Grahamstown is a City of Music

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Tuesday, 28th April 2015

Grahamstown’s fair city is a city of music which draws the citizens of all ages and persuasions together. Throughout the elliptical valley in which Grahamstown nestles, music enchants the air. The city boasts choirs from churches, schools and Rhodes University’s School of Music. Likewise orchestras, serious soloists, military bands, the St Andrews’ School Pipe Band, Graeme College's steel band, street musicians and a plethora of funky local groups affording a range of genres. In terms of live music, one is spoiled for choice.

Jazz in Grahamstown is synonymous with veteran tenor saxophonist, Rick van Heerden. It is basically a case of,

“Hey, there’s jazz at The Vic”

 “Is Rick playing?”


“Oh, cool! We must go.”

This is because when Rick van Heerden is blowing his sax, one is guaranteed the hearing of magical sound. He is a natural, original musician with a brilliant sense of timing. Whether he is interpreting and taking a piece away to a completely other level or playing his own esoteric and fascinating compositions, his passionate renditions bewitch his audiences. His performances are known to have moved some listeners to tears and others to their feet. Thus he has a loyal and faithful following throughout Southern Africa and serious international jazz devotees who have been fortunate enough to hear him perform at the annual National Arts Festival and a variety of capitals in Africa and abroad.    

A musician’s musician, Rick van Heerden has played throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Britain, Europe and New York. Being gifted and excellent, Rick attracts other exceptional musicians. He is a generous performer who not only gives his all but also has the ability to extract tremendous performances from his fellow players. Truly, the world of music is richer for the work of this highly accomplished tenor saxophonist, composer and teacher.

His musical career began with singing and as a young teenager he began playing the clarinet. This led to his learning to play the saxophone followed by a Bachelor in Music which he began at Rhodes University and completed at the University of Natal in Durban.

Exiled in Zimbabwe during the late eighties and early nineties, he formed a remarkable quartet called Mudzimu, backed by the late Jethro Sasha on drums, Jonas Chiluba on guitar and Brian Paul on bass guitar. A heady and memorable mix, Mudzimu were extremely popular in Harare and well received on tours in Africa and Europe. Opening for Eric Clapton in 1989, the legend pronounced himself impressed!

Van Heerden then played briefly in Durban whilst completing his Master’s degree on the work of Paul Desmond a brilliant saxophonist who played with Dave Brubeck for many years. He and his family then moved to Grahamstown where he teaches at the Diocesan School for Girls, has given excellent courses at Rhodes in the History and Appreciation of Music and above all, delights all with his exquisite gigs. A maestro who undoubtedly pleases the Muse, he is one of the musical gems of this quaint city.           

Article by KJ Guteridge.

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