Monday, January 14, 2008

The Madness '08

I might have been the only blogger in attendance at this year's IAJE conference that didn't make any posts in realtime. Frankly, there were too many things to do than hang at the internet kiosks and try to make cogent updates. Caveat emptor: this will be a very long post.

The conference served as a sort of bizarro world for me, with my Toronto, Montreal and New York colleagues finally getting to meet one another and colliding in the hallways of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It was perhaps for this reason that I didn't experience my normal Toronto jitters at all.

Wednesday I got into Toronto after Kurt Elling's pre-conference keynote speech, but with enough time to register before checking out pianist Aaron Goldberg's trio. Drummer Eric Harland was not as fortunate, suffering through a variety of delayed and cancelled flights before walking into John Bassett Theatre right at 7 pm. It didn't audibly seem to faze his playing though, unleashing barrages of strokes in support of Goldberg and bassist Reuben Rogers that somehow never got in the way of the music. Goldberg has a very light touch on the piano, and even when he was visibly digging in, the piano still sounded like it had the soft pedal engaged. His hand independence is astounding, especially when Reuben got out and left Aaron and Eric to interact as a duo. Most of the music was drawn from Goldberg's album Worlds, including his beautiful reading of Djavan's "Lambada de Serpente." Another highlight was the tune "The Sound of Snow" from the Baby Loves Jazz book series.

I tended to skip all the big evening concerts for various reasons. Because Aaron's set started late, it ran into the time slot of the Wednesday evening concert featuring New York Voices and Lionel Loueke, and I just didn't much feel like standing in line for a seat with bad sightlines and worse sound.

Thursday started bright and early for me, with an interview on CBC's Metro Morning. Thanks to Brownman for hooking me up with the opportunity, and for my dad to inform me that we were #4 on eMusic's monthly jazz downloads. (We've since slid down the chart, but it was true at the time. We're still Ropeadope Digital's #1 album.)

My IAJE day started with a Chamber Music America lecture on grants. Unfortunately it was almost exclusively geared to CMA's grants, which are only offered to American citizens. It was helpful to get a sense of how to structure an application and what kinds of proposals have received grant money from CMA in the past, and hopefully that sort of thing can apply to Canada Council grants as well.
Next up, I caught a little excerpt of Bernie Dresel's big band drumming clinic, and then moved to the erroneously listed management clinic (which was supposed to be on Friday, but was in the schedule on Thursday).
I then went down to Constitution Hall to get a seat for the ASCAP/IAJE commissions by Ayn Inserto and Tim Hagans, as performed by Secret Society North. I had heard excerpts of Ayn's piece at Darcy's semi-open rehearsal at McGill. A feature for her mentor and colleague George Garzone, it was definitely a more subdued setting for his firebrand tenor than I'd have expected. When it came time to solo, of course, Garzone let rip in all his glory; at the time, his entrance interrupted the continuity for me, but the solo settled into the piece. Hagans' piece, "Box of Canoli," was described as a crazy love song, which fit. Ingrid Jensen had a tremendous feature in it, and Gordon Webster took a fantastic solo cadenza. I unfortunately missed Wil Swindler's Gil Evans commission, but I have it on good authority that it was killing. I couldn't pass up getting a halfway decent seat for the tête-à-tête with Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling. Mr. Hendricks regaled us with great stories, and in talking about various people (including the Bush administration) used the phrase, "They wouldn't swing if you hung 'em!" Elling was eloquent and erudite as ever, and almost humourously deferent to Hendricks.
It was followed by another meeting of the minds: legendary jazz historian Dan Morgenstern chatting with Roy Haynes. Morgenstern's knowledge is unparalleled, able to recall the most obscure minutiae instantly, and ... well, Roy is Roy. In an hour, Mr. Morgenstern only got up to his playing with Trane, though his association with Chick was mentioned by way of Bud Powell. I had the incredible honour but somewhat arduous task of interviewing Roy myself just after that talk and a signing of his new boxed set, A Life in Time. I certainly am not the same fount of knowledge as Mr. Morgenstern, and Mr. Haynes was obviously pretty drained. He is, however, inspiring and very cool; I hope to catch him again someday.
Following that, I played merch-boy again outside DJA's official IAJE hit. I was setting up the shirts when guitarist Kenny Bibace ran up to me and told me that Jon Wikan had lost the drum book. I wound up running around the entire convention centre looking for the drum music, to no avail. Darcy wound up finding it Friday, sitting in the production office. I skipped the British jazz showcase to hang out with members of Secret Society North and Altsys at a Front Street pub, and then went back to an "Advanced Student" jam session. I was really quite impressed at the level of musicianship there, from the local Toronto kids to members of the talent recognition programs and visiting student ensembles.

