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96 Hours in the Jazziest City on Earth: IAJE Conference in Toronto 2008

By Published: March 9, 2008

We were strangers. Didn't think we'd get it together. After rehearsal we all became friends. —Miguel Aguiar, student musician from Laredo, Texas

35th Annual IAJE Conference
International Association for Jazz Education
Toronto, Canada
January 9-12, 2008

The Jazziest City on Earth

In America's attic, a surfeit of jazz filled the bill for four days this January. In three languages and often with no words at all, the gifted young bassist Esperanza Spalding cast a spell in her Royal York Concert Hall debut. Kurt Elling channeled Old Blue Eyes. Quincy Jones wept for two lost brothers. Branford Marsalis led a hot North Carolina band on a brassy romp. Paquito D'Rivera had so much fun he lost his voice. And Miguel Aguiar, an 18-year-old horn player from Laredo, Texas, found his groove in the big city.

It all happened—and more—at the 35th annual International Association for Jazz Education. And it's happening in Seattle next year. More than 100 concerts in 96 hours. Autograph sessions, banquets, concerts, clinics, demonstrations, exhibits, workshops. Nobody ever can see, hear, or do everything. For 96 hours, IAJE is the jazziest place on earth.

Usually held in New York City, it's the Olympics of jazz for artists, music students and professors. For artists elevated to Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, it's "the Holy Grail," claims Quincy Jones, a 2008 recipient.

Under the banner "New Visions for New Times" the global family of jazz gathered 6000 strong from 42 countries to celebrate America's lone cultural art. They filled four downtown hotels, every restaurant and nightclub, and Toronto's Metro Convention Centre.

Music was everywhere. So were artists: Roy Haynes and Dr. Billy Taylor recalling good times "From 52nd Street to Carnegie Hall." Turn a corner and come face-to-face with Tierney Sutton. Isn't that Joey Calderazzo riding up the escalator? Discover Tokyo pianist Toru Dodo. Meet Billy Strayhorn's nephew. Shake Candido's fiery hand. Eat fresh Prince Edward Island mussels. Jam all night at The Old Mill.

Lost in The Big City

Only 18, first time in the big city, the kid with the horn looked dazed amid high-rises. He stood on the corner of York and Adelaide, waiting for the shuttle bus to his first rehearsal. "I get lost real easy," he admitted. A baritone saxophonist, awarded "best in the nation," he'd come to play with a band of strangers from Iowa, Oregon, and Utah billed as the IAJE Community College All-Star Big Band.

"I don't know what to expect" he shrugged. He said his heroes are Paquito D'Rivera ("because of my Latin roots") and Gerry Mulligan ("great technical skills.") He towed his scuffed white case into Toronto Convention Centre a gray, block-long Front Street edifice under the 1,815-foot CN Tower.

"I'll come hear you." I assured him.

State of The Art, according to Q

"Last year I went around the world three and a half times..." Quincy Jones is discussing the global state of the art. ."..500,000 miles...." He called out his stops from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. ."..and the good news," Jones said, "is every country on the planet has pushed its indigenous music aside and replaced it with jazz and blues. The world has chosen jazz and blues."

Applause. "The saddest thing," Jones continued, "is that in America we are probably the most unaware of our own music. The hip hoppers and the rappers don't know who Duke Ellington was. They don't know how to hear it, can't find it. When we were young, it was all we knew, because it was all around us."

"On a cleaaaaar day, you can see forrrrever and eveeeeer..."



Two guys and two gals known as New York Voices are singing tunes from their Grammy-nominated CD On A Day Like This. The man in the front row is blowing kisses at Lauren Kinhan. "I've got a crush on Lauren," he says, explaining "She's so beautiful." A retired Atlanta airline captain, he catches New York Voices as often as he can. "Wait 'til you hear them," he urges.

Inspired by Manhattan Transfer and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, this hip harmonic quartet sings and swings in the same manner. Not content to do old standards, Lauren Kinhan, Kim Nazarian, Damon Meader and Peter Eldridge explore fresh charts and create new arrangements of Brazilian sambas, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon tunes, '70s rock 'n'roll, all in perfect four-part harmony. Opening night, Constitution Hall: Paquito D'Rivera joins them on a romantic samba, "Chamega," that ends with D'Rivera blowing a smoochy kiss through his clarinet.



