This afternoon the Vortex will host the Dedication Orchestra’s final celebration gathering. It marks the end of a unique venture of far-reaching significance. During its long existence it has involved Alan Skidmore, Django Bates, Mike Westbrook, Kenny Wheeler, Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Keith Tippett, Louis Moholo Moholo, Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nichols…
Evan Parker writes: The story of the Dedication Orchestra is long. When we started the project the apartheid system was still in place, South Africa was under the control of an exploitative white minority and Mandela was still in prison.
We were the unwitting beneficiaries of that situation when the Blue Notes, escaping that regime via the Antibes Jazz Festival and Zurich came to live in London. The Blue Notes gradually evolved into the Brotherhood of Breath and many smaller groups involving Blue Notes and their new London colleagues sprang to life. Death – the unavoidable – took Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana.
In each case the survivors had marked their loss with a musical offering. When only Louis Moholo-Moholo was left, we formed the Dedication Orchestra so that we London musicians could pay tribute.
That was in the 1990s, with those initial recordings at Gateway. It began as an entirely charitable venture, all the musicians and others involved giving their services freely. All who are still with us have been invited to be here. Thanks for coming.
Nimbus Records were especially generous and as a consequence we were soon able to pay for the traditional funeral ceremonies and decent grave markers. It was clear there would be a surplus and our first thought was to pay for a young South African musician to come to London to study. History rudely but thankfully interrupted us: Mandela was released from prison, apartheid fell and the era of Truth and Reconciliation began.
The money accumulated and the amount was soon too much to give to one individual even if we had been clear about how to decide who it should be. Louis was by this time living back in Cape Town and reporting back to us in London.
Finally the situation was considered stable enough to transfer the money, much to Hazel Miller(*) ‘s relief, and the Blue Notes Bursary has been founded. (For more information see this article about the Blue Notes Bursary)
Thank you all for your generous part in making this possible.
(*)Hazel Miller was married to Harry Miller the bass player from South Africa who came to live in London in the apartheid era, shortly after the Blue Notes arrived here. They founded Ogun Records together and issued many recordings of musicians with South African connections. She has been very supportive of the scene and musicians generally, has helped Louis Moholo-Moholo with his European touring since he has been based back in Cape Town. Hazel is currently doing work to promote a benefit concert for Lol Coxhill’s widow with a cast of thousands on September 19 at Cecil Sharp House.