From the soulful sax to the scattered bebop of a trumpet, Durban is always awash with the poetry of jazz music. Which is perhaps the main reason why it hosts South Africa’s annual International Jazz Extravaganza, an all-day festival that falls on 4th March this year. The jamboree provides the perfect excuse to wander from the aesthetic delights of The Oyster Box and enter the city’s downtown core, where great weather, sandy shoreline, delicious cuisine and fantastic music combine to create an infectious upbeat atmosphere. Take a look at our guide to the city’s musical heritage, and discover the best places to enjoy live jazz in Durban.
For many years, South Africa has been home to a dynamic jazz scene. Mixing the church’s rhythm and blues with a kind of syncopation known as the ‘jazz haze’, travelling musicians would congregate in South Africa’s third largest city to share their ideas and create new music. Fuelled on delicious street foods such as braai and bunny chow (a curry sandwich), different forms of jazz were mixed with an eclectic range of South African beats to great effect.
Durban was quickly transformed into a live music hub, with everything from booming basslines, indigenous Maskandi melodies, brassy rap lyrics and heartfelt jazz all combining to give birth to something new and intriguing. But beneath the creative melting pot, jazz still lingers as the golden thread that keeps it all together.
The best places to listen to live jazz in Durban are the same spots that have been popular for decades. These include Rainbow Jazz Club, which was also an important meeting place for anti-apartheid activists; the Centre for Jazz, which often hosts incredible talents fresh from the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Chairman, an upmarket jazz lounge with a world-class cocktail menu; and Zack’s, which likes to mix its jazz up with a bit of rock and blues.
Some of the biggest names go underground, however. Literally in the case of Zulu’s, which sits beneath the Playhouse Theatre, in its cellar. Regularly hosting the likes of Natalie Rungan, Darius Brubeck and other South African jazz stars, people go here for the good-time vibes, the frenetic dancefloor and the glamorous double bar. Others head for the BAT centre, where jazz luminaries like Sipho Gumede and Jimmy Dludlu can often be found, or on Friday evenings, when locals take it in turns to jam. Monkey Bar on Florida Road, is another popular location, offering a fusion of contemporary, house and afro-jazz.
If dancing the night away on the jazz scene wears you out, take a taxi back to The Oyster Box, where you can watch dolphins from the Ocean Terrace or fall asleep to the gentle lull of the Indian Ocean.