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Air Guitar? Try an Orchestra....

Fradley Garner By

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You love jazz but you don't play an instrument or read music? Even if you do, check out a new marvel that lets lovers of many musical genres compose and hear their works performed by orchestras as they're created. Beamz® connects to your PC and loudspeakers. Moving your hands like a conductor between the openings of a W-shaped frame breaks up to six (harmless) red laser beams, activating pulses, streams, "riffs" or "loops" of musical notes from your choice of instruments, including woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion. See a video review at YouTube, though other sites offer better musical examples. Price is six big ones and reader ratings range from two to five stars.

Mudfest is what Maurice Blisson calls New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2008. But "a morass of mud and a deluge of rain" didn't dent the final tally of well over 400,000 visits. That beat pre-Katrina gates, reports the BBC. When the annual bash ended May 4, a much-needed $300 million had been pumped into local coffers. Some 350 groups each performed average one-hour sets on 10 stages across the Crescent City's fairgrounds. "The heavens opened with a vengeance for top-of-the-bill Stevie Wonder, last seen at the festival in 1973. But huge crowds danced and sang along in the rain, completely saturated despite their supposedly rainproof umbrellas and ponchos."

Not dwelling on what she's accomplished in her first 90 years, pianist and composer Marian McPartland is eager to talk about coming attractions—especially her nearly 30-year-old Public Radio weekly Piano Jazz series. "I am trying to get young guys to show everyone jazz is on the upswing," Marian told DownBeat magazine (June). "We are trying to find a date for (saxophonist) Sonny Rollins, and I want Stevie Wonder. We have not succeeded in getting him but I am determined. I usually get the person I am looking for." Both artists risk having to play piano with McPartland—could that help explain any reluctance?

Honoring the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Wynton Marsalis played trumpet in the premiere of his Abyssinian 200: A Celebration for gospel choir and orchestra, with a sermon at its core. The grand-scale religious mass was premiered this spring at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's home in Rose Theater, Manhattan, and performed again at the Harlem church. "With the influence of Ellington showing through as it often does in his work, Marsalis mixed blues and spirituals with aspects of bebop, the avant-garde, swing and Caribbean styles in a lengthy, detailed score," writes Monica Hope on her jazz prof's Web blog: howardmandel.com

Lack of structure can unhinge listeners. Like the lady who stalked out of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival's 90-minute uninterrupted performance by pianist Chick Corea, drummer Jack DeJohnette and vocalist Bobby McFerrin. She split, the lady said, because "life is too short to sit through" something she didn't like. Another woman told Kalamazoo Gazette that the audience should have been clued from the start. The group was embarking on a musical journey not knowing where it would lead, McFerrin explained after the music had ended. Noted the Gazette: "People generally crave structure. Parts of the journey were rough. Some of the moments were precious. Like life, the key was to open one's soul, take the bad with the good, learn what one can and enjoy the journey."

Visiting Denmark this summer? The 30th annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival runs for 10 days, July 4-13, and you can't miss it wherever you turn: in parks, cafes, on squares, by the waterfront (and on the canals), as well as in hallowed venues like Tivoli Gardens, the Royal Opera, Royal Theatre, Royal Danish Playhouse—and the newly renovated Danish jazz institution JazzHouse, on Niels Hemmingsens Gade. Most outdoor concerts are free. Major drawing cards this year are Ornette Coleman; Wayne Shorter Quartet and Imani Winds; Cassandra Wilson; Saxophone Summit with Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane and Dave Liebman; Marilyn Mazur, Brad Mehldau. More details at jazzfestival.dk.


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