JazzFest Disappointment

I kid you not, I remember the days when people like Joe Lovano, Steve Lacy, John Scofield, Courtney Pine, and their ilk used to play the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.

I don’t know if the funding was cut, or the attendance died out, but this year’s schedule seems a little disappointing, considering what I remember. I was hoping for at least one big name show, something American perhaps. I mean, a big show by someone who colors a little outside the lines, that is. Wait, there’s Dave Holland. He’s alright. But Arturo Sandoval? Bonobo?

And don’t even get me started about the time that Solstice opened for poor Marcus Miller, and the smack-sodden head case down the aisle stood up and yelled, “YOU SUCK!” (And the audience half stared in shock, and half-smirked because he was saying what we were all thinking. The girl I took to that show just turned and looked me in the eye—she knew enough about jazz to know that the “jazz choir” Solstice constituted, at least in those days, constituted a crime against jazz music—and it was all we could do to keep ourselves from laughing aloud.)

Nothing against VEJI. Nothing against homegrown bands, Saskatoon groups. They do good things too, sometimes. But they’re not Joe Lovano, or John McLaughlin. They’re not possible-once-in-a-lifetime, they’re bands you can see next week, or three months from now, or if not then, at least by sometime in the spring. They’re bands people know of. Is there some kind of massive recession going on in Canada that’s worse than it was when I was there?

I mean, really, it’s kind of… ah well, just disappointing. Diappointing in that it’s so damned comfortable. I remember when these guys would show up with tickle trunks, these crazy European guys who play as if they’ve never actually practiced a tonal scale but started out just working on pure sound—until they throw some weird bebop interlude into the middle of an atonal rhapsodic fantasy—and they’d have like 3 or 4 instruments each, or at least a bunch of gizmos and goodies. Or else you’d have a trio made up of bass clarinet, cello, and psychotic drummer. You’d have massive post-big-bands like Orange Then Blue roaring out across the Blues Gardens because where the hell else could they play? There were bands with no drummers. Bands that had only drummers. You had things that would make Wynton Marsalis cringe and clear his throat and find an exit as soon as possible. (Which in my books, as in Harvery Pekar’s is a damned good sign (realplayer|windows media)… cred to John Wendel for the link to the Pekar feature page.)

It was beautiful.

Even moreso when I see what I’m barely missing in Vancouver. Not that I’d pay $75 to see Diana Krall, who, though Wynton would probably see her as right on (other than being a little pale), is alright enough. (She ain’t no Norah Jones, but most people aren’t.) Really, down in Vancouver they have some damned fine stuff going on there… even if, yeah, it’s not all jazz. I’d pay to see Amon Tobin, nonetheless.

I do wonder, though, how much jazz in North America (outside of the biggest urban centers) has actually been sabotaged by Wynton and his cronies. I don’t think jazz is hurting in New York, say, or Boston, or San Francisco, but I bet you in some of the smaller centers, it’s kind of glommed back into the old niche of piano, bass, drums, and horn or guitar, playing standards and a few originals in a smooth style suitable for being background. Ornette Coleman‘s advice comes to mind, where he told his bandmates “Let’s try to play the music and not the background…” Except the difference is that now, it’s not that the rhythm section is playing background to the soloist: it’s that the whole band is playing background to social occasions, or to the drive home. The music is no longer front and center, it’s an interchangeable product designed not for musical experience but for the assurance of sustained comfort.

Which I suppose is fine if you’re an old fart, and maybe that’s the bottom line: the only people left in Saskatoon are old farts, young kids who are downloading everything they want to hear, and people who don’t give a damn about this kind of music. And a few kids who are probably struggling on, deprived in a way I often was, but which I, unlike them, could escape for a week or so every summer.

Ah well… maybe I’ll ask someone to pick me up a ticket for the Dave Holland show, just the same.

2 thoughts on “JazzFest Disappointment

  1. You complain?
    There’s a Jazz festival in my home town every year. Braga Jazz. It started in 2000.
    See if you recognize any of these names: Ray Barretto, William Parker, Billy Bang, Sunny Murray (maybe you’ve heard of these three), Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Gebhard Ullmann.
    And that’s about it.
    Small town in small country…
    I must confess I’m not much of a jazz fan. :P

  2. Dude! Of course I complain! Look at those names!

    I have seen Sunny Murray once, I believe, and I know I heard William Parker once too. But I haven’t had a chance to see most of those people. Ah well… but it does seem there’s a good population of jazz musicians over in Europe. Bill Evans (the sax player, who yes, these days kinda plays smooth too much on his albums, too much for me anyway) complained that American jazz musicians could learn a lot from the players in Europe, who aren’t into smooth so much. I must say most of the best avant-garde jazz I’ve heard in North America was being played by Europeans. (With, of course, exceptions.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *