazz/session world. But it gave me the chance to record and put together my album, which I’m excited to be releasing this March.
What is it like to be a jazz musician in Cape Town in 2020? And what would it be like if you could have it any way? I think it’s a great time to be in jazz right now. In Cape Town we’re surrounded by so many great musicians, some fresh out of studies and some veterans of the scene, and they’re playing all over Cape Town every week. Something I’ve also noticed is how much original music is coming out of Cape Town and how important and special that is. If I could have it any other way I’d just want more venues and spaces to support live music culture, which is why I’m so happy for this opportunity to play this First Thursdays!
You’re principally a bassist. To the layman, explain the difference between an upright bass and a bass guitar, specifically in the realm of jazz music. Upright bass, is an older instrument but still used today, you’ll often hear it in the early jazz years of swing and bebop. Electric bass is the more modern version heading to funk, rock etc. – it’s what most would think a bass guitar would be. Both of the instruments still play a fundamental role in jazz and African music, but each have their different strengths in sound and what they add to the music.
If you could rewind a few years, what advice would you give yourself as a young jazz musician trying to break onto the scene? I’d say just play, play as much as you can. Practicing is great and it’s always the aim to make the instrument less of an obstacle and more of a voice. That said, playing and sharing concepts with others helps you grow so much as well.
Who else is doing interesting stuff on the local scene that you’d recommend checking out? Oh wow so much at the moment! Mandisi Dyantyis is a fire that if you haven’t already found, you’re missing out on! Michael Bester just released a beautiful album, Blake Hellaby as well, Keegan Steenkamp, the Unity Band, as well as Nobuhle Ashanti. I could go on, but I think the list would get too long… Real Wired Music is a great place to follow for gigs going on in the scene as well!
You’ve got a new album coming out soon. Tell us a bit about that. So in the middle of last year I had some down time on tour and decided it was the right time to record, and I knew who I wanted to play with. The music had already been written and slowly worked on through my years at college. The guys did such an amazing job just throwing themselves into the music and afterwards working with Blake Hellaby through the mixing process, I can say it’s something I’m proud of and extremely excited to share.
Top 5 desert island albums (of any genre)?
Malibu – Anderson. Paak
Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
The Second – Derrick Hodge
Stone Flower – Antônio Carlos Jobim
Undercurrent – Bill Evans
Where can people follow your musical movements and find more of your music? You can follow me on Instagram (@san_seanby), Facebook (/SanbyMusic), Youtube and as well all streaming platforms!
Sean performs at the February edition of the First Thursdays Sessions, presented by Grolsch. The performance takes place at the Gin Bar, 64A Wale Street, and is free to the public. The performance kicks off at 9pm sharp, followed by a DJ set by Aaron.P (The Other DJs). Swing by from 6pm for Opihr gin tastings.
The performing band includes:
Jesse Julies – Tenor Sax
Brathew van Schalckwyk – Piano
Sean Sanby – Bass
Damian Kamineth – Drums