."..unlike any musical sound I had ever heard before..." (—William Henry Hudson describing Rima in Green Mansions)

Nine thirty a.m., too early for a jazz singer who lugs around a double acoustic bass bigger than she is, but Esperanza Spalding's already at sound check for her Royal York Concert Hall debut. Come, the hall, is filling fast.

Esperanza (her name means hope) opens her mouth and all the lovely notes in the world come tumbling out while she plucks strings on her double bass to create a fresh new take on "Body and Soul."

"Didja recognize it?" she asks. Esperanza cut class one day in Portland, started "messing around with the bass" and, she giggled, "it turned into a career somehow." Then came a Berklee scholarship; now, at 24, she's among the youngest faculty members ever. Her pure voice is airy, hypnotic, mysterious. Think wind chimes and waterfalls. She sings sweet melodies in three languages, often without words, while holding down a solid bass line. Her effortless singing on "Cantora de Yala" and "Perazuan" captivates the house. Offstage, laughing, flirting with fans, she flashes a joyful thumb's up, and you know she knows she's on her way.



Initial Public Offerings



Candido misunderstood Dizzy Gillespie's invite to join his band in New York. "He didn't speak Cuban and I didn't speak English. So we talked with our hands. "'Manana,' I told him, 'Manana.' When I didn't show up, the next day, Dizzy came back, and said, 'Where you been, man?' 'Here,' I told him, 'I have six more weeks.' After you're through with that gig,' Dizzy said, 'come play with me.' Candido did.

Jon Hendricks' turn. Charley Parker heard him singing in a Toledo nightclub. "'Come to New York,' Bird said.

"I don't know anybody in New York."

"'You know me.'

"How will I find you?"

"'Just ask around.'"

A bus ticket to New York put Hendricks outside Bird's club. "I stood there, afraid to go in. He wouldn't remember me. I started to leave, go home, and then stopped to think: the only man in the world who can help me is behind that door. "I walked in. Bird was playing. He stopped, and said: 'Hey Jon, howya doing? Wanna sing something?'"

On to Q. At 11, Quincy Jones, born on the south side of Chicago, broke into a house, saw a spinet piano ."..and touched it, and every cell in my body told me that's what you're going to do the rest of your life."

He taught himself piano and trumpet and fled to Seattle where he met Ray Charles, up from the Deep South. "He was 16. I was 14. But he was 100 years older than me. He had his own apartment, a record player and two girlfriends. I wanted to be like him." Together, Quincy on trumpet, Ray on piano, played weddings and parties.



To "do-de-oo-bop" is vocalese



For one hour, in plain English Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling tried to explain how they do what they do: Create new melodies over old standards. Make voices sound like instruments.

"It's a feeling in the moment," Hendricks said. "Something spiritual, from the heart," Elling said.

"It comes to me all at once," Hendricks said. "It's a gift," Elling said.

"You can try to explain it," Hendricks said at last, "but it would take a great poet." Finally, what everyone hoped would happen did: Elling mimicked the sound of a bass. Hendricks a horn. They were—"bap bap da dee dee dee bed up"— reunited in their Brothers act, again.



Bang The Drum, Cymbal & Gong Slowly



The awfullest sound, a horrid cacophony, blares out of the music room of Exhibition Hall where saxophones, trombones and trumpets, drums, cymbals and gongs, pianos, guitars and even an ukulele, get put to the test by musicians, amateur and pro, courtesy of instrument makers. Yamaha wants you to play a baby Grand, Steinway a spinet, Conn-Selmer a horn. The music business is doing "bidness." Downbeat's giving away magazines. Vendors offer everything from drumsticks and sheet music to downloadable play along tracks. Berklee, Julliard, Peabody, and New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music are here. Even the US Army Blues Jazz Ensemble is out in force. You can get a free copy of CODA and Toronto Jazz magazines. Sign up for the Sienna Jazz Festival. Dig Danish and Nordic jazz. Visit the American Jazz Museum. And Kennedy Center. Get a free CD celebrating the first decade of Seattle's Origin Records. Order Ron Hudson's critically acclaimed book Right Down Front with foreword by ex-IAJE president Herb Wong. Register for Cornish College of Arts. Sign up for Port Townsend Jazz Workshop. Sign up for next year's IAJE.



