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Sunday, September 7, 2014


Singer and pianist Debbie Mari pays tribute to the late Simon Kerdachi (April 8 1938 – September 2 2014)

I was very sad to hear of Simon Kerdachi’s recent passing. As I thought for a moment about the years of piano lessons, life lessons, simple conversations and laughter that I, and many others, was privileged to share with Simon, I was filled with a sense of joy, not sadness, knowing that part of what I do today is because of time spent with Simon.
Simon will long be remembered as a legendary Durban based pianist who loved to share his story about how he started playing the piano at the age of 15. Skilled to work as a carpenter, Simon completed his trade and then took a shot at competitive boxing. He was initially self-taught, until he studied with Lem Colvin and later the renowned John Mehegan whom he met in 1959 when he took Master classes and advanced courses in Jazz piano and improvisation.
Simon would later become one of the leading pianists and piano teachers in Durban, encouraging his students to explore the art of improvisation, jazz and contemporary piano styles. He opened the Simon Kerdachi Academy of Music in 1972 where he taught piano and also offered organ and guitar lessons taught by others, first in Poynton House in the city centre, then expanded to include a branch in Pinetown and later from his home in Morningside.
Simon began his career as a pianist in Durban in the 50s. Years later, when he was working with bands he also played with his younger brothers Des (trumpet) and Gerald (drums), eventually leaving his carpentry day job for a prosperous cycle of contracts to provide live music for a range of events such as weddings, parties, corporate functions and hotel circuits in and around Durban.
In the various bands he led, Simon collaborated with so many Durban jazz musicians for over 50 years that the list is endless. He worked for many years with Colin Penn (piano), Peter Bosse, Trish Bailey, Dereck Geldenhuys, Willie Ellison (bass), Gerald Sloane and Sandile Shange (guitar), Tony Daykin and Mike Mazzoni (drums), Milton Johnson, Phil Harbor, Jerry Kunene, Basil Metaxas, George Hayden (saxophone), Brian Thusi (trumpet) and singers Bobby Minter, Eve Boswell, Dianne Chandler and Judy Page amongst several others.
There are not many places in Durban with an acoustic piano that Simon has not played: The Blue Note, Maître per, The Goodwill Hotel, The Cosmo Club, Beverly Hills Hotel, Tropicana Hotel, Elangeni Hotel, Maharani Hotel and The Royal Hotel.
At times a showman but also a sought after solo pianist, Simon had an enviable left hand that would glide effortlessly through 10ths, then stride piano, then boogie-woogie and passages of walking bass sometimes played with his eyes shut! He would ‘play up’ for the high tea sessions during his lengthy residency at The Oyster Box Hotel and he provided an unthinkable number of hours listening pleasure to diners over the years. Simon had memorised hundreds of songs from Ragtime to modern Jazz standards. He could write a lead sheet in record time away from the piano and was a favourite accompanist because of his wide repertoire. He was involved in many large scale productions where he composed and arranged music for live shows, SABC television and radio broadcasts.
Simon and his personality will no doubt be remembered for years to come – he did enjoy telling a good story both on and off the stage! With Jazz as the personalised art from that it is, each musician contributes their own style and sound to this genre. When we lose an esteemed contributor such as Simon, we lose a wealth of undocumented information, oral education from an institution that was Simon Kerdachi.
What a privilege it was for me to perform at a recent benefit concert for Simon, my first jazz teacher, (and the person who gave me my first professional piano gig) with several top Durban musicians who never thought twice about this gesture.  And although he wasn’t meant to, Simon just couldn’t resist. He took to the stage with his crutches - still learning to walk with a new prosthetic leg after a diabetes-related amputation - and his passion for his piano and played for many of us his last concert, to a room full of his favourite aficionados.
Thank you Simon for all that you shared with us. We will miss you! Our thoughts are with his wife Yvonne and children Soraya and Nicholas. RIP Simon Kerdachi (April 8 1935 – September 2 2014)
Debbie Mari is a lecturer in the Jazz Studies programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.