national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, January 10, 2010


(Melanie Scholtz - pic by Timmy Henny)

2010 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Jazz sings to change the world.

The 2010 Standard Bank Young Artists Award winner for Jazz, Melanie Scholtz, is one of South Africa’s rapidly rising musical stars. Melanie Scholtz graduated cum laude from the UCT Opera School, and is a vocalist grounded in the down-to-earthiness of the blues, R&B and legendary jazz singers like Dee Dee Bridgewater and Billie Holiday.

“I am so honoured and humbled to have been selected to be part of a long line of musicians that have influenced me as a musician and human being,” said Scholtz. “It is such an incredible opportunity to strive and reach for greatness, and this has been proved possible by all the previous winners. We also have an important platform, opportunity and responsibility through music to change the world somehow,” she added.

Coming from a musical family, Melanie learnt to play the piano at the age of five. She then went to study singing with the Eoan Group at the age of 16. In 1997, she graduated from the UCT Opera School with distinction, but jazz was a permanent fixture in her vocabulary as a musician. “It just felt and still feels like the most natural and most honest way for me to express myself,” she said, adding that her love affair with jazz started when she heard a version of White Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald and Lullabye of Birdland by Sarah Vaughan. “I was completely consumed with this music!” she said.

Melanie’s classical training gives her spectacular vocal technique, and she employs this as a basis in her search for jazz expression.

“Melanie Scholtz has a wonderful voice, with natural depth of timbre, inherent strength and flexibility. To this she has added hard work and discipline, which has produced one of the most versatile and beautiful voices in South African jazz,’” said Alan Webster, jazz teacher and National Arts Festival committee member for jazz. “With her heterogeneous background in opera, jazz and popular music she is able to span the confines of the different art forms to produce something fresh and exciting, appealing both to audiences and her fellow musicians.”

Scholtz said that her love for music was nurtured by her parents from a very young age: “My journey as an artist started as far back as performances for my family in my grandmother's living room,” she said. “Both my parents love music, and there was always something playing, either on my Dad's turntable or on the tape deck, remember those!” she laughed. “My Dad played in a band in the 70's. He played alto sax and so there was always some Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker playing. He also played a lot of Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and of course, the incredible Ella Fitzgerald. My mom always played me lots of classical, opera and oratorio. So I felt a bit schizophrenic musically, as I really fell in love with both genres.”

In 2002, Scholtz went on to win Best Jazz Vocalist in the Old Mutual Jazz encounters, and in 2006 she released her debut album entitled Zillion Miles. Her voice has not only won her awards and competitions, but also favour and acclaim. In 2003, for example, she sang the South African National anthem for the Presidents’ Cup Golf tournament to former South African president Nelson Mandela, and the world.

Invited to perform in Spain, Portugal, Holland, Morocco, Norway, Sweden and Austria, Melanie collaborates with numerous artists both nationally and internationally. Last year she recorded in Stockholm with two stalwarts of the Swedish jazz scene – alto saxophonist Johan Hörlén and bassist Martin Sjöstedt, both of whom have performed in Grahamstown at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival on a number of occasions. She has performed with a who's who of the South African jazz scene, as well as with international musicians such as Norwegian Band “Inkala”, Belgian jazz pianist Jack van Poll, Al Jarreau and Joe Mcbride. Melanie lectured in jazz vocal studies at the University of Cape Town from 2004 – 2005. She has been involved with Artscape’s youth jazz development projects since 2006 as well as being a composer/lyricist/writer and director.

“Music is such an amazing language, and I feel that as musicians we form part of such a special breed of people. No matter where we are from, we all speak music!” she said, adding that she wanted to use the opportunity of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award to share a sense of freedom through expression and improvisation. “I want to reach people from all walks of life through jazz, as well as be an ambassador for South African jazz. I want to use this platform as a way to enrich and educate, and most of all, spread the joy and freedom of jazz. I am looking forward to seeing music from different perspectives. I want to find the best of myself so I can have more knowledge and experiences to give back.”

Scholtz recorded her second album in February 2009 with Norwegian trumpeter and producer, Ole Jorn Myklebust. Apart from her own compositions and recordings, she has collaborated and is featured on Peaceful Moment with guitarist Jimmy Dludlu and on Which way to go with Electronic DJ’s Iridium Project. Both these singles went to number one on SA radio. She has also been featured on albums by Mark Fransman, Ivan Mazuse, Goldfish and Breakfast Included. Scholtz has performed at numerous music festivals nationally and internationally and in August 2009 she recorded a live album with Inkala in Vadso at the Varanger Jazz Festival in Norway.

“With this award I would love to achieve the highest possible level of musicianship for myself, as well as grow and learn and open up to new experiences by working with a variety of musicians,” she said. “I would like to find new ways to express jazz through my own music, as well as through the vast jazz repertoire that has come before. I think that, in these difficult financial times, Standard Bank has definitely taken the initiative and have been very brave and visionary in supporting the arts. A country's soul is its arts and culture, and I am proud to be associated with such a high profile brand.”

The Young Artist Awards were started in 1981 by the National Arts Festival to acknowledge emerging, relatively young South African artists who have displayed an outstanding talent in their artistic endeavours. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines, affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 26-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the main programme of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize.