Apology to Hugh Masekela

My Apology to Hugh Masekela: He and Larry Willis gave the performance of a lifetime at the Dakota

Insight News
Harry Colbert Jr

I take great pride in being a journalist.

I recognize the true honor bestowed upon me. I strive every day to be truthful, thoughtful and accurate and maintain the public’s trust. It’s a weighty


job. Yes, in the past I have erred. I’ve left off a period at the end of a sentence here or there. I have missed a word that should have been capitalized – forgot to add an apostrophe … nothing major, but errors nonetheless. It happens with every writer. You beat yourself up over it, maybe say a foul word (or few), but you move on.

In all my years as a journalist, I’ve never had to write a retraction – until now. Hugh Masekela, I owe you an apology.

I recently interviewed jazz great, Hugh Masekela over the telephone. Prior to the interview, I had very (I mean very) little knowledge of this great treasure. I was given the assignment to do an advance write-up of his Dakota Jazz Club performance, so I did some cursory research (Google, YouTube) and thought, OK, I have everything I need to conduct the interview.

I mean I was impressed with his 1968 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Instrumental for the song, “Grazin’ in the Grass.” I faintly remember hearing it a time or two. I remember liking it. I read of his political activities to end apartheid in his native South Africa. Again, I was impressed with his work, but I’ll be honest; I wasn’t seeing much there story-wise other than another old timer coming to town to play some stale, dull version of jazz that I was sure would have me bored to tears.

Mr. Masekela, sir, I owe you the grandest of apologies. Readers of Insight News/Aesthetically Speaking I owe you an apology.


Now don’t get me wrong; my write-up was factually accurate. I didn’t misquote the man or anything. But I didn’t truly tell his story because I didn’t truly know his story. You see, one can’t know his story until one witnesses his greatness.

Now I can tell the story of Hugh Masekela.

A bit of candor, I almost didn’t go to the show I previewed of Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis at the Dakota Jazz Club. I wasn’t assigned the story; and besides, my plate was pretty full already. But the night before the show, I had dinner with a friend visiting from out of town and she mentioned she was going to the Dakota for a show the next day. She didn’t know who was performing, but someone suggested she check it out. I replied that I did an article about the show and as a way to catch up I decided I’d go as well.

We went to the 9 p.m. show – the duo’s second show of the night. I wasn’t expecting much. After all, the two are both in their 70s and this was their second show. They had to be plum tuckered out. Yeah, right.

Then something magical occurred.

With nothing more than Masekela’s trumpet and voice and Willis’ piano playing I, along with the couple hundred in the audience, were treated to the performance of a lifetime.

In all honesty, I’ll probably need to issue another apology to the two because I just don’t feel my vocabulary is vast enough to express the greatness that the two old friends displayed on that stage. But a once-in-a-lifetime feeling fell over me listening to these two treasures, and listening to Masekela tell tales of hanging out in Harlem and stories of playing with Miles Davis and the stories he told of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughn. It was like getting a first-hand lesson in music history, delivered by one of the deans of the college.

I didn’t just hear Masekela and Willis – I felt them. I felt them deep in my soul in a place never before reached.

Now ask me to name the numbers they played and I can name two, maybe three at best. Of course there was “Grazin'” and Masekela’s version of the Herbie Hancock classic, “Cantaloupe Island” served as the encore (and of course after that show, there had to be an encore), but other that that, my ears were virgin. But I didn’t need to know the titles of the songs. For all I care, every song is nameless. Their performance was timeless.

To sum things up, I’ll offer you the Facebook status I posted while in a virtual trance witnessing what I was unbelievably witnessing.

“Have you ever experienced something so wonderful, so beautiful, that you were sad a bit because a special someone wasn’t there to experience it with you? That’s how beautiful the music is tonight.”

That’s about the best I can do in describing what I saw. It was so powerful, so wonderful I felt I needed to share that glorious moment.

That moment needed to be shared. I failed in my job as a journalist to accurately tell Mr. Masekela’s story. His horn and his voice told me the story. Now I can truly tell his story. Unfortunately, I’m telling it after the fact, not before.

Will you please accept my apology?

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