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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Guest post: James Danderfer

James is a great clarinetists and composer from Vancouver who we've been lucky enough to get in Montreal for a couple of years while he completes his masters degree from McGill. Check out his music at www.JamesDanderfer.com

Here's his post in response to my assignment (read my original post here: "The Jazz Wars")

Moving on, let me give a quick shout out to all the over-thinkers out there! If thinking about shit was a job, we’d all be making bank in over-time. But it’s not, and unless you have a somewhat 9-5 job to distract you then may just be thinking about much too much all at once. Probably nothing brilliant mind you, just… thoughts.
Anyways, that’s where I’m at these days,…over-thinking. And everything ties into something else, such as,…hmm, I don’t know,… let’s say your friend is releasing an electroacoustic EP pretty soon. Well that person starts thinking about how to release the EP (digital download cards vs. CDs, free streaming albums vs. sound bites) but first he’s gotta work out lots of details with his yet to be created record label, and then he thinks about the CD release show which should line-up with the CD release but he doesn’t know how on Earth to perform this music live!… etc, etc.
And then I get a request to think about and comment on this YouTube video of Jason Marsalis(jazz drummer extraordinaire and proponent of traditional jazz values). Why would anyone bother to do this you ask?
The request came from a great jazz pianist (and blog enthusiast) Josh Rager. Now Josh, if you’re reading this, let me just say; I love giving my opinion on anything, the problem isI’m an over-thinker who will think about it, and think about it, and waste more time and think,… until I can come up with THE answer, only there is no definitive answer so my mind will just run around in circles! It’s infuriating,. Okay?… I mean seriously!
So allow me to simplify my opinion on the view which Jason expressed. He believes that institutionalized jazz has lost touch with humanity and students no longer appreciate the value of playing for audiences but instead have learned only to play for themselves or other musicians.
First of all, I hope this guy has a sense of humour because I found the video kinda hilarious. Jason’s poorly edited, Cronkite-esque barroom sermon about “Jazz Nerds International” which, by the audio/video quality, I’m guessing was delivered to somebody’s old cell-phone camera. … Awesome.
So yeah, on one hand I completely agree, institutionalized jazz music hasn’t placed nearly enough emphasis on the core element of expressing emotion to audiences.
On the other hand, it’s music dude! People should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want to! If some guy wants to play jazz music for himself (possibly in 5/4 too) then let him. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s art.
If there’s any solution here it’s to be done by better categorizing the many styles of jazz music. I mean, how is it that jazz came to be a cover all term for any kind of music from Louis Armstrong to hip hop to the Doobie Brothers? It is kinda frustrating when audiences go out to hear a jazz show expecting something swinging and end up with some sort of through-composed, intellectual, new music performance,… and vice versa of course. I know what some of you are saying: “Who knows?  Yeah, sure, they might, but they probably won’t; just like when I go to eat at an Italian restaurant I probably don’t want to be surprised with pan-Asian fusion dishes.
I don’t know, is it just me? I love labels and relish the opportunity to express this to any musician who considers themselves far too “open-minded” to have use for such things.  Labels are great, they don’t limit anything, instead they serve as a tool towards identifying someone’s likes and dislikes.  Labels help me find the right section in a library, just like they help me find the right aisle in a grocery store, just like the “list of ingredients” helps me determine whether to choose this jar of pasta sauce or the other.  Why hell, that’s an idea right there! ”Jazz Festivals” (which, in my world, would hereby be called “Music Festivals”) could include an ingredient list next to all “fusion” artists, listed in order of greatest percentage, ie:  The Joe Blow Fusion Collective:  Contemporary European Classical, American Folk, Jazz, Blue Grass.
You see? Somebody looks at that and they can say “You know what, I’m not a big jazz fan but I love American Folk and so I’m going to give Joe Blow a chance.” Likewise, they won’t leave Joe Blows show saying “Wow, I kinda thought jazz was more swinging. I guess jazz isn’t my thing.”
OK, I’m done thinking about this. Josh, I hope that was worthwhile, keep up the blogs!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Guest post: Vanessa Rodrigues

I over-lapped student careers at McGill with Vanessa by a couple of years. When she first arrived in Montreal as an impressionable 17 year old pianist I remember being very impressed by her killing latin chops. I bugged her to show me montunos in the practise rooms because nobody else had any of that language together. Since her days as a student Vanessa has gone on to lead some very successful groups of her own as well as become a highly sought after B-3 organist with an international reputation. Vanessa wrote me a very eloquent statement in response to my Jason Marsalis assignment. (See my original post here)

re: Jason Marsalis rant at the Rex ...

I am always very interested to hear a Marsalis' take on things; there was a time when I thought Wynton was a stodgy, crusty old purist, stuck in a rut and bitter about it. However, the more I learn about jazz and jazz history, the more I can appreciate his point of view and the more, I have to say, I agree with him.

Think about where the Marsalis family is from ... New Orleans, the cradle of American musical culture and birthplace of what is almost certainly America's greatest contribution to art on the world stage.  We look back through the history of jazz with rose coloured glasses, especially now that it's no longer "the devil's music", and has now been institutionalized, systematized, accepted as an academic field of study, and dare I say it, somehow sanitized in the process as well.  Early jazz  was thought of by the white upper class as low-life brothel and gambling hall music that the undesirables (read "blacks") partook in, and it ultimately took Europeans to recognize and nurture this incredible emerging art form.  (Germans Alfred Lion & Francis Wolff launched Blue Note Records). Wynton was around to see his fellow African Americans press on through unimaginable hardship and win their civil rights, only to have the image of his culture be reduced to the vapid glorification of black on black violence, to the benefit of Big Entertainment Corp.

