We wound up mistakenly taking I-287 into New Jersey, and then getting incredibly lost in Brooklyn. When we finally arrived at the apartment, Alex's friend wasn't there and he wasn't answering his cell phone. All of this translated into us missing the time to register for the conference, and therefore going to see Maria Schneider. By all reports this was an amazing concert, complete with a dancer. *sigh* Alex and Liam finally were able to get into the apartment (another tenant in the building let them in) and we could get to where we were going. We asked an NYPD officer for directions, which were infinitely clearer. I must say, I think I've had my fill of tolls, bridges and tunnels for a while. A long while.
Thursday was the first day of the conference, which was held in both the Hilton and Sheraton New York. After not even attempting to try and get into the city for Andy Milne's 9 am clinic, I hopped on the NJ bus to Port Authority, and almost got on the E train towards Brooklyn until another passenger straightened me out and I got on the Queens-bound train. It was then clear to me how much the Toronto subway is modelled after the NY subway. After getting my bearings, I headed off to a clinic given by saxophonist Steve Wilson and his band. It was quite informative, as he democratically passed the mic around his band to get all their different perspectives on their role in the music. He played an obscure Stevie Wonder song ("Easy Going Evening (My Mama's Call)," the last song on Songs In The Key of Life) two different ways to illustrate a point. Immediately after these two versions, some old codger behind me stood up and complained how nobody plays on top of the beat anymore and that this is a "tragedy for the music." Everyone else in the room whirled around and shot him various forms of the "what-the-hell?" glare. He asked if they could play an Elvin Jones-style triplet feel "on top." Which you can't do, by mere virtue of the fact that once you start playing as many triplets as Elvin you automatically are in the center of, or behind, the beat. Not on top. In addition, the bassist in the band had played with the legendary "on top" drummer, Roy Haynes, for fifteen years, and one of Elvin's long-time bassists was also in the audience, and delivered a marvelous rebuttal to this complaint. "This man's tragedy is my blessing," he said. Needless to say, the guy and his statement became the object of ridicule for the rest of the clinic. As I went up to talk to the musicians, I ran into Qu?b?cois trombonist/Banff buddy J.O. Begin, and we began speaking in French.
I decided that this panel, Jazz, Politics, and the American Identity sounded interesting, and the always eloquent Vijay Iyer was speaking, so I ran over to the Sheraton to check it out. I walked in twenty minutes into it, and they were debating European vs. American jazz, the necessary embrace and/or acknowledgement of the racial and social unrest which birthed this music, the lack of outreach to younger listeners and communities (and why there was that outreach in the first place), the ramifications of Hurricane Katrina on the music and American culture, among other topics. Someone asked what the opinion was of corporate sponsorship of jazz festivals, to which Vijay replied, "You know, I'd love to answer your question but I'm late for my set at the Halliburton Jazz Festival." This panel was the first to really showcase the divide between musicians and critics/journalists - the writers are worrying about the fact that kids are listening to hip-hop and pop and not jazz, while the musicians would rather learn from those other musics and apply it to their own. As trumpeter Irvin Mayfield commented, "We have to get rid of this notion that bad jazz is still better than anything else." Good and bad music are still good and bad, regardless of genre. I'll take Christina Aguilera over Kenny G, thank you.
I grabbed a quick lunch, and then went to the conference opening general session, which also hosted the premiere of the IAJE/ASCAP commissions, honoring Ornette Coleman. Ornette delivered a rather rambling speech which had its peaks and valleys, but it was impressive nonetheless. He was wearing a really loud and oversized green-and-white checkered suit with a porkpie hat. At 75, he's a frail and quiet man, and surprisingly humble. I've read some interviews he's given and he seems rather defensive, but after having talked to him quite briefly and shaken his hand, I realize that he's just very protective of his music and of himself. It's very strange to think of his music now - when that mouthpiece hits his lips, the small skinny Texan turns into a Goliath. "The most beautiful thing about living as a human being is that it is eternal." It reads tritely, but as Ornette delivered it, it was a sincere expression of gratitude and community. Saxophonist Jimmy Greene's piece, entitled "Anthem of Hope," was sublime. It was beautiful and uplifting, and paid tribute to Ornette without copying him. I felt badly skipping out on two commissions, but you can't do everything. I was supposed to meet violinist Meg Okura, who was playing with the other IAJE/ASCAP commission group, Ed Neumeister's NeuHat orchestra, but I had to go to this other clinic.
Arranger/composer Gil Goldstein was giving a clinic on arranging, which was quite informative. He showed a photocopy of Gil Evans' final sketch (incomplete), on a Robbie Robertson tune called "Moonstruck." He talked about harmony, orchestration, and the role of an arranger/orchestrator. Again, he's a very talented yet extremely approachable guy. One person said that he often comes up with five or six different arrangements of a troublesome section, and how he can learn to narrow his focus. Gil's answer: "Deadline."
I ran back to the Sheraton to check out pianist Robert Glasper. For those who don't know, he's a young guy (mid-20s) who's been equally influenced by jazz and hip-hop. He's internalized a lot of hip-hop groove which really comes out in his playing, without blatant reference to hip-hop beats. His humour is a bit stilted but still kind of funny. His tune "Enoch's Meditation" went on quite the ride - into a solo piano interlude which included a rendition of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" from start to finish, and when the trio kicked back in, it became a vaccillation between "Maiden Voyage" and "Everything In Its Right Place." This is a guy to look out for.
I made my way through the insanity of the exhibitions, stopped by the McGill booth, and met composer/arranger/McGill alum Darcy James Argue at the Garritan booth. Liam, Alex, Alex and I then went out for dinner at this Indian place a few blocks from NYU, and went to a fabulous new/used CD place. I could have dropped a ton of money in there. It felt like an overgrown and better organized Cheap Thrills.