Crossing Borders: Reflections on the 30th Annual IAJE Conference
“ (Matt) Wilson was positively ebullient as he milked various sound effects from his drums and cymbals in response to (Dena) DeRose?s gallant improvisations. ”
For the first time in its history, the International Association for Jazz Education held its annual convention outside of U.S. borders. Toronto served as an especially hospitable host for four days straight of high-octane jazz tailor made for media types, broadcasters, musicians, students, and jazz educators. The sheer abundance of activity (workshops, panels, discussions, concerts) makes for total immersion and some sore feet, not to mention the networking possibilities available in abundance. The bottom line is that anyone who has an abiding interest in jazz is guaranteed an especially enjoyable time that is well worth the admission price and this year's festivities were no exception.
Wednesday, January 8
Although things got officially under way on Wednesday, I didn't make it into Toronto that evening until about 9:00. After checking in at the hotel and settling in, I then grabbed a cab to the Indian Motorcycle Caf' to check out the special IAJE Showcase that Justin Time Records was presenting as part of their 20th anniversary year. By about 11 p.m., I was in the house and ready to take in pianist D.D. Jackson's set which was set to commence in less than a half an hour.
Opening with 'The Welcoming,' Jackson and his trio hit their mark with a wallop, unhindered by a testy sound system and a noisy house that obviously included folks who weren't there to listen to jazz. Particularly sublime was 'Hopes and Dreams,' a piece from Jackson's upcoming album which will serve to pay homage to New York City. After the tune's heartfelt opening gambit, a straight eighth groove kicked up the tempo for a rollicking journey that contained elements of stride and funk. If there's a more complete pianist than Jackson on the current scene, I'm certainly unaware of him or her. In town for his own performance that week, David Murray took out his horn to sit in for his own 'Peace Song.' It was an electric moment that confirmed the strong stylistic bonds between the saxophonist and Jackson. Rounding out a solid hour of music, the group closed with the bucolic strains of 'Summer,' one of Jackson's best pieces.
Thursday, January 9
My first session the next day was a panel discussion regarding the apprenticeship system in jazz. Moderated by writer Howard Mandel, the multi-generational panel included drummer Ralph Peterson, pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, saxophonist Don Braden, and producer/writer Dr. Herb Wong. According to Taylor, Peterson, and Braden, there was inestimable value to the sideman experiences that marked their early work. For Taylor, both Art Tatum and Duke Ellington were not only musical models to absorb, but also men generous of their time and expertise. Braden had more than his share of stories to tell involving Betty Carter and Peterson explained that he first got bit by the jazz bug after hearing Sonny Payne with Count Basie while vacationing on a cruise ship with his parents. Among the countless morsels of cogent advice was this tidbit from Peterson: 'It [jazz] don't pay enough for you to do unless you love it.'
From the panel discussion, I hopped over to Constitution Hall in order to catch a few moments from a concert honoring the compositions and IAJE/ASCAP commissions of Robin Eubanks, John Hollenbeck, and Patrick Zimmerli. 'Full Circle,' Eubanks' complex and polyrhythmic line, was probably the most interesting piece of the lot, although the electronic effects grafted on to his trombone could be jarring at times. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to get a brief taste of New York heavies James Genus on bass and Clarence Penn on drums.
A short bus ride next brought me to the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, a venue that would serve well for many of the smaller group performances. Vocalist and pianist Dena DeRose held forth with a sprite trio including bassist Michael Zisman and drummer Matt Wilson, the latter proving to be an ubiquitous presence throughout the conference. DeRose has a way of approaching standards in a fresh manner that retains the beauty and essence of the tune but also provides an updated sense of rhythmic vitality. Wilson was positively ebullient as he milked various sound effects from his drums and cymbals in response to DeRose's gallant improvisations. The added appearance of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen on a few numbers was a bonus to what was clearly one of the highlights of the entire conference.
The evening's closing revelry included a performance by the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra with guest pianist Renee Rosnes. Apart from strong section work and an equally resolute collection of soloists, Rosnes originals such as 'Ancestors' and 'Bulldog's Chicken Run' received authoritative treatments. In the smaller John Bassett Theatre, David Murray and the GWO KA Masters spun their own intoxicating yarn, although one that was as different from the DRJO as night and day. The funk was definitely at a premium when it came to the folkloric African jams that propelled Murray's cathartic forays.
Friday, January 10