Carol Martin talked with France-based author Maxine McGregor over the phone, 1 Oct 2013

by Nov 13, 2013Magazine

CM: Towards the end of the book, you mention Chris’s alignment with Buddhist philosophy. What was his spirituality like?

MM: Chris was very spiritual. He had no problem with ego, and read a lot, particularly of Alice Bailey’s works. He was also very interested in ecology and holistic living, and proper treatment of nature.

CM: What do you think Chris’s impressions might be if he heard some of the contemporary South African jazz coming from young artists and the Schools of Music in South Africa?

MM: Chris found most musical expressions interesting. He was non-judgmental so I think he would appreciate most of what serious young artists were trying to do. But I don’t know.

CM: Did Chris and the Brotherhood feel that France and other areas of Europe were offering more appreciation than did the Anglo world of Britain, or did survival merely depend on who paid the bucks?

MM: The only reason we went to France to live in the country was that the UK was too expensive. America would have been better, but we only had connections within the UK. Carol Muller’s book about Sathima Benjamin explains why New York was much more sympathetic and welcoming to the Brotherhood’s music. She even stated that if we had stayed in Europe, we wouldn’t have made it. The Anglo world of Britain was very racist in the 1960s, i.e. renting a flat, etc., and there would have been more supports in New York. As a white person, I had to do everything for the band in Europe, because racism was just too much. But thanks to Johnny Clegg’s reputation with a multiracial band, and the French more favourable attitudes towards mixing with races, we were received better in Paris jazz clubs.

CM: Dollar Brand and Chris and the Brotherhood were in Europe during the same time. What was their relationship like, since the Brotherhood had followed on from Dollar’s Jazz Epistles in South Africa?

MM: Chris admired Dollar very much and learned much from him when he first went to Cape Town. In New York City, Dollar was greatly influenced by Duke Ellington, as was Chris.

CM: The Blue Notes gradually broke up. What were the challenges faced?

MM: It was difficult to earn a living. Also, the music unions in the UK demanded that foreign musicians could only perform if they replaced UK musicians. So, the band members had to find their own gigs, i.e in South America where they again got stranded with no adequate financing. Also, Johnny (Diyani) wanted to play more traditional jazz, whereas Louis (Maholo) was drawn more to the free jazz, so Louis stayed on with the Brotherhood. The Africans were homesick, and felt they were losing their extended family being in Europe.

CM: You have many review quotes. Did you or Chris keep a diary of events/results/reviews as you gigged along?

MM: I kept all the cuttings which make a diary of the gigs, and these I gave to the archives at Rhodes University for them to use.

CM: Given his holistic lifestyle in France with rural and natural habitats to play in, it must have been his passion for sustaining the Brotherhood’s jazz idiom that would bring him to the less pleasant, and often less fruitful city of London for performances or studio work. Your comment?

MM: As you say, Chris’s utter passion in life was music. I t was his muse and his drive. You could say he lived for music and would die if his muse dried up. He very much loved the rural life and was very interested in the country and ecology, but only because he was open and interested in all life. I think he would have been thrilled if he could have been playing much more. It was difficult to keep a big band on the road with all the organisational and financial logistics so he didn’t work nearly as much as he would have liked and we were never in the money.

However, having said that, when the time arrived in the late 80s that his music -which had been ahead of it’s time – became more universally appreciated, (with TV interviews, appearances at all the European jazz festivals, and a tour of Canada with Archie Shepp) he was immersed in an enormous amount of playing and composing, – the stress of which, I think, was the cause of his cancer and his subsequent death in 1990.

CM: With your love for South Africa during those years in exile, did you not want to gradually ‘settle back’ , at least for family ties?

MM: We chose a property in France, the ruined Mill, for raising the family, which was cheaper than in the UK. Our home is half way between Toulouse and Bordeaux. We brought up three children there, two daughters and one son. Chris missed South Africa a lot, but couldn’t go back because of the boycott. He had found a number of opportunities in Europe and London, including composing for a film of Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka. Also, the Transcription Center in London had all these African artists coming to it to promote their works. The man who ran it would make broadcasts with the artists, because he didn’t want to promote western-leaning African artists. But this wasn’t paying money.

Maxine was at the 2013 Grahamstown Cultural Festival for the book’s launch. She plans to visit Cape Town in December 2013 to join her grown up children and other family members for a reunion.

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