Some of the most romanticized, revered figures in jazz history that we admire today were often victims of police brutality and racial profiling, debilitating drug addictions and a host of other problems affecting mostly the poor and down-trodden. (Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell come to mind). If we look farther back in history to the blues, the original roots of jazz and all African American music (and by extension rock & roll and pop music), we see that it is the mournful cry of an oppressed people who also had hope and a sense of humour to see them through; there is such a rich pallette of emotions in the blues, the songs tell incredible stories of suffering and despair, love & laughter ... to call yourself a jazz musician and shrug off the blues as being old and tired is like calling yourself an Italian chef and deciding that tomatoes and olive oil are boring and passé and are going to cook with something newer and more exciting. You have removed a key element of the essence of what it IS, one of the main things that makes people fall in love with it, and it ceases to be what you say it is if you do that.

I'm not saying that in order to be considered jazz it can only be Cotton Tail played like Ben Webster plays it, but what I am saying is that for it to be meaningful, the history, and therefore the melodies, rhythms and phrasing, have to be respected and built-upon. It's a language. All languages evolve by building on what came before. Nobody speaks Latin anymore, but anybody who speaks French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Romanian can read, understand and appreciate Latin, and through that gain some insight and respect for the history and lives of the people who spoke it while experiencing the constant evolution of their own languages in modern times.

Jason talks about melody and communicating/connecting with the audience, and I'm absolutely with him on this. Like a spoken word performance (stand-up comedy comes to mind), it's not what you say, but how you say it; it's about HOW you deliver your story using the common language, and there is NO limit to the creative possibilities involved. Take the ending of Bye Bye Blackbird from "God Bless Jug and Sonny" - Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons ... they quote pretty much every tune under the sun during the endless turnaround and the exchange between them gets more and more exciting, more and more energetic, comical, engaging, and dare I say it, orgasmic! They are using this rich vocabulary of timeless melodies and songs and interweaving it in such a brilliant way ... I can't imagine anyone who claims to love or play jazz not being affected deeply by this.

Now, after all is said and done, I can't say I agree completely with Jason's rant, (though I think it's hilarious and he's totally within his right to say all of those things) in that I believe because the very spirit of jazz is one of growth, progress and exploration, that there is a place for complex meters and chromatic, cerebral improvisation. (Small digression - odd meters can groove like crazy if they're approached in a natural, organic way - ex. Soulive's "One in 7").  That being said, while I can appreciate the particular area of jazz Jason is referring to, it certainly doesn't move and shake me personally the way a hard-swinging take on an old standard tune steeped in emotion and history does.

So I suppose I'm with Jason 99% :)

Aside from being an active perfomer Vanessa also writes (very well I might add) her own blog:

Check out Vanessa's upcoming shows and especially her perennial jam session during the jazz festival:

Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project - this Friday, May 14 @ Brutopia (main stage)
Vanessa Rodrigues - keys
Olivier Rene-de-Cotret - guitar
Jean-Pierre Levesque - drums
DJ Killa-Jewel - turntables
MC BluRum13 - rap/vocals

Jazz organ jam session (I'm sharing hosting with Martin K. Petersen's
trio) - Monday June 28 - Tuesday July 6 inclusive, 10:30pm every
night, Brutopia, lower lounge floor

Gale/Rodrigues Group Montreal Jazz Festival - Upstairs jazz club -
Monday July 5 (time TBA)
Chris Gale - saxophones
Vanessa Rodrigues - Hammond B-3 organ
Mike Rud - guitar
Davide DiRenzo - drums

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Guest Post: Allan McLean

Here is the first in a series (I hope) of Montreal musicians weighing in. I've known Al for about 15 years since our days at McGill. He's a giant human being as well as saxophonist. I'll never forget the monster solo he took next to Donny McCaslin at the Ottawa Jazz festival turning all the heads in the Maria Schneider orchestra. He's definitely someone who needs to be heard more from outside our tiny jazz community in Montreal. Here's his reaction to the Jason Marsalis video (Please see previous post)

There is a large number of potential jazz listeners in the world.  However, there is a small number of current jazz listeners in the world, and that number is shrinking.  It's not the audience's fault.  An all-too-large percentage of the groups I hear, many of which are very well promoted, are staffed with assorted musicians in an introverted state of self-denile, believing that it's possible to be 'fast-tracked' to 'world-class' musicianship.  Jazz is very hard and there are no shortcuts.  Every musician needs to start at the beginning, and by the way there is no end.  Coltrane didn't build a huge skyscraper by fabricating the penthouse first.  The better your control over the basic materials- counterpoint(bebop), and rhythm, the more you can help the AUDIENCE understand what you want to express with your music.   You would be suprised how many laymen recognize bullshit when they hear it.
You can see Al live and in person in his various musical groups:

Al McLean Quartet feat:

Brian Hurley-Bass
Michel Berthiaume- Drums
Andre White- Piano

Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 9:30pm
Jazz in the Point
Taverne Urbaine Le Diable à Quatre
1871 rue Centre
Montreal, QC


The Chateauguay Tenors!

Cameron Wallis and Al McLean-  All saxophones
Geoff Lapp- Piano
Remi-Jean Leblanc- Bass
Rich Irwin- Drums

May 28th and 29th
Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grille
1254 Rue Mackay
Montreal, QC H3G 2H4
(514) 931-6808

The Jazz wars are back on

Oh it's on. In one corner are the hipsters of modernity. Those who seek to find their own voices by striking out on their own, often claiming that Jazz has become stifled. Jazz has lost its spark and energy due to the repetition of old styles and approaches. In the other corner are the preservationists. Those who are asking us not to throw away what is timeless about good music. Those who are asking us to ponder the importance of playing in 11/8 when 4/4 still just feels better. And the rest of us...somewhere in between. Please consider the passionate war cry of Jason Marsalis and leave your own comment: