Times are difficult all around and planning a festival is no exception. Rarely do people agree on who should be presented. The grand daddy of all jazz festivals – Newport in 1958 featured gospel- Mahalia Jackson, blues – Big Maybelle – rock & roll - Chuck Berry amongst a stellar line-up of living great jazz artists.
Going back twenty years I’m interviewing former Downbeat Magazine editor Gee Lees at photographer John Reeves home and conversation rose concerning the passing of so many icons and how that bodes for the future of jazz. Lees spoke nostalgically - reminiscing, one time there were 500 icons and then only 50 – and asked who would come to see jazz performers once the last great died. Prophetic?
Reviewing 2013 TD Jazz and coming Beaches International Jazz Festival it can be honestly stated both are now music festivals with broader appeal whose survival depends on reaching that middle ground -who remember the greats, celebrate newcomers and look toward the future close to but not defined by jazz.
Certainly, rhythm & blues and blues are rival cousins and to some extent gospel – bluegrass? – not so much, yet there’s so much magic and energy – musicianship, improvisation; it rewards big time.
I’m asked every year as artistic director of BIJF by media – what’s different this year. Truly not much, it’s about exceptional music – and the fact we are now a music festival – no fault of our own – but through ravages of time, survival and economics.
TD Jazz Festival’s head honcho Pat Taylor and I have been great friends many years. The both of us share the same passion for music – solid great music without prejudice. We greet each other with hilarious overture and it’s always last man standing humour. The business is serious but the hang - gut busting funny.
We hear the complaining and accept the jibes and never take it personally. Toronto is our canvas and we get a few days each summer to paint the days with something special – bold music colors and the shaded notes in between.
The jazz is still there – but hello! Blues, Latin, World Music, Rhythm & Blues, Reggae, Caribbean and more.
Dave Brubeck's passing in many ways signaled the end of the golden age of contemporary mainstream jazz. With Smokey, Aretha, Mavis, and young phenom Trombone Shorty pushing the right buttons we still have a great connection with rhythm & blues and that classic era.
Why hasn’t the same happened for jazz? Simple.. economics. There’s no living to be made there. The best and brightest players are teaching; far removed from a touring professional career. It’s survival in the age of smartphones, iPads, flat screens, .. the big stars aren’t musicians anymore – they are Foodies – the young chefs – the kitchen freaks. You want to get a girl – lay down the horn and cook her a plate of something delicious and imaginative. Fortunately, summer festivals provide a forum – a reminder we have great jazz players hanging around and a gig is most welcomed.
Festivals are all about who’s creating a buzz and takes their careers seriously.
Last night backstage I was having an engaging conversation with sound/production guys who experienced conversation with Steve Martin. Martin pretty much said movies are a no go – playing is where is heart is. You could sense by the commitment, planning, bold humour, and calibre musicianship; Martin applies the same standards as those crafting humour, writing and acting. Not only did I marvel at the playing, I laughed silly and walked away feeling especially good about those spent minutes. You can’t say that about most hours dedicated sitting in front of a music act.
For that I’m jazzed!
I’ll add to that time spent with Dr. Lonnie Smith, festival director Josh Grossman’s Toronto Jazz Orchestra, Trombone Shorty, Slocan Ramblers, Willy Nelson, Dr. John..
Big thanks to Pat, Patti, Anna, and the staff at TD Jazz – congrats and thanks for including Kris and I – we are such wild fans!