Thursday, May 15, 2008

Join Us In Ottawa

Time to reveal the full plans for three events at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival that I've been working on in my role as vice-president of the Jazz Journalists Association.

Over three days in late June we'll be staging public events over the lunch-hour in the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage.

A core trio for these events will be myself, veteran jazz journalist Howard Mandel (whose book Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz was published this year) and Reuben Jackson, who's a poet, journalist and archivist at the Smithsonian Institution.

On June 24, we'll be joined by pianist and educator Andy Milne and Dr. Alan Stanbridge from the University of Toronto to discuss the rich tradition of improvising on popular songs. Whether it's Charlie Parker spinning harmonic magic from "Embraceable You," John Coltrane turning "My Favorite Things" into a dervish dance or Herbie Hancock plumbing the emotional depths of Joni Mitchell's songbook, jazz musicians have long found rich improvisational ground in pop songs. But what is the common ground? We'll discuss. This panel follows a performance by Hancock's all-star band at the festival, so we'll have plenty of fuel. In addition, one of Milne's three(!) recent CDs finds him interpreting music by Mitchell, Neil Young and other contemporary singer-songwriters, and Stanbridge has written frequently on popular music.

The next day, we'll be joined by veteran arts administrator Richard Davis from the Canadian Department of Heritage and others to conduct a workshop on arts journalism. The fundamentals and standards of professional arts journalism remain little understood or discussed in this era when the arts – in particular music – are increasingly available to and commented upon by eager consumers. We're planning to have a wide-ranging discussion of issues of connection and impartiality, reported observation and personal explanation.

Finally, on June 26, we'll be getting warmed up for that evening's performance by Return To Forever by looking back over 40 years of fusion music. Born in 1968, when leading jazz musicians began exploring the sonic possibilities of electric instruments, fusion music dominated jazz in the '70s. Artists like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Miroslav Vitous – all of whom will be at this year's Ottawa jazz fest – found new avenues of expression and inspired a generation of young improvisers. We'll be joined by two musicians who were influenced: guitarist Wayne Eagles, who teaches at Carleton University, and pianist Peter Hum, who is the assistant arts and culture editor at the Ottawa Citizen and the author of a terrific blog.

If you're in the area – or especially if you're in town for the festival – I hope you can join us.

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