What It Takes To Open A Jazz Club In Joburg

What It Takes To Open A Jazz Club In Joburg

by Percy Mabandu                              Posted: 2014/08/10

The Orbit has brought jazz to Braamfontein. Percy goes behind the scenes to find out how the trio behind this venue do what they do.

Every afternoon, at about 4pm, there's a brief moment of quiet at The Orbit, a new jazz club and bistro in Joburg.

The ebullient saxophones and thumping drum kits aren't going off and only the clank and bang of pots being cleaned in the kitchen can be heard. This is when the lunch hour patrons have made way for the evening crowd that has yet to start arriving.

I discovered this rare moment of respite when visiting one of the venue's owners. Looking more like a kwaito head than a jazz impresario, Dan Sermand wears a pair of faded denims, an equally worn T-shirt and low-top sneakers. Our conversation takes off with a lively enthusiasm. It makes sense. He has much to be excited about. Sermand and his two partners have just created the country's most exciting music venue and bistro.  It's a three man effort that involves two other partners, Aymeric Peguillan and Kevin Naidoo.

The trio brings their vast and complementary skills to the project. In fact even the daily chores seem to be spread seamlessly to make the business work. In fact, I learn that while Sermand is doing his media duty with yours truly, Peguillan is looking after some stock orders and paperwork in the back room.

We joke about how these are the less sexy parts of running a music venue which also focuses on high quality food and service. Sermand reminds me that Peguillan has a lot of experience in the industry, not limited to the now gone Peg's Cosy Corner, a Sunday jazz brunch session venue he ran in a Troyeville cottage some years ago.

He tells me that to create The Orbit, his own vast knowledge and experience as a music promoter on an international scale, along with Peguillan's skills, would not be enough without Naidoo's partly creative but mostly financial contribution. He is humorously described as a venture capitalist with a swinging soul. The type of friend who's got deep enough pockets and the right type of creative spirit you need to take on a project like this.

"You'll need some reliable funder and the right skills to do this," he says while rehashing the old popular dictum that there isn't money in jazz. "It's a labour of love." So they named the club after trumpeter, Clarke Terry's 1958 album, In Orbit.

As he speaks, Sermand's voice grows warm and his vowels long. The passion, an important ingredient of any such venture, becomes palpable in his explanations. He tells me that they had seen the gap in the market for a while. Since the demise of the old Bassline in Melville and Kippies in Newtown, Joburg jazz lovers had been at a loss for a home.

There were only the large concert halls like Linder Auditorium which host periodic big events and small venues for less than 40 people. The likes of The Afrikan Freedom Station in Westdene come to mind here. "We wanted to create a medium size club that caters for a mature and demanding audience along with great musicians looking for a quality stage to showcase their work," he says. 

However, he says they also have their eye on a youthful patronage. They host lunch-hour jam sessions that see music students from around the city showing off their growing skills on the downstairs stage. The Orbit is divided into two parts; the ground floor is a restaurant with a small stage fitted with an upright piano. Upstairs is where the main stage is. There's only a small bar there as it's meant to be a music appreciation space. Only drum kits, musical skills and no frills.

So far the formula is working. "Jazz lovers visit from Joburg and far afield," Serman says with a smile on his face and rhythm in his wrist as he taps at the table top. I must leave him to work, the night is about to begin.

The Orbit is located on 81 De Korte street, Braamfontein, Joburg. They are open from 11.30am from Tuesday to Sunday.

The Orbit has brought jazz to Braamfontein. Percy goes behind the scenes to find out how the trio behind this venue do what they do.


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