Abdullah Ibrahim: How Improvisation Saved My Life The pianist and composer shares his insights on growing up in apartheid-era South Africa and what freedom means to him today.

Abdullah Ibrahim: How Improvisation Saved My Life

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The music of pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim conveys an extraordinary depth in stillness. More than perhaps any other improvising artist, he knows how to turn the solitary act of introspection into a communal experience that's both transporting and immersive.

There's a history behind that sorcery, which you could say was hard-won. Ibrahim grew up in apartheid-era South Africa under the name Dollar Brand, one of the most prominent members of that country's first generation of jazz musicians. With a band called The Jazz Epistles (which featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa), he made an album called Verse +1 that had an enormous impact on South African jazz, even though it was printed in a small edition and quickly censored and buried.

Jazz Night caught up with Ibrahim during his visit to New York this spring, when he headlined Town Hall in a concert for South Africa Freedom Day. In this episode, we'll hear his band, Ekaya, playing music from that concert — songs from The Jazz Epistles repertoire, as well as more recent Ibrahim compositions like "Dream Time." We'll also hear insight from some scholars on the development of South African jazz, and wisdom from the maestro himself, on the path that led him here and what freedom means to him today.

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