2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 7-10
The penultimate day of the VIJF was actually this correspondent's last before heading back to New York early in the evening. The Roundhouse served as a jazz festival within the festival, housing workshops and overlapping performances at several stages and classrooms, with fans rushing to and from one event and the next. As mentioned earlier in this report, the workshops turned in some of VIJF's most memorable events, though unfortunately they were also the most poorly attended. Perhaps in the future they could seem less clinical in title at least, as they were perceived by most to only be tailored to and intended for musicians? Though a lengthier suggestion, "solo concert/open workshop/lecture and demonstration" more adequately describes what transpires within four walls for these hour-long workshops.
The first of many workshops at the Studio this day was by multi-reedman Frank Gratkowski (vibraphonist Chris Dingman, trumpeter Nate Wooley and bass clarinetist Freedman would also host workshops later in the day) and served very enlightening for musicians and non-musicians alike in attendance. Beginning with a solo performance on alto sax, he showcased his obviously time-tested mastery of the instrument utilizing a surplus of extended techniques from circular breathing, double-tonguing, multiphonics, microtonal playing and simultaneous playing and singing, to baritone-toning the alto by miraculously replicating the pitches of its deeper family member's range (one of the few solo improvisations he played based around actual time would be an awe-inspiring rendition of trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff's "Hot Hut," also on alto and again featuring many of the above techniques). Gratkowski, a well-proven master of the art of solo performance, spoke at length not only about his two released solo CD projects (one sadly already out of print), but also shared insights at what made him become such a great solo player. "I must say I've already forgotten how I started that improvisation," he admitted after playing the unaccompanied alto feature. Short-term memory in essence has helped him, ironically enough, and he enjoys being an improviser that much more since he forgets so easily what he's played. By performing in the momenthe winds up not playing licks over and over.
On one of his first ever solo concerts, he revealed that he ran out of ideas after just 10 minutes, so he thereafter practiced with the mission to play a straight two hours with no one behind him and, even more difficult, without repeating himselfbut most importantly he wanted to make sure he was not going to sound like any of his idols who were and are known to play solo: Steve Lacy (who he briefly studied with and is one of the primary reasons he no longer plays soprano!), Anthony Braxton or Evan Parker. The only reed specialist at VIJF, at least to my recollection, who not only brought more than two horns, Gratkowski was sure he gave his instruments a workout with an approximate 5-minute solo feature each, from alto to bass clarinet, back to alto, then clarinet. This solo performance, with the added bonus of questions and answers with personal insight, was undoubtedly one of VIJF's 2010 better moments.