“Everywhere I’ve been in in the past couple of years – and I’ve been everywhere — young people have put aside their indigenous musics and adopted jazz and blues as their Esperanto,” said Quincy Jones, most famous of the 2008 NEA Jazz Masters at the 35th annual International Association for Jazz Education conference in Toronto last week.
Certainly Canadians and Brits seemed as fluent in jazz (if not blues) basics as attending U.S. students, teachers and music industry players during four days of concerts and jam sessions, instrumental clinics, professional panels, public interviews, exhibition hall installations and invaluable informal exchanges in the halls of several conference sites as well as surrounding clubs, bars and restaurants.
Jones, long-ago trumpeter and bandleader, now revered as producer of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller and “We Are The World” was preaching to the choir, of course, and compared to years when IAJE has been held in New York City – still Mecca to jazz devotees worldwide – the choir had thinned. Attendance was down due to new U.S.-imposed travel restrictions and the $s decline, which made Toronto no bargain; major record labels in particular were conspicuous in their absence. There was also a slighter-than-might-be showing of Scandanvians, southern Europeans, Asians, Caribbeans, Central and South Americans. Maybe Toronto in January isn’t a super destinations spot (weather was dry, but cold).
Still, the throng of teens and 20-somethings suggested that commercial pop is not the only soundtrack for contemporary socializing. Both at the Metro Toronto Convention Center and at local watering holes such as the Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar, young listeners’ attentions proved this music – mostly in its current, eclectic and electric mode as represented at the Rex one night by NYC guitarist Joel Harrison’s Harbor Quintet — remains a fashionable element of an urban lifestyle.
The internationality of Q’s claim was further validated by our host country’s attention to its favorite son Oscar Peterson, whose demise December 23 resulted in a hastily convened tribute concert featuring performances by Chicago-born pianist Herbie Hancock, singer Nancy Wilson and Canadian opera star Measha Brueggergosman (but not, as vice president of the Jazz Journalists Association James Hale noted, native Canadian jazz pianists such as Andy Milne, Renee Rosnes, D.D. Jackson and John Stetch who really grew up under Peterson’s influence and have each taken the music their own ways). A concertizing UK contingent curated by saxophonist Courtney Pine included veteran guitarist Martin Taylor and the well-received band Empirical; the official concluding conference performance showcased Vancouver-based clarinetist Francois Houle‘s octet, Montreal’s Les Projectionnistes, and Toronto drummer Barry Romberg’s Random Access Large Ensemble.
Sorry to say, I missed too much of the conference music, due to moderating, panelizing and Jazz Journalists Association responsibilities. But I picked up these informational tidbits:
According to Nielsen/Soundscan figures prepared for Billboard magazine and announced by jazz consultant Ricky Schultz on a panel probing the health of the jazz cd, 2007’s best selling “jazz” album was Call Me Irresponsible by non-improvising vocalist Michael BublÃ© (at some 1.3 million units). Of the 25 top-selling albums only seven were instrumental – two of those were connected to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The War, and the best-selling instrumentalists were smooth jazz saxists Kenny G and Boney James (the Jazz Beyond Jazz staff is currently working on a “No Smooth Jazz” button design).
As reported by Borders Books and Music‘s jazz buyer Jessica Sendra – the surviving franchise trying to stock jazz in depth (as many as 18,000 titles at its biggest brick and mortar outlets) — Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis (represented by The Complete On The Corner boxed set) were best-sellers, along with the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Indian Summer, sax virtuoso Michael Brecker’s final album Pilgrimage, trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina, and RnRby smooth jazz guys Rick Braun (trumpet) and Richard Elliott (tenor sax).
Concord Music Group hailed Starbucks as a great place to buy jazz compilations.
The jazz blog world could well expand exponentially, according to jazz and beyond bloggers Darcy James Argue, Carl Wilson, David Ryshpan and David Adler (where are the women bloggers?), though there does seem to be an age divide involved in a blog’s power to push new artists and new venues. Don’t forget Bagatellen! More on this in weeks to come.
The 2008 NEA Jazz Masters – beside Q, swinging trumpeter Joe Wilder, modernist composer-arranger Tom McIntosh, Pulitzer Prize-winning “third stream” conceptualist-composer-arranger-educator and jazz historian-Gunther Schuller and conguero Candido Camero – were interviewed onstage at IAJE by former NEA deputy chair A.B. Spellman (expansionist arts advocate, poet, wiseman and author of the enduring Four Lives in the Bebop Business, who I’m proud to say also blurbed my book Miles Ornette Cecil – Jazz Beyond Jazz); Joanne Robinson Hill, widow of the unforgotten Andrew Hill, was there, too, and such earlier-named Jazz Masters as Paquito D’Rivera. All were introduced by jazz-enthusiast NEA Chairman (and poet) Dana Gioia (whose likely departure following this year’s presidential elections provokes speculation: Who will next head the NEA? Q himself? IAJE exec director Bill McFarlin? Thelonious Monk Institute executive director Tom Carter? One or more of the Marsalis brothers? Someone far removed from jazz and blues? Oprah?)
However, U.S. support for our own indigenous art form was somewhat overshadowed by the Canada Council for the Arts’ announcement of $1 million in jazz scholarships, established to honor Oscar Peterson and following its 4.4 million looney international research project regarding “Improvisation, Community and Social Practice.” The NEA was rumored to be meeting at IAJE with the Canadian Council. Maybe all together we can work something out.