Dublin Jazz Book Launch
May 11, 2014
They came out in good numbers to celebrate the launch of the Dublin Jazz Book
at the BelloBar
in the funky Portobello neighborhood of Dublin. The success of the evening went beyond numbers though, for the publishing of the DJBessentially a Real Book of compositions by Dublin-based musiciansmarks a potentially new chapter in the history of Dublin jazz, jazz in Ireland, andwhisper it quietlyjazz in a global context.
Jazz musicians, many of them contributors to the DJB, turned out in force to participate in a lengthy celebratory jam in the BelloBar that provided evidence of the depth of jazz talent that Dublin currently boasts. The BelloBar is located beneath The Lower Deck pub near the Grand Canal and just around the corner from Synge Street, birthplace of playwright George Bernard Shaw. A relatively new live music venue, the BelloBar was the perfect spot for the DJB launch, with its underground chic, unpretentious furnishing and just the right amount of kookiness.
The DJB was the brainchild of saxophonist Sam Kavanagh, who produced the DJB in collaboration with designer Steven McNamara. Shortly before the doors opened, Kavanagh and McNamara spoke about the DJB , the idea behind it and it and how it became a reality: "It came about from realizing that a lot of the gigs around Ireland are either jazz standard gigs where you can hear music that was written in the 1940s or '50s or even earlier, or where there were a lot of original compositions but always whoever composed the music generally would put together a band, rehearse it a lot for one gig and play a whole gig of just their music," explained Kavanagh.
It was through reading jazz history that a light came on in Kavanagh's mind: "It occurred to me that people used to play each other's compositions all the time because they knew them. They were able to jam on each other's music, on each other's compositions. The standards were modern. I thought to myself, how could they do that? It wasn't just that they gathered together for one gig. They played the tunes a lot, so it occurred to me that it would be really handy if we could look at all these [Dublin] composers' tunes whenever we wanted to learn one and then if we happen to bump into them we can say 'Let's play your tune. That was great. I learnt it last year.'"
The DJB has become a reality in fairly quick time, though for Kavanagh the time scale is relative: "I've never done it before so I'm not sure how quickly it should have been," he says laughing, "but it took a year from sitting with a cup of tea thinking about it to now." There was a belief in the project from the outset and a determination to bring the idea to fruition, as McNamara relates: "We've worked on a lot of projects together already and we work well at actually implementing things. The idea of the Dublin Jazz Book didn't just pop up out of nowhere," he says. "We've talked about jazz and promoting different things a lot. It was the logical progression of how do we make Dublin jazz more accessible, internationally as well? How do we tell people about it and promote it?"
The fifty three tunes by twenty eight musicians represent just a sample of the Dublin jazz scene as of May 2014. Yet in the mixture of compositions by youth and veterans, students and professionals, Dubliners and foreign residents, the DJB nevertheless provides a fairly representative cross-section of the Dublin jazz community: "I guess I was thinking pragmatically in that these are people who are in the local scene that you can see," Kavanagh explains.
The criterion for tune selection was, admits Kavanagh, fairly straightforward: "It was just 'send me a tune,'" he says laughing. "It was simply that. Some people sent more than one tune, in which case we didn't use all of them, but everyone who did send at least one tune is represented."
When pressed, Kavanagh and McNamara admit that the DJB was a big job to realize: "It was a lot of work," says Kavanagh, "but no more than I was expecting and certainly no more than I was happy to do because the end product was in my mind from the beginning."
Reaction to the DJB so far has pleased Kavanagh and McNamara: "It's been great so far," says McNamara. "I think the musicians have been a little bit blown away by the level of professionalism and the quality of the book. Often projects like this are talked about but not implemented to the standard they should be but I think the musicians feel proud that they're in this book, which means that they're proud of their music, which can only be good for the whole jazz scene. I think that's the most important thing."
"One of the things I've noticed," adds Kavanagh, "is that a lot of musicians that are in the book live abroad and they seem very excited to introduce the material from this book into the music scenes where they are. The reaction is to share it." In fact, at the time of writing, Kavanagh related that drummer/vocalist Bonnie Stewart is in Australia, guitarist Chris Guilfoyle is in Switzerland, double bassist Dan Callaghan is in China, singer-guitarist Danny Forde is in Berklee, Boston, John O'Flynn is in France, singer Lauren Kinsella
is in London, singer Sarah Beuchi is in Scandanavia and guitarist Stephen McHale is in Valencia, Spain. "The book has a dual benefit," says McNamara, "to create standards for the local musicians so that they can play each other's music readily and for people to share it internationally, which is exciting."
What is perhaps significant, though maybe not intentional on the creators' part, is that the DJB seems to mark a step away from the Great American Songbook towards original material and modern jazz standards. As Tony Whyton, Director of the Salford Music Research Centre at the University of Salford pointed out in a 2013 interview with All About Jazz, almost every country where jazz is played has a national jazz agency and many people are interested in writing their own jazz histories of their respective nations. Arguably too, it follows that as jazz finds a more singular identity in many countries throughout the world many musicians are less beholden to the Great American Songbook.
Interestingly, the DJB comes just over a year after the publication of the Australian Jazz Real Book
, an ambitious work with over 400 compositions covering 70 years of Australian jazz. If these two jazz Real Books do signify an international trend away from the long-established American jazz standardand that's not a given by any means then it was neither the intention of the DJB's creators, nor a cause they particularly care to champion.