The main stage structure in Ottawa's Confederation Park—home base for the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival—has only just been dismantled, but the pundits are already debating what transpired there over the event's 10 days.
Ken Gray, a former editorial board member at the city's major daily and ongoing columnist, is a man who loves to lounge in the park and listen to music, and as he writes here he's willing to see the festival die a slow death rather than be subjected to music that he feels doesn't belong. My estimable colleague Peter Hum takes him on through the digital pages of the same newspaper.
Like many critics, Gray is only too happy to tell you what he doesn't like—anything that he feels smacks of pop, rock or blues—but is woefully short on opinions of just who might fill the bill to keep vacationing public servants and retirees nodding their heads and making trips to the beer concession as the festival sails toward the inevitable sunset of his doomsday scenario. He's also woefully blind to everything that goes on away from the festival's main stage (which, this year, included what was perhaps the best set of improvised music—performed by the new Dave Douglas/Joe Lovano quintet—I've witnessed in a couple of years anywhere) and how much those shows are subsidized by the 11,000 or so music fans who show up outdoors to hear the likes of Robert Plant or Steve Martin in all their non-jazz glory. In an earlier entry, I highlighted how much popular mainstream acts contribute to the coffers of the festival, which often loses money on jazz acts (the second set of that stellar Douglas/Lovano band attracted only about a one-third house, for example).
Of course, Gray also overlooks the reality of history. He falls back on that old saw that jazz never sounds better than it does on a summer's evening when it's played outdoors, presumably casting his mind back to the archetypal summer jazz fest at Newport, Rhode Island. Conveniently, he overlooks the fact that promoter George Wein—in addition to popularizing the concept of the outdoor jazz festival—also pioneered the inclusion of popular artists who drew from the same roots as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. Hence, Wein's inclusion of acts like Chuck Berry and, a decade or so later, the Allman Brothers Band, in the Newport Jazz Festival lineup.
No, Gray would rather see the festival shrink, or even perish—a vision that is not only ridiculously shortsighted, but diminishes the contributions of the artists who are performing in venues that promote close listening.
With 'fans' like that, is it any wonder that so many younger musicians reject the notion of jazz altogether?
July 8 Addendum: Here's an interesting perspective on the crux of this issue from pianist Robert Glasper, who believes jazz as the purists like Gray see it is a "secret club."