Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 5
Grow up in a small town like Aspen and it's a good bet you'll learn to ski and resent the annual crush of invading Texans. Grow up in Marciac and you're likely to get an education in jazz - and a more appreciative view of the annual visitors.
Local students took the stage for much of day five of the 28th annual Jazz In Marciac Festival, putting on a series of small- and large-ensemble performances in the town square. Early shows with younger students weren't necessarily remarkable, but the amount of noteworthy work from those of high school and college age was highly disproportional for a 1,200-person, 13th century rustic village in southwest France.
Then again, not many villages of such size host festivals attracting a total attendance of 180,000 and a large roster of the world's most famous artists.
That cultural immersion got a further education-oriented boost with the opening of the Ateliers d'Initiation a la Musique De Jazz program at the College De Marciac in 1993. Large numbers of local students participate to some extent in its activities and the roster of French artists performing at the festival features an unsurpringly high number whose experience includes time there.
"In another town you don't make as much music, but it is an ambient feeling here," said Fransois-Xavier Cecillion, 15, whose tenor sax playing during the day and a more informal show earlier in the week ranked among the standout efforts. Although he plans to study medicine, he said music will always be a key secondary part of his life.
Among the program's concepts of the program, according to Marciac publications describing it (translations courtesy of the amazingly useful Babel Fish translator from AltaVista):
· "This initiative of the college of Marciac marries perfectly the idea of the creation of rural cultural spaces in relation to the teaching world."
· Wynton Marsalis, godfather of the workshops, systematically recalled at the time of its master classes that the music is played initially like a play. With each one, (the goal is) to find blooming personal likely to help it."
· "Meetings with famous jazzmen, concerts and regular hearings are organized throughout the year. Within the framework of the festival, the workshops allow the pupils to express themselves in public under the sponsorship of prestigious musicians."
Bringing in renowned talent is possible because "it is a small town, but with big funding" from a support association, according to an instructor helping translate some student interviews for me. About 200 students attend the college, which offers several hours weekly of instruction for various grade levels in addition to regular academics. (There is some uncertainty, due to translation shortcomings on my part, about the percentage of participation among all Marciac school-age students and how many come from elsewhere in the region, but overall exposure is clearly well above the norm).
Younger students started the performances on day five at 11 a.m., performing standards pretty much as one would expect, with most of the players getting opportunities to do solos mostly short and safe. There were also the usual acknowledging nods and exchanged words in the audience for a few students of promising talent, including a tentative-looking-but-assertive female vocalist on "Summertime" and a boy with a butch- cut soloing on clarinet.
Real showcasing began at noon.
The first of two lunch-hour concerts featured Cecillion as part of the sextet La Bande A Petri, whose early evening performance of fusion standards in a small nearby courtyard on day two was full of loose-yet-energetic soloing and casual interplay. Their day five performance, leaning more toward standards like "Take Five," didn't hit the same level as they seemed more tentative due to larger setting and/or compositions. Cecillion tossed in some abrupt high-notes to spike up educated lines, but without the speed and attitude of the earlier show. Similarly, alto saxophonist Antoine Fily-de-Redon delivered what might be called Post-Bop Lite - all the ideas were there, but less of them as he progressed through solos at a delicate pace.
Pianist Charles Mathieu-Dessay did well delivering some moody passages and showed improvisational skills beyond the music, unable to get two electric keyboards working before finally settling in at the third and final one. Once there he showed quick adaptability with strong, dark tone-shaping on a funk-oriented composition, punctuated with some complex chord stabbing. The more modern flair of the piece seemed to suit all of the players better in general, reviving some of the earlier show's sprit and earning them applause for an encore (a rumbling Latin number also fitting them well). Cecillion said he will try to send me digital recordings of their performances; if so an effort will be made to post them online for downloading.