IAJE 2008: Cool Jazz in a Cool City - Take 2
“ One of the major challenges of any IAJE conference is trying to decide what to attend, how early to get there... how long to hang around to meet artists... plus the inevitable hallway meetings on the way somewhere with musicians, publicists and fellow writers. ”
I have been to every IAJE conference beginning in 2000 (New Orleans), but the 2008 Toronto event was a bit unusual in many ways. First of all, many of the folks I usually run into did not attend, possibly because the drop of the U.S. dollar vs. the Canadian Looney, the lack of the required passport, or not wanting to visit a climate considered to be colder than New York City in January. While I was concerned about the dollar's lack of buying power, I cut back my hotel stay from six nights to four, opted for a less expensive non- conference but close-by hotel (the Strathcona) and split a room with a good friend, vocalist E. J. Decker, whom I met during my last sojourn to Toronto for IAJE 2003. I also became a regular at the doughnut chain Tim Horton, located conveniently just across the street.
Toronto is a great city and even with the demise of the Montreal Jazz Bistro and Top O' the Senator, there was plenty of jazz going outside of the convention, though I never got around to checking any of it out. One of the major challenges of any IAJE conference is trying to decide what to attend, how early to get there (is a seat up front important), how long to hang around to meet artists or catch up on times since last chatting with them (there is nothing like the regular hang at the bar with pianist Bill Mays!), plus the inevitable hallway meetings on the way somewhere with musicians, publicists and fellow writers.
There were not as many scheduled performances that interested me as in typical IAJEs, while the main evening concerts were in the cavernous, airplane hangar-like Constitution Hall, a great venue only if you are seated in front. Aside from wanting to attend Martin Taylor's Fretology (which I missed due to a delayed dinner), I passed on all four nights in this poor venue. A late night hang at the Intercontinental bar with Bill Mays, Sherrie Maricle and my friend E.J. caused me to miss most of Wednesday evening's music. I did catch the last twenty or so minutes of Nordic Connect, highlighted by Ingrid Jensen's meandering "At Sea."
Denny Zeitlin's solo piano set was easily the conference highlight for me. Opening with a free improvisation that involved into a medley of "What is This Thing Called Love" and a thunderous rendition of John Coltrane's "Fifth House" (the latter unannounced, but anyone owning Zeitlin's Maybeck CD recognized it instantly), following by Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Out of My Dreams," a neglected but pretty ballad from Oklahoma! which relatively few jazz musicians have documented on record. The good doctor's strident interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Deluge" (from the saxophonist's CD Juju), followed by high octane romp through Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," also proved captivating. The remainder of his concert consisted of originals, including a free improvisation leading into his pastorale "Theme From Invasion of the Body Snatchers," though he only announced the title afterward, joking, "Otherwise people would have been laughing into the middle of the bridge." The final two works, "Precipice" and "Pulsar," are evidently new compositions not yet available on any of his releases. The latter was a bit more experimental in nature, with Zeitlin also manipulating the piano strings by hand and using a mallet on them, ending his set with a flourish. As a footnote, Zeitlin mentioned his excitement at the upcoming Mosaic Select boxed set of his Columbia recordings, which include an album's worth of unissued material, to be released in the fall.
I failed to get the names of the musicians playing with saxophonist Christine Jensen, aside from pianist Dave Restivo. I enjoyed her boppish "Dear Tom Harrell" and Brazilian-flavored arrangement of "Some Other Time" (with an obvious nod to the late pianist Bill Evans). Sister Ingrid was added on trumpet for the final number, "Upper Fargo."
Michelle Gregoire, an up-and-coming Canadian pianist/composer, put on a fine set with a quintet including saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. While I attended snatches of several other performances, including pianist Gary Motley's Intercontinental Bar jam session, I missed far too much live music.
Kevin Mahogany was scheduled on the final night with the Art of Jazz (a fine group of Canadian All Stars consisting of trumpeter/flugelhornist Larry Kramer, flautist/soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett, pianist Dave Restivo, vibraphonist Don Thompson, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke), but due to his illness, veteran Jon Hendricks stepped in and set the room afire. Though the show was delayed by 15-20 minutes, all went well.The opener, "Journey Back," was a sizzling hard bop instrumental by the Art of Jazz, highlighted by Bunnett's flute solo. Hendricks ruled with his humor-inflected take of "Four," adding a hilarious exchange with guest tuba player Howard Johnson. He even caused the reserved Thompson to double backward with laughter during Slim Gaillard's "Poppity Pop (On a Motorcycle)." The audience wanted more after "Moanin'" so the set ran well past its scheduled ending with a lengthy "Roll 'Em Pete" that lasted far longer than the available three minutes.
I made it to only two workshops, though I ended up purchasing CDRs of both full sessions before leaving town. I enjoyed watching nylon-string acoustic guitarist Gene Bertoncini explain how to develop ear training, incorporating singing a phrase and finding it on the guitar, altering a piece by playing it in thirds, then fifths, sevenths, etc. In addition to his fascinating variations on "All the Things You Are," he offered a complete rendition of Dave Gruisin's "A Love Like Ours."
Vocalist Catherine DuPuis held a workshop to demonstrate how Native-American music could be blended with jazz. Starting with a chant, DuPuis gradually added musicians as an arrangement took shape, with a strong rhythm section including pianist Bill Mays (who did some of the charts based on the singer's concepts), bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke, plus cedar flautist. One Native-American piece ending up with a cooking "Killer Joe" vamp underneath, while "All the Things You Are" was transformed into a Native-American setting. Finally, arranger Russ Kassoff's chart of "Who Will Buy?" (from the musical Oliver!) was fueled by the rhythm section playing "All Blues" behind the leader.
I missed the first half of the Disklavier session involving the remaking of Art Tatum's historic 1949 solo concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, documented in uneven sound on the Sony CD Piano Starts Here. The original transcription was edited and resequenced, with a medley cut down (evidently to save royalties). Fortunately, the edited portion was located, an original ten inch disc of the music enabled the correct sequence to be determined. Then a complex computer program was devised to not only learn which keys Tatum played, but to mimic how much pressure he used and how much pedal. In one brief hearing, it seemed like the live playback I heard on the Disklavier during this session sounded very close to Tatum's recording. The revamped concert, recorded from the Disklavier's playback on the very same stage used by Tatum, will be issued this summer. It still isn't the same as hearing the pianist's own performance, but it is a fascinating technology.
Panel discussions have always been a hit-or-miss affair at IAJE and I missed most of them this year. Dan Morgenstern's chat with drummer Roy Haynes didn't seem to catch fire and I ended up leaving halfway through it. Some of the other sessions looked promising but I missed them for various reasons. While hanging out with Bill Mays, he suggested a Jazz Anecdotes panel for a future IAJE. Considering some of the great stories told during past conferences (anyone remember Ray Drummond telling about Hank Jones deliberately introducing a difficult singer to a Japanese audience as "Miss Onita A'Day" during the 2003 IAJE? ), that sounds viable to me.
Sadly, there were far fewer exhibitors present, though it probably enabled attendees to talk at greater length to those who invested their money and time. Fortunately, people seemed to know to turn off cellphones (unlike in Long Beach) so I don't recall hearing any going off during concerts or sessions.
It was odd not running into the usual gang of All About Jazz contributors (though I doubt that I was there alone), though I naturally ran into quite a few folks associated with Coda. One thing I have forgotten to do in the past: thank the many volunteers who put in so many hours to enable IAJE to take place. Without you, the conference wouldn't exist.
See you in Seattle in 2009!