This Thursday sees a London tribute to PINISE SAUL (1941-2016) at the 100 Club. Adam Glasser, who worked closely with her, and has had a role in putting the tribute together, remembers her utterly unique voice, and explains the background to the event:
While the essentials of Pinise Saul’s career are covered in this Guardian obituary, my own journey with her began in the autumn of 1982 in the foyer of the Greenwich Theatre where I heard her in a trio performance with saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and legendary South African guitarist Allen Kwela. I was delighted and amazed to discover a voice which combined in equally profound measure the searing influence of Nancy Wilson and the perfet embodiment of South African township jazz, township mbaqanga, church choral harmony and rural indigenous music. The following year when Dudu Pukwana’s Zila released Life at Bracknell & Willisau 1983 (one of the very best South African jazz albums ever made outside SA) it became an obsession for me to work with her and Dudu one day.
In 1985 the opportunity arose: bassist Ernest Mothle put me forward to replace Django Bates who had just left the band… a terrifyingly hard act to follow! – especially when at one particular sound check Pinise opined openly ‘ Oooh, I miss my Djangorino!’ But I persisted and we began a performing/writing partnership that lasted on and off for 3 decades: August One ( now on the ABRSM Jazz Syllbus) we wrote for the album Zila 86, a Peter Whittingham Award funded album Live at The Space Theatre in 1997, tours with The African Jazz All Stars and her own SA Gospel Singers, and many gigs with The Township Comets (the band formed in 2009 by Chris Batchelor and myself to celebrate the music of Dudu Pukwana). A particular highlight for us was appearing together finally in South Africa at the 2012 Cape Town International Jazz Festival after my albums – to which she made vital contributions – had made a critical impact in our home country.
Pinise Saul had the dramatic stage qualities and charisma of old school artists whose presence could light up a jazz club or concert hall. Her turn of phrase and observational wit were both merciless and hilarious – provoking stitches of laughter suddenly during rehearsals or long car journeys. She would talk about the SA jazz scene in 60s where she cut her teeth or stories about tours with Zila. One favourite anecdote described an extraordinary encounter in a Caracas restaurant between Salvador Dali and Dudu Pukwana which developed into a friendship.
Pinise had so many world class musical qualities: her ear for south african vocal harmony, her deep sense of groove and time, a powerful resonant voice that sounded amazing even through the worst of PAs. And a truly inspired gift for spontaneous unfettered free vocal improvisation which drew from the palette of her own Xhosa tongue. And yet to hear her phrasing and swing on a traditional jazz ballad like Lakutshonilanga she was clearly up there with the very best artists of the genre.
The gig this Thursday 1st December at Oxford Street’s 100 Club celebrating the life of the extraordinarily talented and under-recognised South African vocalist Pinise Saul will be probably the last formal opportunity for UK based musicians to pay tribute to a major South African artist – also a Londoner since the mid seventies – whose immense contribution to the scene leaves a special memory with those that experienced her live performances and recordings over the years.
LINKS: News story after the passing of Pinise Saul
Podcast intervew from 2014
Tickets for the tribute at the 100 Club
Thanks for this glowing tribute, Adam Glasser. Few could have said it better. The work and sacrifice of South African artists in exile resonate deeply. Pinise, Dudu, Johnny, Chris, Mongezi and so many others live on in the young creatives who are now building on those legacies.