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


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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."


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