UCT Big Band’s big farewell to Professor Mike Campbell


“Goodbye, no use leading with our chins” goes the jazz standard “I Wish You Love” – a song that gives jazz expression to “let them down easy”. A farewell to Professor Mike Campbell, retiring as the UCT Big Band celebrates its 29th year, the big band took the audience on a journey through a songbook that comprised of jazz standards and original compositions.

Retiring this year, UCT’s Professor Mike Campbell, is pictured leading the UCT Big Band through their performance at the DSG Auditorium at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Photo: Mandisa Mpulo/Cue

Starting out with the Sarah Walton composition “Mosaic”, the band turned their skills to a tune composed by Professor Campbell – “For JD” – a tribute to a trombone player friend of who has permanently left the bandstand. Joining the instrumentalists to give voice to “Time after Time” was Amy George, who returned for an interpretation of “Let there be love” that was reminiscent of the rendition featured on the late Natalie Cole’s 1993 album Take a Look.

Filling out the set, the band maintained the standard, in a performance that provided enough room for some sensational solos from the wind instruments, all of it grounded by the groove laid down by bassist Steve de Sousa. The rhythm on “Etosha” and “Big Face” had me doing the Sandman and dancing in my seat, something that was felt throughout the audience. Giving the audience a full showcase of the young artists’ skill, the pages of score sheets were turned to “Ancestors”, which delivered an elegant piano solo from Nobuhle Mazinyane.

As the band worked through the songbook, the audience was treated to a couple of moments that induced an “Altered State” – one of them, a rendition of the Marcus Miller/Miles Davis collaboration “Tutu” and the other, an upright bass solo from De Sousa, requested by the audience, as the final tune was announced. This look back at the music of one of music’s revolutionary pathfinders reminds us of the power of collaboration in the space of discovery. The glimpse at the present state of music education assures us that while we may take comfort in the memories triggered by hearing the songs we grew up with, we are assured that there is at least one bandstand that is poised to produce some of the shapers of tomorrow’s music landscape.

By Mandisa Mpulo