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Friday, November 1, 2013


(Kyle Shepherd. Pic: Timmy Henny)

The National Arts Festival has named an unprecedented eight young South Africans winners of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, bringing to 125 the total number honoured since Standard Bank began sponsoring the Awards three decades ago.

The Award is made annually to young South African artists who are either on the threshold of national acclaim, or whose artistic excellence has enabled them to make international breakthroughs. “Celebrating excellence, innovation and a refined technical skill and artistry rests at the heart of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards. Each of this year’s winners represent the vibrancy and sophistication with which South Africa’s artistic and cultural legacy continues to be enriched” said Festival Artistic Director, Ismail Mahomed.

Capetonian pianist, saxophonist, composer and band leader – Kyle Shepherd – is the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz.

Shepherd’s family is quite musical, so he has been around classical and jazz musicians – and their music - from a young age. He started studying (classical) violin at five years old but recalls watching a concert by Abdullah Ibrahim as a 15 year old, and deciding that he wanted to be part of music-making in that way; switching to the piano, jazz and his own compositions as a result.

Despite having recorded four albums and toured playing his own music in concerts in 15 countries through Africa, Europe and Asia; he remains very proud to walk onto the stage at every concert in every country; but holds dear a number of particularly special musical memories: “In February of 2013, I played a solo piano concert at The Sendesaal in Bremen, Germany, which is the same venue and stage that the great Keith Jarrett played and recorded in 40 years ago, and my concert was also recorded and broadcast on national German radio.” he elaborates.

The 26 year old pianist, saxophonist, Xaru (traditional mouth-bow) player, vocalist and poet is regarded as one of South Africa’s most influential and accomplished jazz musicians. Shepherd strives to make music that says something personal and has forged a compositional and performance concept that pays homage to his musical influences and collaborators, while continuing to push boundaries musically.

He has many inspirations - some musical and some non-musical – and finds that life influences music a lot more then directly musical things do. “I’m most inspired by people that think creatively in whichever field they are. It could be a musician, a poet, a chef, a racing car driver… someone that changes the game and goes against the norm,” he says.

A long association with jazz in Grahamstown includes having played piano in the Standard Bank National Schools Jazz Band in 2003 and 2004. A concert he attended as a student at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival is the moment that he credits with “changing my life and music”, when, at 17 years old, Shepherd saw Zim Ngqawana perform with his quartet. Ngqawana would go on to become his teacher and friend, and recorded on the album South African History !X.

Shepherd regularly performs as a solo pianist, while also leading his Trio with Shane Cooper (double bass) and Jonno Sweetman (drums), and his Quartet featuring Claude Cozens (drums), Benjamin Jephta (bass) and top South African tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells. He has released three critically acclaimed albums to date namely, fineART, A Portrait of Home and South African History !X, and has earned South African Music Award nominations for all three of his album releases, in the Jazz Category. His first solo piano album, recorded in Japan, is set for release in 2013.

Shepherd has performed with many great musicians, including the likes of the late Zim Ngqawana, Louis Moholo-Moholo, the late Robbie Jansen, Errol Dyers, Hilton Schilder, Mark Fransman and Ayanda Sikade, all from South Africa, as well as Saadet Türköz (Switzerland), Marc Stucki (Switzerland), Seigo Matsunaga (Japan), Sebastiaan Kaptein (Holland) and Ole Hamre (Norway). Notable concert appearances have taken place at The Bird’s Eye Jazz Club (Switzerland), Der Sendesaal (Germany), Reformierte Dorfkirche Kleinhüningen (Switzerland), Klubschule St. Gallen (Switzerland), Shikiori (Japan), The Aarhus Jazz Festival (Denmark), Jazzwerkstatt Festival Bern (Switzerland), The Cape Town International Jazz Festival (South Africa), The Tianjin International Jazz Festival (China) The Riverboat Jazz Festival (Denmark), a nd L´Onde Theatre (France).

He performed the world premiere of Xamisa, a compositional work he was commissioned to write by Festival d’Automne à Paris, at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris, France in September 2013.

Shepherd, who practices and writes music most days, says “The Standard Bank Young Artist Award is a great honour, and a testament to the hard work that goes into being a solo artist. This will allow me to continue with my mission, and I greatly appreciate the accolade.”
For more on his work, see: