I would say that my first lucky breaks were playing with Darryl Andrew's tentet that would feature Winston Mankunku a lot, and also playing with the UCT Big Band who would feature alumni. I slowly found myself doing all sorts of society gigs, corporates, weddings, and that sort of stuff. I was really just on a massive learning curve, and there was almost no style of music that I didn't learn something from. I'd be jamming with House DJs, and then on the same night I might be playing with the big band or in a tentet with Cape Jazz legends. Or I might be at the SAJE conference playing big band music with someone like Chris Collins
So I was really going through this massive learning curve, playing all these different styles of music. It's really hard for me to actually say which were the most amazing gigs that I did over the years, because I've been very lucky. I got to played Jacob Zuma's second inauguration, where I was in the stage band backing loads of South African pop bands like Mango Groove. At the same time, I had a seven-year stint with Johnny Clegg, which was a massive learning experience. I love all sorts of different types of music, and I guess I'm proud of the fact that they come out in what I guess you could say is my Jazzor "Not Jazz," depending on how strict you are! It's just coming from a place of loving and being excited about a whole bunch of different styles of music. I played any gig I could get my hands on. I loved it. AAJ:
You've referenced a number of mentor figures to you. You also developed as a teacher throughout your career. How did you impart this broader view to students? DS:
That's quite a hard one, to be honest, because I think being a teacher is about consistently learning. You can think you've got it all figured out, and then suddenly you realize that what works for one type of student does not work for another type of student. I think a lot of the young kids nowadays practice a lot harder and a lot more studiously than we did twenty years ago. But they sometimes lack the understanding that we are part of a community, we're part of the Cape Town Jazz community and the South African Jazz fraternity. If you're locking yourself in a practice room and you're smashing "Giant Steps" and "Cherokee" but you never go to the jam sessions and you don't know who our local legends are, then it's almost pointless in a way. That's very important to me. I was taking Improv I at UCT last year, and there were some very good young cats, but the huge thing I told them was, "Hey guys, I'm not seeing you at jam sessions or at gigs. What's going on? You're not seeing the big picture here." It's not about tritone substitutions. That's useless if you're not part of this thing. Life is so short.
For me, having mentors like Gordon Vernick, Mike Campbell, and Andrew Lilley, I have people around that I'm asking questions of all the time. Things like, "I'm trying to do this, how do you voice that? How did you do that?" A lot of time, the people who were my mentors weren't saxophone players. Most of my saxophone heroes are overseas and large. So with the advent of YouTube, or the fact that you can buy a Chad Lefkowitz-Brown
masterclass for the price of a Spur burger and a milkshake, that also made a huge difference to me because I learned a hell of a lot from online. I'm always trying to stay on cutting edge concepts. Even if I'm not implementing them in my playing as well as I could be, I still have them. I'll never forget when Justin Bellairs, who's on my album, came back from Norway while I was teaching at UCT. And I was standing in at UCT and I had to teach Justin! This guy came back from Norway playing thirteen shades of the proverbial through "Giant Steps," no issue, but you have to be able to tell him something.
I find that if you're not trying to keep your sword sharp by checking out what's going on in the States and Europe, then you're going to come unstuck. The younger guys are going to overtake you. And then in the cases when you have a Justin Bellairs who has
overtaken you in terms of playing, I found that I was able to offer advice and experience in terms of time on the mile, gigging and preparing albums, or dealing with people in invoicing and contracts. Even super young players who are really advanced, like a Justin Bellairs or a Benjamin Jephta, they might not have the life experience. So then I try to offer them information they wouldn't have had. So it's tricky, I'm not going to lie. I do think that Jazz Education is getting better and better, and particularly in South Africa. Our players are getting exposed to more and more, they're traveling more, and they're collaborating with people from overseas. There are some incredible things going on. You can think you're nailing one sort of genre, and then somebody else comes killing it with a totally different thing.