The highlife musician T.O. Jazz remains a bit of a mystery to me, but I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of his old-time (sometimes palmwine-style) music through songs recorded & released by John Collins and also the few albums I've been able to listen to. Any track by the late T.O. Jazz just seems special. Below you can listen to "Agyeman Baidoo," recorded at Collins' classic, now-defunct Bokoor Studio. I've also included some biography information, and a bonus single from T.O. Jazz at the bottom of the page. This one features T.O.'s long-time female singer Adjoa Badu, pictured below.
Thomas Osei ‘Jazz” Ampoumah comes from the town of Obomeng in the mountainous Akan Kwahu region between Accra and Kumasi. Born in 1932 he started learning guitar when he was fifteen years old in the town of Nkawkaw. T.O began playing in public with friends in 1950 when he was just eighteen years old. He formed his Ampoumah’s guitar band Mpraeso in 1952 with Kwabena Amoah (vocals), Kwaku Gyima (second guitar) and Edmond Kye (congas). T.O. made his his first recordings with a Ghana Broadcasting mobile van unit in 1954 and then with the UAC (United Africa Company) that had a small recording studio in Accra. In those days he was paid eight pounds per recording (i.e. two songs)
In 1957/8 his guitar band was on tour in Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) where he met the Congolese band the Bantus Africana – who invited T.O. and his three musicians to Zaire where they played highlife numbers for the Bantus who were fascinated by this music but could not play it. The Bantus in turn taught the Ghanaians to play local lingala rumbas, chachacha’s, meringues, pachanga and boleros T.O. also met Franco the leader of Zaire’s top band O.K. and so changed the name of his Ampoumah’s guitar band to ‘T.O. Jazz’. When T.O. Jazz returned to Ghana in 1961 they introduced the chachacha to the country.
Back in Ghana he set the newly named T.O. Jazz band that specialized in highlifes and Akan renditions of the rumba. It was with this band that T.O. recorded in 1968 the hit song ‘Aware Bone Asu Manim Ase’ (Bad Marriage Has Disgraced Me) that was released as a 45 RPM on the Phillips label. For this T.O. (together with Victor Uwaifo of Nigeria) was awarded in 1970 the first Phillips West African Golden Discs – and went to record a total of 127 songs. So by the mid 70’s T.O. Jazz was a household name in Ghana. In 1996 T.O. began teaching ‘palmwine highlife’ at the Music Department of the University of Ghana, where he also played and sang with John Collins' Local Dimension Band. T.O died after a short illness in 2001.
2. Ye Bewu Asee
Beware! This single is seriously crackly. Loud, scratchy sounds are consistent throughout, but I still find this music very enjoyable.