|Wessel van Rensburg
Stellenbosch University can with little hesitation be considered an unlikely birthplace for a jazz musician, and even more so for a law student. Wessel van Rensburg may have begun his days in that bastion of Afrikanerdom, but has since progressed to become one of South Africa's leading jazz pianists. He achieved cum laude for his efforts at the University and went on to study a Diploma in light music at the Pretoria Technikon and a degree in Advanced Piano Improvisation at the Sweelinck in Amsterdam, he would later become head of the piano department at Pretoria Technikon while also lecturing at the same institution. He describes his music as improvised music with a bebop flavor, and draws inspiration from the likes of Kenny Wheeler and Pat Metheney, but it is pianist / keyboardest Johnny Fourie who filled the gap as Wessel's teacher / mentor and according to Wessel moved him in the direction that would eventually lead to "Song for E", Wessel's first solo release on the Sheer Sound label.
It was during his time in Holland and the U.K that Wessel first found his sound having worked with the likes of Acoustic Alchemy's Tristian Malliot and Andrew Kleindeit. His personal pedigree is impressive having written for established and emerging musicians across the spectrum of South African musicians. In 1996 he was recorded a transcription album for the SABC and also composed and arranged Tessa Ziegler's album including: "Late Afternoon at the Road Cafe" and "Tessa, with Love" while also working extensively as a session musician.
The number of musicians that Wessel has played with locally is almost endless, but includes: Bruce Cassidy Band, Hotfoot Orchestra, Alan Kwela Jazz Quartet, Lulu Gontsana Trio, Vusi Khumalo Band, Johnnie Fourie Quartet and the Herbie Tsoali Band, not to mention his own outfit called Grasslands which among others features Russel Herman on guitar.
His music speaks of landscapes drawing from his love for fantasy and a knack for creating thematic compositions reflecting open spaces or characters like the Gollum from JRR Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings". His own reflective style of improvisation has astounded audience all over the world including clubs both home and abroad namely: Kippies (JHB), Bassline (JHB), Club 606 (London), De Alto (Amsterdam), Bimhuis (Amsterdam), 206 (JHB) and State Theatre (Pretoria).
Wessel has recently completed writing and composing music for the South African hit movie "Inside Out".
In January of 1999, Wessel performed in two shows as opening act for Joe McBride on his tour to South Africa, with Denny Lalouette on bass and Rob Watson on drums making up the rest of the band. The US jazz pianist enjoyed the support provided by Wessel and praised the abilities of all the SA musicians who got to play with him, in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Wessel played to large audiences at the Mega Music Warehouse concert and at the Marula Sun Jazz '99 Festival, showcasing material off his welcomed and well received debut - "Song for E".
A belated homecoming for one of jazz's finest.
In the beginning of 2001 he produced Kate Normington's album "Mother's Daughter" and composed most of the tracks on the album with Kate.
A few months later he released his second solo album. Written and produced by Wessel, "So Fine" is a strong jazz album which features elements such as rap (as heard on "The Emperor's Clothes") and African Jazz. It's a well-produced album and features artists such as Bruce Cassidy, McCoy Mrubata, Ernie Smith, Denis Lalouette, Rob Watson and John Fourie. It sees the re-introduction of a track called "Soweto", which was previously released by the American Label "Heads Up" on their "Smooth Africa" compilation, as well as a cover version of the song "You and the night and the music". "So Fine" shows the return of Wessel as a brilliant pianist, songwriter and producer. The album was also nominated in November for "Best Jazz Album" at the first annual "Geraas Musiek Toekennings".