Zim Ngqawana, Preeminent South African Jazz Musician, Dead at 52
Zim Ngqawana, Preeminent South African Jazz Musician, Dead at 52

Portishead

Zim Ngqawana, widely considered one of South Africa's pre-eminent contemporary jazz composer and performer, has died.

The saxophonist and flautist suffered a stroke May 9 and today the 52-year-old was taken off life support at a hospital in Johannesburg. In accordance with his Islamic faith, he will be buried this evening.

Speaking to Billboard.Biz, Lee Walters, general manager of the Moshito Music Conference and Exhibition described Ngqawana's death as "shocking".

"Zim was busy preparing for a show at Wits University in Joburg this weekend and, as was customary for him, was working on many other projects. His death is a devastating blow to the South African music industry which has lost a gifted artist who was never afraid of experimenting and pushing himself and his collaborators in new directions."

When he took ill, Ngqawana had been rehearsing at his home in Troyeville in Johannesburg for the Wits show on May 14, which will now be turned into a tribute concert for the musician.

Trained locally at the University of Natal and then awarded a Max Roach scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, where he studied with jazz legends Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, Ngqawana recorded four acclaimed solo studio albums - "Zimology" (Sheer Sound, 1998), "Ingoma" (Sheer Sound, 1999), "Zimphonic Suites" (Sheer Sound, 2001) and "Vadzimu" (Sheer Sound, 2003). The latter album earned Ngqawana several South African Music Awards in 2004 including best male artist.

His prominence as a composer helped Ngqawana secure several artist in residence positions at US universities including the University of Tennessee (Knoxville, Tennessee) and Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois).

In recent years, much of Ngqawana's career was outside South Africa where he could make the most of his belief in musical freedom through improvisation. Indeed, Ngqawana's first appearance on record was on the 1996 album 'San Song' with Norwegian saxophonist Bjørn Ole Solberg - and in 2010, he spent a considerable amount of time playing with the Zimology Quartet comprised of New York-based musicians William Parker (bass), Matthew Shipp (pianist) and Nasheet Waits (drums).

They are a very special unit. We really feel one. When we did our last concerts in New York and Europe, after we had finished I had a desire never to play another note again. I was ready to leave this world," Ngqawana said in an interview with this journalist in June last year.