For eleven days in late June, the normally conservative government city of Ottawa, Canada became a place where risk was de rigeur and chances were liberally taken.
eleven days in late June, the traditionally conservative government capital of Ottawa, Canada became a place where risk was de rigeur and chances were liberally taken. With arguably the best line-up in their twenty-four year history, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival delivered a wide range of music. From the West African fusion of Roswell Rudd's MALIcool to the intimate duo of pianist Marilyn Crispell and Ottawa bassist John Geggie; from the fiery intensity of Kenny Garrett to the more post-modern, but no less passionate work of Kurt Rosenwinkel; from the abstract impressionism of Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade to the equally cerebral but more grounded work of Fred Hersch and his trio; Ottawa was transformed into a place where nothing was assured except a sense of adventure and discovery.
Along with ticketed performances at three venues, there were a variety of free shows by local artists scattered throughout the downtown core. In addition, John Geggie once again led a trio at the late-night jam sessions that also featured pianist Nancy Walker. Over the course of the festival a variety of artists, including reedman Jeff Coffin from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, pianist Bill Mays and Kenny Garrett's rhythm section showed up to lend their support to the many local artists who also performed, creating a warm after-hours ambience for those with the stamina to handle music into the wee hours of the morning.
While not all-inclusive, the following report details the wide variety of styles and sounds heard at this year's festival.
Fred Hersch Trio: Library and Archives Canada, June 24, 2004 4:00PM Fred Hersch (piano), Drew Gress (double-bass), Nasheet Waits (drums)
Opening the indoor Connoisseur series at Library and Archives Canada and, indeed, the festival, Hersch and his trio set the standard for which all other shows would be measured. With a set that mixed Monk, Shorter and Coleman tunes with Hersch originals, the trio demonstrated a simpatico that can only come from playing together for a long period of time. One of the things that was to become a signature of this year's festival was the number of remarkable drummers to come through town, and Waits was no exception, with an ability to hang onto every note, every nuance, and push them ever further. A highlight of the set was Hersch's tune, "A Lark," dedicated to Kenny Wheeler and demonstrating the same melancholy and implied swing. The medley of Shorter tunes, "Miyako" and "Black Nile," demonstrated the group's strong time sense, with rhythm often more implied than explicit. class="f-right">
Bob Brough Quartet: Confederation Park, June 24, 2004 6:30PM Bob Brough (tenor saxophone), Stan Fomin (piano), Artie Roth (bass), Kevin Brow (drums)
Canadian tenor player Bob Brough delivered a pleasant straight-ahead set that, while capable, when compared to Hersch's performance was like the difference between eating off stoneware and fine china; both are functional, but there is a difference. Still, Fomin's compositions consisted of clever themes that led into more straightforward swinging solo sections, where Brough played with a dry tone that was somewhat reminiscent of Shorter, but less cerebral. With material largely drawn from Brough's A Decade of Favourites , the group played well, but lacked the inspirational spark. Brow was the weak point with accents and punctuations that seemed, after Waits' sense of empathy with Hersch, to be somewhat arbitrary. class="f-right">
Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter/Dave Holland/Brian Blade: Confederation Park, June 24, 2004 8:30PM Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor and soprano saxophones), Dave Holland (double-bass), Brian Blade (drums)
The threat of rain became an unfortunate reality as Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Blade took the stage, but a remarkable eight thousand people braved the weather to hear one of the more abstract and adventurous sets of the festival. This being their first performance of the tour, things began somewhat tentatively, with Shorter seeming uncertain as to which horn he wanted to use. The performance had the uncanny feel, despite the inclement weather, of sitting in a living room and watching while the group searched and explored, looking for common ground and finally, after about thirty minutes, finding it.
By no means the "greatest hits" band that some might have expected, even known tunes were twisted and turned in ways that made them barely recognizable. "Footprints" was only clear from Holland's insistent 6/8 figure, as Blade was a veritable maelstrom on the kit, Hancock layered impressionistic harmonies and Shorter flitted in and around the theme, barely settling on it before heading off into uncharted territory. As the set progressed the group seemed to coalesce, at one point building into an ostinato figure with a sharp double stop that kept building in intensity, drawing strong applause from the crowd.
The only moderately conventional piece in the set was their encore of Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," but Hancock and Shorter still played loose and free with it, taking time to get to the familiar theme with elliptical figures that seemed to ebb and flow. Overall the group played in a completely unexpected way, but along with Hersch's performance, was an exciting and challenging way to kick off the festival.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.