Johnny Fourie SOUTH AFRICA

JOHNNY FOURIE  1937 - 2007

The late Jan Carel Fourie (known universally as Johnny) started his lifelong love affair with jazz at


the age of twelve. Born near Postmasburg in 1937, he was a professional session guitarist in the hothouse that was the Johannesburg music scene by the age of fifteen. Here was a boy, barely a teenager, whose passions had already been ignited by George Shearing, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney and others. Amazingly, he arrived at this appreciation of deep jazz through the filter of the country music great vocalistsÙ ballads and orchestral soundtracks heard at the bioscopes (cinemas) of his Benoni childhood.


  1. Johnny Fourie



"I write this dedication knowing full well that whatever words I use to attempt to describe the beautiful person and music phenomena that is Johnny Fourie will struggle to truly reflect his gigantic stature on the music scene for over 40 years. Johnny played and we all listened.....over and over and never sounded jaded or safe; it was always fresh and stunningly beautiful. We were indeed inspired as were hundreds of others by the soft spoken master with the most innovative approach to the complete mastery of harmony, melody and improvisation. Johny was truly a guitaristÙs dream but more importantly he was the musicianÙs musician - with a technique that skrik vir niks (scared of nothing).
Over the 34 years I have known him I have observed his inspiration and influence spread with resonance through generation after generation of aspiring guitarists and musicians. Gifts from a Guru are plenty but not always easy to see. I know that those I managed to see will be kept close to my heart always. Further about Johnny see below.

Greg Georgiades"

The heart breaking news of JOHNNY FOURIE passing on the 19th August 2007 in Johannesburg has been announced worldwide.

From such humble roots has come many a prodigy. And Johnny Fourie is a prodigy, make no mistake. It seems tragic in some respects that a guitarist capable of such heart-stopping virtuosity and natural born empathy with the soul of beauty central to the greatest music, should labour unheralded and unrewarded in his own country. But perhaps this is the path of the martyr/ savant whose devotion to and concentration on his art, has evolved into the disc you hold in your hand. The songs here represent JohnnyÙs earliest loves: the melodies in which he first heard the seeds of beauty. They are the distillation of 50 years spent evolving and developing his sound by ear, via mentors, harmonic theory, metropolitan recording studios and many thousands of smoke-filled nights spent on the bandstands of London, New York & Johannesburg. And practicing in the solitude of a thousand bedrooms, kitchens and lounges.

Yet amid this cocktail of memory and inspiration, we find something totally new. The great melodies of the past have been reharmonised and rearranged with the startling originality of the future. Musicians, connoisseurs and critics of jazz will be astonished to know that only three guitars at most were used in painting the myriad emotional colours and complexities of these freshly realised portraits of passion. No bass. No vibraphones. No keyboards. No tricks. No gimmicks.alt The sincerity and the love are palpable in every passage, every note. At this table, there is a feast for the traditionalist, the purist and the innovator.
The mantle of Tal Farlow, the camaraderie of John McLaughlin, the melodic concepts of Bill Evans, the ghost of first mentor George Shearing are all here. And it is a unique re-union.

As a teenager, Johnny played hundreds of sessions at Johannesburg's Gallo, EMI and Trutone music factories in the early fifties, backing innumerable hit musicians of the day. He can be heard on the records of the Manhattan Brothers, Lemmy Special Mabaso, Spokes Mashiane, Nico Carstens, the Merry Blackbirds and others. This was his day job.

In 1961, Johnny had a taste of the jazz scene in Soho, London and after a brief hiatus, returned to strike up relationships with, among others, guitarist John McLaughlin, whose friendship continues to this day.
Johnny eventually led the house band at the legendary Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club.
Here he was suddenly playing alongside the very biggest names in jazz.

There was a different face every second week. Hearing Bill Evans at Ronnie Scott's was just amazing. Then there was a guitarist who came out with Kenny Clarke's (Charlie Parker's great drummer) trio. This was René Tomas. And I was gobsmacked. I couldn't believe how great he was. He was a genius. He sounded like Jimmy Rainey but with more muscle. It was incredible how beautifully he could solo. Sonny Rollins, you know, just touched me very deeply. And then there was Roland Kirk. Rassan Roland Kirk blew my mind.! These were the ones who stood out. Not forgetting a young trumpet player. A young lad who was my age, 23 or 24 at the time too. Wonderful...Freddie Hubbard.

During this four year stint at Ronnie Scott's with the Johnny Fourie Trio, playing in front of many of the mentors from his record collection of the 50s, he learned the meaning of mental stamina and a deeper awareness of music.
From 1971, after revisiting South Africa and London, Johnny pursued freer fusion styles in New York. His great friendship with John McLaughlin (dating back to when they traded jobs and chops on the London scene) saw him working with and around people such as Billy Cobham, Charles Erland, Hubert Laws, Lee Morgan; as well as auditioning for Chick Corea's second Return to Forever band.

Bureacracy and domestic events conspired to bring Johnny back to South Africa in 1975.
I came back home from the USA with a new agenda, namely to study music from an academic point of view. I continued in fusion mode, working latterly mainly in groups formed by my son Sean (keyboards) and myself; but also with a cross section of local players in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Thanks to all of them. They all know who they are. Important consolidation of concepts occured working with Hennie Bekker's band Profile, pianist Robert Payne and bassist Carlo Mombelli.



As Jonathan Crossley has observed (in his MA thesis) two things became the focus of Fourie's energy in the 1990's. Namely teaching at the (then) Pretoria Technikon Jazz Department, and the creation of the Short Attention Span Ensemble. The group was prolific, performing at concerts and gigs countrywide, playing mainly original compositions by Sean Fourie and Johnny. Their debut album Fingerprints of the Gods appeared in 1997. During these years Johnny worked relentlessly with Allan Kwela, Kevin Gibson, Barney Rachabane, Carlo Mombelli, Bruce Cassidy, Errol Dyers, Bob Mintzer, Barry van Zyl, Trevor Don-Jeany, Dave O'Higgins, Cyril Ngubane, Nico Carstens, Johnny Boschoff, Robert Payne, Groove Holmes, Avzal Ismail, Wessel van Rensburg, Gilbey Karno, Jack van Pohl, Bob Zotolla and many other musicians.

For further excellent biographical information, check out: