Monday, July 06, 2009

The Travelling Jazz Community

My view of the 2009 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival often seemed somewhat circumscribed by my duties in the media cube adjacent to the main stage, but, on reflection, a few observations seem universal.

Foremost, is the reinforcement of the idea that jazz musicians are open, curious and relatively non-hierarchical. Bassist John Geggie frequently distributes short reviews of his experiences leading the jam session the previous night, and a common theme is the spirit of community that exists. In addition to musical highlights like Trio M, Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq, the Brian Blade Fellowship Band and the Charles Lloyd Quartet, the moments that stick in my mind are the conversations with musicians. There were remarkably few "star" attitudes exhibited offstage. Catching a few moments backstage with Pat Metheny, Gary Burton or Jimmy Cobb wasn't much different than hanging with local/regional musicians I've known for years. The odd logistical glitch or concern aside, everyone seemed happy to be on the road, making music, sharing their art with anyone who would listen.

Geggie had the same experience inside the Crowne Plaza bar, where players like Ethan Iverson and Javon Jackson were pleased to sit in with strangers after their own performances.

In this time of diminished sales, declining audiences, the death of clubs and jazz magazines, it's reassuring to know that the personalities behind the music are as strong and creative as ever.

1 comment:

John Doheny said...

I'll offer a hearty "yeah you rite," New Orleans style, to the sentiments expressed here, and offer my opinion that the lack of star/ego characteristics among most jazz musicians is a result of both the difficulty of the music itself (it's hard to be full of yourself when you are constantly being humbled by the music you play) and the fact that jazz has so little broad popular appeal. It's one thing to feel a sense of entitlement when you command huge fees and are constantly surrounded by asskissers and sycophants. It's quite another when you're scuffling around tourist class being paid peanuts.

My own experience in this area has been much like yours, it's pretty rare to meet a fellow jazz musician who isn't friendly and accesible. On those occasions when I find my own modest chops outclassed by superiour players, they are rarely nasty about it; the famed 'cutting contest' is largely myth. Sure I get cut (I was recently handed my own ass by tenor man Tim Warfield on three gigs in two days) but as bassist Ken Lister says, to be a jazz musician you must have a thick skin and an open heart.

There's also one big advantage to membership in the "Travelling Jazz Community." Unlike a lot of critics, who are often centered in media centers like Toronto and New York, jazz musicians tend to be pretty up on who the good players are outside the big cities. In recent conversations with Charles Macpherson and Tim Warfield, both Cam Ryga and Cory Weeds of Vancouver (names which seldom figure in the Toronto-centric Canadian jazz press) were mentioned as players who were "saying something.

(Incidentally when I related this conversation to Weeds, his reaction was "tell Warfield he needs to get his ears checked")