All-Stars All Over



Inside Royal York hotel where the Queen of England always stays, past a lobby full of Martini-sipping swells, up in an Art Deco ballroom with three crystal chandeliers and a ceiling fresco of a blonde goddess in a swan chariot reining a wild bullock, I found Miguel and the band.

Teenagers with peach fuzz cheeks, the All-Stars wore black slacks and rumpled white shirts all but the trombone player, stylish in purple shirt with white collar and French cuffs. Susie Jones, the Mt. Hood Community College jazz band director coaxed music out of the drowsy All-Stars, pointed to each player to solo, and encouraged applause from a thin audience of folks with digital cameras who had to be parents.

A big bald bullet head guy with goatee took the stage. Ben Wolfe, the guest artist, an ex-Mt Hood Community College bassist who's played with Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton and toured with Diana, took one look at the All-Stars and said: "You look tired. What you been doing?" Nobody said a word. Trombone player winked at drummer. They'd been getting a taste of Toronto.

"I remember band trips," Wolfe said, knowingly, then played one solo and split. The All-Stars played on. When it was time for Miguel's solo, "Cottontail," he played with sufficient technical mastery to earn unprompted applause.

He found me afterwards. "You came to hear me."

"You sounded good," I said. He beamed.

The Oscar & Pulitzer of Jazz



Slowly they came, not a minute too soon—the legends of jazz, a few to receive the nation's highest honor, others to cheer. Nancy Wilson, 71, with silver hair. Frank Foster, 79, in a wheel chair. George Avakian, the producer, and Candido, the conguero, on canes. Even Quincy walked a little slower. Jon Hendricks, 87, in jaunty yacht cap, skipped into Constitution Hall. Paquito, the youngest at 59, came to play his clarinet.

The Jazz Master Awards ceremony, hosted by Ms. Wilson, was bittersweet. Two honorees—Oscar Peterson and pianist-composer Andrew Hill—didn't live long enough to receive the Oscar and Pulitzer of jazz. Peterson died two days before Christmas 2007 at the age of 82, and Hill on April 20. 2007. He was 76.

"It's a great honor," a tearful Quincy Jones said, "but I wish two of my friends were around.

"In my heart, no one I have ever loved has left, Nancy Wilson said, "They're always here."

Pianist Oliver Jones, protege of the late Oscar Peterson, performed a moving rendition of Peterson's civil rights anthem "Hymn for Freedom." Peterson's widow, Kelly, and daughter, Celine, accepted the Jazz Master Award from Dana Gioia, NEA chairman.

Other 2008 NEA Jazz Masters are Candido Camero, 87, Tom McIntosh, 80, composer/arranger; Gunther Schuller, 83, historian, and trumpeter Joe Wilder, 81. "I will be 75 in a few months," Quincy Jones said, "and, whew, I don't know how we made it. "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." A two-time cancer and brain surgery survivor, Jones looked over his shoulder at his life and said, "It's all about hills and valleys and you learn who you are when you're in the valley."



Kurt Does Frank by Quincy



In tuxedo in front of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra he looked familiar—the slick black hair, the right moves, and when he sang he sounded so much like Frank, late 60s, vintage Vegas, you could close your eyes and swear Ole Blue Eyes was back in town.

Elling, with Quincy Jones' Sinatra at the Sands arrangements, swung through "Luck be a Lady," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and his own arrangement of "Leaving Again/In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" from Nightmoves, his new CD.

And then came Candido on three congas, Paquito with clarinet, and Joe Wilder on trumpet for a Grand Finale that had the house of 4000 on its feet, roaring for more. "More?" Candido asked, and flashed his fiery hands to encourage the notion.



Fame & Glory: Same Old Story

Standing on the corner in pre-dawn darkness waiting for the airport shuttle, he looked so at home I didn't recognize him at first. "Good time?"

"Great time," he said, smiling. "At first nobody got along. We were strangers. Didn't think we'd get it together. After rehearsal we all became friends. Didn't see Paquito," he said. "Too busy rehearsing. And we been jamming. Every night. It's been great. We just got in." It was 4:15 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning in Toronto. The bus came. Miguel loaded his horn.

"Don't want to go," he said.

As we rolled through Toronto's empty streets, I saw in reflected neon that the kid from Laredo had started growing a goatee.



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