Opportunities are rare in marginalised Cape communities, where one talent after another tends to wither on an underprivileged vine.
Happily that fate doesn’t describe at least one gifted jazz trumpeter – but it very well could have.
Marcelle Adams, a 20-year-old music student at the University of Cape Town, comes from Delft, where people grapple daily with crime.
“It’s been kind of rough living [there],” he says. “It’s full of gangsters, and going to school was about trying to get along with gangsters. Sometimes you couldn’t go to [music] rehearsal because of the gunshots. And you couldn’t walk around with your instrument because you’d get robbed. But I have a future for myself with music.”
Today Marcelle has been offered a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It was arranged by the eminent Yellow Jackets jazz saxophonist and USC professor, Bob Minter, who was taken by Marcelle’s aptitude when the two met earlier this year.
“I auditioned for the youth band at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival in Grahamstown,” says Marcelle. “When I made the youth band, we went to watch a workshop by the Yellow Jackets in Johannesburg. That was in September. Bob asked me to play and after we finished with the workshop he said he liked my playing and asked for my email address. A few days later I got an email from him saying I got a scholarship to study at the University of Southern California.”
He must be good, right? As a teenager Marcelle started playing in the Delft Big Band, which aims to keep kids in the area out of trouble.
“I don’t remember struggling to learn trumpet,” says Marcelle. “My family always wanted me to study something like Law. Actually I didn’t want to be a musician either. But [jazz] changed my life, and I remember putting in the hard work and practising for four or five hours a day.”
Ian Smith, the musical director of the Big Band, can understand that.
“[Marcelle] has really outstanding natural ability, which is rare. At his age (19) few of us are playing that way. But hard work is also necessary. And you need to be committed and act professionally.”
Talent is clearly not a problem. The tricky part is following through with his plans, despite the little practicalities and rather large obstacles that can get in the way.
“At college there are no jazz trumpeters, so it’s a little difficult as a jazz student to get by,” he says. “All of the teachers are classical trumpeters. For classical, the technique is good, and classical and jazz are not totally different. But some things like tonguing techniques and articulation are different in jazz.”
Other issues are less straightforward.
“The scholarship [to USC] would only cover my studies,” says Marcelle. “I have to raise funds for accommodation. And it depends on my grades at UCT.”
But things are certainly looking up. He has an incredible opportunity and the staunchest of fans in his corner.
“He’s a very patient, quite child,” says Gabiela Anthony, Marcelle’s mother. “I never had any problems with him. He’s still my baby. I want only the best for him in whatever he wants to do. And I want to help him – even though he doesn’t ask for help.”
For more info or to help Marcelle raise funds for his expenses in Los Angeles, visit the Delft Big Band’s Facebook page