Like a swarm of bees, jazz people of all kinds converged on Toronto for this year's IAJE conference. My stopover flight from Columbus, Ohio was full of them. I peered across the aisle and there was Luis Perdomo, along with almost all the members of Marlon Simon's Nagual Spirits. I stood in the Customs line and spotted Bobby Sanabria, James Williams, John Fedchock, and more. I boarded the bus to downtown Toronto and there was Down Beat 's Dan Ouelette, as well as saxophonist Don Braden, who sat directly behind me and gave what amounted to an impromptu talk on financial self-sufficiency for musicians. The marathon had begun ' three full days and nights of jazz talk, jazz schmooze, and jazz listening. This is nothing short of exhausting, but at its best, the conference can offer perspective and a warm sense of community ' even when Canada is heralding the occasion with snow and more snow. Milling about the exhibitors' hall, one was overwhelmed by the presence of record labels, publishing houses, magazines, instrument makers and sellers, university music programs, and so on. And the sightings continued: Terence Blanchard to your left, Kenny Barron to your right, Gary Thomas, David Liebman, Eric Marienthal, many more. (And saints be praised, there was a free cyber caf' with high-speed lines in the back of the hall.) It's thrilling, but difficult to digest, even with return visits. And if you're a player, you can't flip through Liebman's Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody or Walt Weiskopf's Intervallic Improvisation without wanting to disappear into the woodshed. But instead, it's off to panel discussions, clinics, presentations, and other events, a lot running concurrently, sometimes coming down to a coin toss. The highlights: ' 'Jazz Is a Universal Language,' moderated by Ashley Kahn and featuring Wolff Muller of Universal, Fran'ois Zalacain of Sunnyside, Derek Andrews of Toronto's JVC Festival, and Brian Bacchus, the heavily credentialed producer. Very fruitful discussion of jazz as a polyglot, progressive music, the finer points of which tend to get lost in the marketing shuffle.
' Bob Blumenthal's interview with Dave Holland, winner of this year's International Jazz Festivals Organization Award. Mild and modest, Holland addressed a wide range of subjects, but his comments on teaching, and the knowledge-of-self it requires, lingered the most.
' Billy Taylor's interview with this year's 'NEA Jazz Masters': Elvin Jones, Abbey Lincoln, and Jimmy Heath. Did you know that Jones played the gunfighter Job Cain in the 1970 Western 'Zachariah,' also featuring Don Johnson and Dick Van Patten?
' Phil Schaap's lecture on the importance of jazz discography, not just for collectors and historians, but for students, record buyers, and anyone seeking important and accurate information about the music.
' Down Beat 's Blindfold Test, with Dan Ouelette spinning and Robin Eubanks guessing. Eubanks nailed J.J., Slide Hampton and Bill Watrous, Roswell Rudd, Ray Anderson, Steve Turre. He missed Bob Brookmeyer with Jimmy Giuffre and Jim Hall, and also a trick item: Fred Wesley playing a straight-ahead jazz solo behind vocalist Carla Cook.
And among the many musical highlights:
' David Murray with Guy Konket and the Gwo-Ka Masters. A riotous performance, with people straining in their seats, arms in the air, spirits overflowing. Avant-garde jazz, world music, dance music: were we at the IAJE, in the streets of Guadeloupe, or at a New York rave? The lineup was quite different than on the Yonn-D' album. Hamid Drake and Jaribu Shahid shored up the fierce rhythms, and Murray was the only horn (no trumpet or trombone).
' John Patitucci's band with Renee Rosnes, Billy Drummond, and Luciana Souza. The leader plays quite a bit of stunning electric bass in this group. A new Concord release is imminent.
' Benny Green/Russell Malone duo, with special guest Ed Thigpen. They were marvelous at Caramoor last year, and they were marvelous here. Green's ultra-precise octave runs and Malone's wily solo endings can steal your breath.
' Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits, fresh off the plane and tearing it up, with Peter Brainin on saxophones, Alex Norris on trumpet and chekere, Perdomo on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, Roberto Quintero on percussion. Burning.
' Sisters In Jazz Collegiate All-Stars, an all-female quintet under the direction of Christine Jensen, with Nicole Johaenntgen on alto, Jennifer Krupa on trombone, Kara Baldus on piano, Ashley Summers on bass, and Elizabeth Goodfellow on drums. Highly developed sounds from women who seem headed toward significant careers.
' Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra with special guest Renee Rosnes, playing mostly Rosnes material. This was one of director Jim McNeely's last gigs with the group. His final engagement would come the following week, back in New York, on the too-small stage at Joe's Pub. The band was in peak form at IAJE, with tenor saxophonist Uffe Markussen leading the charge.