neworleans: July 2007 Archives
Were I still in New Orleans, tonight I'd be at a slamming jam session (the likes of which there are too few) celebrating, and raising funds for, a great New Orleans musical tradition: Satchmo Summer Jazz Camp.
For the past seven years, I've driven up to Downeast Maine for the last weekend of July to serve as volunteer-producer of the Deer Isle Jazz Festival at the Stonington Opera House. I fell into this role naturally. Erica and I happened upon this place and fell in love with the charming coves, the pink-and-blue sunsets, the unparalleled lobster, the chilly nights, the warm unassuming atmosphere, and the creativity that seemed to bubble up everywhere we went. One afternoon, we made a left turn and right in front of us stood a once-grand then-decrepit opera house. "Hey, let's quit our jobs," I said dreamily (I had one at the time), "buy this place, fix it up, and turn it into a nonprofit arts center!'
We didn't, but a group of enterprising women did. (You can read more about them and their Opera House Arts here.) Soon, we got to talking: Let's bring jazz musicians up here, create a festival that celebrates not just music but improvisation and its connections to creativity of all types, someone said. Before long, saxophonist Dewey Redman was onstage, opening the inaugural event. Matt Wilson, then his drummer, played a separate set: a forty-minute duet with slide guitarist David Tronzo. Tronzo meanwhile, had spent two weeks at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (in a festival-related residency): a glassblower had created a series of custom slides that Tronzo used in performance. At one point in the set, Tronzo coaxed tiny squeals from his guitar by rubbing a plastic up against his strings, coaxed along by Wilson's skittering beat. The audience stuck with it, dug it: I knew we were on to something. Since then, the 250-seat former vaudeville house has played host to Brazilian singer Luciana Souza in duets with guitarist Romero Lubambo and pianist Fred Hersch; saxophonist Greg Osby's quartet with pianist Jason Moran; my own favorite male jazz vocalist, Andy Bey; French horn player Vincent Chauncey; free-jazz hero bassist William Parker; and 80-year-old master pianist Randy Weston.