Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inside The Media Trailer...And Out

I only dip into the world of full-time media relations once or twice every couple of years, but it's always akin to trying to maintain your equilibrium while bouncing and churning around the bowl of a Cuisinart.

Friday. Out late the night before, I'm still dozing when I'm bolted awake by a gorgeous saxophone solo on my bedside radio. I'd completely forgotten that I'd booked former Ottawan Petr Cancura to appear on CBC Radio. He sounds great, and the interview is entertaining and informative. A solid start to the day.

On the drive in, I get a call from the producer of a noon-hour AM talk show I've agreed to go on to promote the jazz festival. I ask her for an overview of what ground she'd like to cover. "I thought we could spend some time talking about Michael Jackson." Cool, but not part of my agenda. At least I can relate how the musicians I was surrounded by the previous night responded to the news.

It's pouring rain on the walk back from the radio station, making Ottawa feel like one big sauna — being shared by a few hundred thousand of your closest friends.

Grabbing a fantastic organic Mennonite sausage in the park, I spot my former drum teacher, a lovely guy I never see often enough. Brief hang while my sausage is going cold.

The sounds of doom fill the air. We all look up to see if another storm is imminent. No, it's just Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten soundchecking. I catch a few minutes in front of the stage, then duck into the trailer to encounter the situation that will dominate my afternoon. Al Green's flight from Memphis was cancelled, meaning he will not be in Ottawa in time to do a live radio interview that had, so far, been the best achievement of our media relations efforts. I spend the next three hours on and off the phone, trying to find the good reverend, who is neither at home, in his office, or anywhere close to his cell phone. A lot of stuff goes on, but Mr. Green remains my focus, and concern. The odd thing about media relations is how much you want the story to work out for the journalists at the other end of the relationship. It goes beyond promotion at that point, especially if you've been a journalist yourself. Many calls back and forth to the radio producer — I would not want that job – Green's record label and manager, I write it off as a lost cause an hour after the show is underway. I leave a message for the singer to call directly to the producer and move on to some other issues. Miraculously – hey, he is the Rev. Al Green – he calls in right on time and, according to a later backstage conversation with host Adrian Harewood, the interview goes well.

Nice sets by Jane Bunnett's current touring unit featuring the sweet-voiced Grupo Desandann and Jimmy Cobb's tribute to Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, and then I hook up backstage with saxophonist Javon Jackson for a pre-arranged dinner. We decide to catch a couple of songs by SMV, which turns out to be a bad move, because we miss the close of the kitchen at the Japanese restaurant we had chosen. We're on Jazz Time, Javon has to check out of his hotel at 3 a.m. to make a flight to Saratoga via Philly, and Ottawa suddenly seems like the provincial town that so many people claim it is. Not the finest moment for showing off my city to my New York friend.

We catch dinner, in the gracious company of longtime jazz festival board member Judy Humenick, and manage to twist Javon's arm into sitting in at the jam session.

The session room is packed when we get there, lots of people to talk to, and when Javon finally hits with Dave Restivo on piano and Jim Lewis on trumpet – now about three hours before his lobby call for the Saratoga trip – he sounds fantastic, flying on tenor like he's playing alto. If anyone can capture the sound of John Coltrane in his mid-'50s period, it's Javon, and he's brimming with nice melodic ideas.

Two great sax solos. Perfect bookends.

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