With the jubilant vigor that spills from the stage to the local sugarcane fields and beautiful beaches of Mauritius, the Ernest Wiehe Ten Piece Big Band (EWTP Big Band) revitalises the energy of the roots of jazz. Paying tribute to Ernest Wiehe -member of the faculty of Berklee School of Music and founder of the Boston Jazz Orchestra- the EWTP Big Band carries the torch that was once lit by great 20th Century Jazz composers such as Jerome Kern, Oliver Nelson, Clifford Brown, Kurt Weill, George Shearing, Alan Brandt, Bob Haymes, Davis, Ramirez,Washington, Kaper, and George Gershwin.
Ernest Wiehe was a composer, saxophonist, pianist, educator, architect and accomplished artist. He was born in Mauritius in 1944 and studied architecture at University of Cape Town from 1965 to 1968. Always deeply passionate about music, he arduously desired to study music professionally. Toward that end, he applied to a Downbeat international scholarship for admission to the Berklee School of Music [now College of Music], composing and arranging a tune for a 16-piece big band. After winning the scholarship, he set out to study composition and arrangement at Berklee from 1969 to 1973. During the transitional period before leaving for the United States, he played with several musical formations in Cape Town. The legendary South African jazzman Merton Barrow became one of his mentors at the time. After his student days at Berklee, he joined the faculty at the college in 1975, teaching composition and arrangement. He played alto with Cab Calloway in Bermuda and Ken Pullig’s band in Cambridge. He performed regularly with the Mark Harvey Big Band, and when conductor Mark Harvey stepped down, he took over the band to found the Boston Jazz Orchestra (BJO). The BJO, a 17-piece big band, included trumpeters Larry Moses and Ken Cervenka, tenor man Les Arbuckle and pianist Jacques Paoli. The Boston Jazz Orchestra, still active today, played in several well-known venues in Boston, including the Boston Hatchshell on the Charles River and on Marlborough Street.
Returning to Mauritius in 1978, Ernest Wiehe continued playing in various venues, with a regular gig at the Saint Geran hotel in the 1980s with Karl Allet, Claude Armandine, and Jim Collard, among others. Ernest’s enthusiasm for music and his love of other musicians,especially young, aspiring ones, was boundless. Dedicated to promoting the development of jazz on the island, he also supported the musical development of talented young musicians, including the now prominent Philippe Thomas and Linley Marthe.
During the 1990s, he founded the Ernest Wiehe Quartet which included Belingo Faro (piano), Maurice Manancourt (drums), Linley Marthe (bass) and performed locally and internationally, in France and Madagascar. Pioneer of jazz in Mauritius, he opened the first jazz club of the island in 1994, the Tom Cat of Grand Baie. The Tom Cat was a regular venue for the Ernest Wiehe Quartet (The Tom Cat hosted several great local and international musicians, including Linley Marthe, guitarist and singer Eric Triton, French harmonicist Olivier Ker Ourio, Kenny), Philippe Thomas and Francois Jeannot.
In the 90s and 2000s, Ernest Wiehe continued to perform in standing gigs at various hotels. At the Royal Palm Hotel, he played with Philippe Thomas and Noel Jean, and at Tamarin Hotel, a well-known venue for jazz in Mauritius, with his Quintet composed of Jalil Peerally, Christophe Bertin (drums), Philippe Thomas (trumpet), Noel Jean (piano), Kersley Pytambar (upright bass), and in recent years, often with Sebastien Margeot (guitar), Steve Deville (guitar), and the talented young Samuel Laval (saxophone).
Integrating Indian, Creole and European elements of the Mauritian culture, Ernest participated in forming the “Neo-fusion Octet” in 1997, which combined tablas, the gatham (earth pot), congas and other rhythm instruments to go with his unique sound and jazz statements on the tenor sax.
His other projects included the score for the film “Benares,” which reportedly marked the birth of Mauritian cinema in 2005. His self-produced recordings featured original compositions and players such as Thomas and harmonica virtuoso Olivier Kerourio from nearby Reunion Island. His last recording, made right in the home he designed and built for his family at Ferret Mapou, featured the new 10-piece, swinging jazz band.The Ernest Wiehe 10-piece big band, founded in 2002 was a much rewarding musical project since the years of the Boston Jazz orchestra. With talented Mauritian musicians Philippe Thomas (trumpet), Noël Jean (piano), Kersley Pytambar (bass), Christophe Bertin (drums), Jean Noel Ladouce (tenor saxophone), George Reed, Belingo Faro (piano), Ludovic Matombe (saxophone), Gino Chantoiseau (bass), Jose Thérèse (baritone saxophone), and Ricardo Thélémaque (synthesizer), he records the band’s first album “Didn’t Say” (2002) and performs throughout the island from the Conservatoire Francois Mitterrand, the Café du Vieux Conseil, to Tamarin Hotel. Ernest cites the 10-piece big band as “a miracle for him.”
On June 3, 2010, he passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 66. He continued to perform with the quintet throughout his chemotherapy and radiation treatments until just weeks before his death. Ernest left a lasting musical legacy on the island, influencing a whole generation of jazz.