Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good Intentions & IAJE

It never fails: I start off an IAJE convention with the idea of keeping things in perspective, and as soon as I step onto the conference site — downtown Toronto this time — I get swept up into the swirl of panel discussions, hallway conversations and gigs. By the time I get back to my hotel, I'm bagged. The absence of wireless connections in the meeting rooms resulted in no blog entries. Ah, well, let's review...

Despite living in the same province, I seldom get to Toronto, so from my perspective I might as well be in New York or San Francisco; it takes me a minute to get my bearings. No better place to jump into the Toronto scene than at the venerable Rex, which is where I landed Wednesday night for a set by guitarist Joel Harrison's band, featuring Dave Binney. The band sounded a bit disconnected, and Harrison confirmed a couple of days later that it was far from their best gig. Still, a nice hang and a chance to catch up with a couple of folks like transplanted Canadian bassist Chris Tarry and his terrific guitarist Pete McCann.

Aside from my own panels on jazz in the digital age — moderated by Howard Mandel and including me, guitarist Tim Posgate and pianist Andy Milne — and the annual Jazz Journalists Association workshop for aspiring writers, one of the things on my agenda was a panel on blogging with Carl Wilson, Darcy James Argue, David Ryshpan and David Adler. Lots of interesting talk there, although it seemed like a room full of converts, with not much obvious attendance from those who should be there (those people were at other panels or in the bar, fretting over how to deal with the digital age — get over it!). Perhaps the best thing to come out of it was some promising movement towards publicizing jazz bloggers and driving some traffic thanks to the initiative of DL Media (big thanks, Matt).

One topic at the blog panel was the approach bloggers take in their writing — does one take less "care" in writing in this medium than in print. I don't think you should, but what do I know; sometimes I mess up in both media. On that note, my apologies go out to saxophonist Jane Bunnett, trumpeter Larry Cramer and the rest of the folks at the Art of Jazz Festival for writing in the pages of Coda that the big band that backed Carla Bley last summer was a "pick up" group. No offence meant, guys.

One of the focal points at this year's north-of-the-border IAJE conference was a salute to Oscar Peterson — developed before his death on December 23. In addition to the planned tribute, Toronto was buzzing with news of a free memorial tribute at Roy Thomson Hall, featuring Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson, Canada's Governor-General and others. People lined up outside the venue for up to 12 hours — a nice tribute in itself. For my money, though, I wish someone had marshalled a few of the Canadian pianists at the conference — including Milne, Oliver Jones, John Stetch and Bill King — for a musical tribute that would have illustrated OP's legacy in this country, and how it has impacted the contemporary world of jazz. Milne, Ryshpan, Stetch and everyone else who studied with or was influenced by Peterson have taken his "lessons" into different areas.

Another focus throughout the conference — though obviously not an "official" one — was the reality that some parts of the IAJE conference model are not transferable outside New York City. Long before the conference, there was grumbling in the jazz community about the strong Canadian dollar, the hassle of international travel and the lack of critical jazz mass in Toronto, and that only intensified during conversations in the corridors and over dinners. The last time the conference was in Toronto, it was a curiosity; this time, attendance was markedly down (one trade show exhibitor I talked to estimated that about half the number who pass his booth at an NYC IAJE conference were around this time). What does that mean for next year's event in Seattle? Again, the curiosity factor will be there, but will that outweigh high airfares to the northwest and the fact that Seattle doesn't begin to approach New York, LA or Toronto in scope or scale?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you say, but still feel the Toronto convention offered a nice variety and some surprising moments. One such moment occured at the rather adventurous Canadian Showcase on Saturday night when IAJE Jazz Ambassador recipient Tom Smith gave one of the most spirited and profound speeches for jazz advocacy I had ever heard.