Friday had the first of two Brazilian clinics, this one given by guitarist Thiago Trajano. He was very clear on the relationship between the layers of Brazilian percussion and how the guitar grooves interact with each part. I then went back for the properly scheduled artist management clinic with Gail Boyd and Bill Traut (who will be retiring in March). They were incredibly straightforward and clear, and gave pragmatic, easy-to-comprehend advice about how artists can further their career. Given that previous industry-driven talks I've attended have been needlessly condescending and circular, this was a breath of fresh air.
Friday afternoon was our blog clinic, with David, Carl, Darcy, and Neil Tesser. Carl has already written about it, as has Matthew Wengerd and Greg Dudzienski. I didn't feel it to be as divisive as Matthew felt it was; for me it was really intriguing to find out how everyone else views their blogs. It also forced me to think about my blog and what I want to achieve with it. There were really only two self-imposed guidelines the beginning - no political stuff, unless it ties in with arts and culture somehow; and to take advantage of the fact that I am immersed in the Montreal scene as a practitioner (musician) and advocate (radio host). I don't really think about my writing voice so much, and I'm not so interested in driving traffic here, though I suppose I should be if I want this to serve as a promotional vehicle in any way. I hope to get back into more substantive writing soon, because this isn't really a playlist blog as both Neil and Matthew have characterized it. Ideally, this should be a space that reflects all facets of my musical involvement: pianist, composer, arranger, radio guy, music lover.
Following post-panel discussions with Amy Cervini, Matt Merewitz, and Howard Mandel, I went to the Industry One-on-One session and had ten minutes with Jacqui Naylor to discuss what's worked for her career-wise, and to try and get a decent answer as to what an external publisher is and does. If there's any publishers reading this, please get in touch with me! I then ran to grab a piano-side seat at the Latin Pro Jam led by Hilario Duran and featuring the top Toronto Latin jazz players including saxophonist Luis Deniz and drummer Mark Kelso. Jeff Coffin sat in on tenor, and by the time I had gotten the cojones to work out some white-boy montunos, Hilario called the last tune - "Take the A-Train" as a burning descarga in 7. Next time.
I met up with my friend (and former web designer, pre-blog) Katie Gennaro for dinner before running to Supermarket to do a last minute opening solo set for Elizabeth Shepherd. Also on the bill was Adrian Gibson from London's Jazz Café, and the Jazzcotech dancers. It was just Perry and Kola from Jazzcotech, but even just the duo were impressive. They came out in full 1930s paperboy costume, and cut the rug on some nu-jazz tunes that Adrian spun, as well as Elizabeth's version of "Four." Truly magical, and worth checking out.

Saturday I started to feel "jazz-itis" settling in, finding it hard to truly appreciate (whoops, there's that word) and focus on what was happening. It started with Sergio Gomes' "New Ways of Brazilian Drumming" clinic which was, again, fairly instrument specific, but very helpful in terms of providing variations on samba and maracatu rhythms. The highlight for me was the Grammy Jazz Soundtable with Phil Ramone, Kurt Elling, Al Schmitt, Esperanza Spalding and Randy Brecker. At the beginning, attendance was surprisingly sparse, but it filled up and rightly so. Phil and Al talked about a few of the many important sessions they've worked on and Kurt, Randy and Esperanza spoke to the changes in recording technology and how that affects music. The point Neil Tesser was trying to drive at, and never really elicited from the panel, was how have these changes in recording and listening technology affected the perception of the music? For my part, I cannot listen to classical at my computer, and I find it very difficult to listen to much jazz as an mp3, even though I love Destination: Out! There seems to be a sense of air in the best jazz recordings that gets lost with compression. Esperanza brought up something I've encountered as well: engineers ill-equipped to deal with live-off-the-floor recording, or engineers that can do it but are astonished that young musicians are still asking to record in such a fashion. I did get Neil to snap a photo of Phil Ramone and me - as I said to Phil, I owe him my career. Billy Joel's 52nd Street is my earliest musical memory, and I attribute my choice of the piano after aborted violin and guitar lessons to that record.
The Soundtable was so riveting throughout its two-hour duration that I completely missed the film scoring in Sibelius panel that I really wanted to see. If anybody was there, please send me notes. I got involved in a long conversation with Joel from Upstairs about the state of Montreal's jazz scene and, once again, the "what's a blog? what use is a blog?" mentality. The discussion did end in time for me to catch the end of Reggie Thomas' great odd-meters panel. The fact that the best panels for me, in my IAJE career, have been about time and rhythm (cf. Ronan Guilfoyle's "rhythmic human being" talk in 2006) tells me that not enough is being taught in jazz education about time and rhythm and this needs to be rectified stat.
I caught Marty Ehrlich and Myra Melford duo in the rather bizarre setting of the Intercontinental Hotel bar. Ehrlich joked that they would play "Feelings" to end the set. I love their record Spark! and have consistently played their solo work on Jazz Euphorium over the years, so it was a pleasure to see them live. Ehrlich's control of inflection on clarinet gives it a very vocal quality, not unlike Don Byron in some cases, and his altissimo register on alto goes all the way to the stratosphere. Melford's pianisms range from two-fisted churchiness to two-fisted (literally) Don Pullen intensity, and the trance she seems to enter while playing was hypnotic to me as well.

That marked the end of my official IAJE activity, and I hauled up to Trane Studio to play with my Toronto boys: Michael Herring on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. I don't have an opportunity to play with them often, so when we do play it's quite special. In the six-degrees-of-separation that often marks the music world, the soundwoman at Trane is Zoé Johnson, whom I met through the Red Bull Music Academy. She gets a great sound in the room and I wish there were more soundpeople like her, who actually know the room they're working in and know how to get various different styles of music to sound equally good in the room. We were followed by a Sudanese/Canadian experimental jazz-funk group, which sounded as clear and clean as we did. Zoé also saved my hide when my laptop crashed halfway through the head of "How Deep is the Ocean?" by running down and grabbing the Trane's house digital piano. I was flustered, but we finally settled into a groove around "3 4 You." The highlight for me was our version of "Law Years." Thanks to everybody that came out!

Setlist: How Deep is the Ocean; First Impressions; Settled in Shipping; Dupla Traição (Djavan); 3 4 You (Gary Schwartz) --> Law Years (Ornette Coleman); Way To Blue (Nick Drake); Hivemind (me - first performance ever!).

No comments: