The passing of my mentor, fellow musician and friend, the great guitarist (and to many, Guru) Johnny Fourie on 19 August 2007 took place whilst I was at sea in Table Bay, and as I got the news I gazed absently at Table Mountain in the distance, wispy clouds caressing the table top on that peaceful and sunny early spring day in Cape Town.
I took some mental time out from the teaching of my sailing students and, as they continued sailing the boat, oblivious to this momentous event in the history of music in South Africa, I reflected on a man who had never received the recognition that he deserved when it would have mattered, and whose life's work was now done. This day had had to come, and I was prepared for it, especially since I had, two nights earlier, received news from Johnny's wife Val that he was in intensive care, and probably on his way.
I last spoke face to face with Johnny when I attended his 70 birthday party on the 19th May 2007, where to everyone's great delight, his newly released CD was receiving much attention. (I would always call him from within my studio when, in an excited state, I had just laid down a solo, or some musical passage which I knew he would enjoy, and indeed I had done so in the weeks before). As usual, I was lucky enough to have had yet another serious conversation with Johnny on the topic of musical improvisation and composition, and during this time I somehow knew that this was to be our last such discussion. Johnny had always been the one person with whom I could delve into the most abstract musical concepts, and this was no doubt because we had traveled the road of musical discovery together during my formative years. We simply understood each other - in our conversations as much as in our playing.
I was invited to perform at the memorial concert which took place at the Wits Theatre on the 8th September 2007. This was a dignified affair, yet joyful and uplifting. Many musicians and friends of the great man were there to pay tribute to his life, and the learnings that we all gained from him.
Johnny will remain a lifelong inspiration to me, and his spirit of music will always be found between the notes that I play. And as I spend this time in my studio preparing for the completion of my next album (overdue by a year!), I now understand why it has been so delayed in its finalization: simply this - it is all dedicated to Johnny, containing pieces that we performed together, pieces that I wrote in honour of my experiences with him, and a poignant piece which relives the spirit and intensity of our work as a duo, written in London during the early eighties when I so sorely missed his musical companionship.
The profundity of mood and emotion that I now carry with me has found expression in "Changes", my second album. It was my intention that this would be my musical tribute to the man who gave me so much.