GuitarNow! 2013, Day Two: Ottawa, Canada, May 4, 2013

GuitarNow! 2013, Day Two: Ottawa, Canada, May 4, 2013
John Kelman By

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First Annual GuitarNow! Festival, Day Two
Kailash Mital Theatre
Carleton University
Ottawa, Canada

May 4, 2013

When local guitarist Roddy Ellias—the recipient, that very week, of one of the Jazz Journalist Association's Jazz Hero awards for 2013 (the only Canadian on the list)—created the concept of the first annual GuitarNow! Festival with Carleton University, it's objective was to provide Ottawa guitarists with three days of intensive workshops, the chance to hear a wide variety of world-class guitarists from as close by as their own city and as far away as the UK and United States, and the opportunity to perhaps even play with them at nightly jam sessions. The three-day festival, in its inaugural year, was a tremendous success, though there were a few minor issues that should be adjusted when Ellias and his team put together next year's edition—and, it seems, based on the success of the first year, that there will be a second one.

The three days were loosely divided into an acoustic/folk day, a jazz day and a classical day, but just as music these days crosses those and many more boundaries, there was also plenty of crossover in the subject matter of each day. Still, May 4 was, by and large a jazz day, with workshops by Lucas Haneman (a local guitarist who, in an unprecedented move, won both the Scholarship Award and the Bill Shuttleworth Fund Award as part of the Galaxie Jazz Youth All-Stars at the 2005 Ottawa International Jazz Festival and currently lives in Montreal), Los Angeles-based Brandon Bernstein, Montreal-based Mike Rud and Steve Raegele, New Jersey's Vic Juris and, for its one non-jazz workshop, Ottawa-based classical guitarist Andrew Mah, delivering a densely packed but thoroughly fascinating workshop on the history of the classical guitar and its fight for credibility and relevance.

Juris' workshop was technically deep, but a real, hands-on workshop that gave the attending guitarists a lot to consider. Juris was, until recently, a member of saxophonist Dave Liebman's two decade-old group (recently disbanded), and a guitarist who is one of jazz's best-kept secrets, though he's far from unknown to musicians. A broad-reaching guitarist who easily belongs in the same rarefied group as better-known relative contemporaries like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield and John Abercrombie—with whom Juris shares the most as a similarly motif-based improviser that seems to sound absolutely fresh with each and every performance, and like nobody but himself without relying on stock licks or devices—Juris' command of his instrument is so complete that when he discussed moving complex chordal patterns up a tone, for example, how the harmonies shifted seemed totally intuitive and effortless.

And while his knowledge is deep, Juris is humble, unassuming and approachable. When asked how he found a certain chord combination, he replied "it found me," suggesting it was simply the inevitable result of years of practice and practical application.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned from Juris was: patience. In many ways a late bloomer, whose gradual but palpable growth can be followed from early recordings with the Liebman Group like Miles Away (Owl, 1994) through to the quartet's final studio recording, Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010), and on recent solo recordings ranging from Blue Horizon (Zoho, 2004) and Omega is the Alpha (Steeplechase, 2010), Juris' personal goal has always been simple: to be a better guitarist today than he was the day before. His approach to achieving that objective: slow, methodical and, by not biting off more than can be chewed, eminently doable. He encouraged his audience to learn just one song a month, but really learn it, backwards and forwards, in any and all keys. "At the end of the year you've got twelve tunes...and when it comes to keys, how many are there," he asked. Responding to the obvious answer of "twelve," he replied, rhetorically "And how many months are there in a year?"

Sage advice...and, based on Juris' career, absolutely practical.

Juris was relaxed, using anecdotes to make some of his points. When he spoke of his friendship with megastar Paul Simon, he recounted, in the context of asking the advice of friends and family, how Simon actually wrote "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and played it for a friend who replied, "It's not one of your best." And so, Simon put it in a drawer for five full year before dusting it off and recording what would become one of Simon & Garfunkel's biggest hits . The lesson: trust your own instincts and take others' opinions with a grain of salt.

Beyond his workshop, Juris was readily available to chat with any of the attending students, and his easygoing, friendly and supportive approach clearly made a huge impact on everyone, and his playing was so deep, so informed by knowledge—not just of jazz, but of everything from rock 'n' roll to classical music and beyond, and a player completely comfortable with using effects to broaden his palette—that his participation at GuitarNow! gave the festival tremendous cred and helped establish its first year as truly inspiring.

Steve Raegele's workshop was, sadly, not of the same standard. Based in Montreal, Raegele has worked with everyone from Thom Gossage and his left-of- center Other Voices group, to more straight-ahead players like saxophonist Rémi Bolduc and Frank Lozano. A guitarist who, these days, seems most often to work in the world of prepared instruments and sonically altered textures, on paper it would seem that there was plenty to offer GuitarNow! attendees. His opening improvisation combined use of alligator clips and wooden dowels on or under his strings to great effect, but when it came to speaking with his audience, he felt somewhat unprepared, in general describing all the various things he did as "cool."

Cool they may have been, but when questioned, if he wasn't exactly dismissive, neither did he provide anything concrete. A question on the relationship between his various preparations and the pedal board he also employed, with a variety of effects, could have been a launching point for discussing how to internalize these things so that the player's knowledge is so intimate as to make them extensions of the guitar—not applying effects to the instruments, but treating them as a seamless part, as instruments themselves, much as Norwegian guitarists like Eivind Aarset and Stian Westerhus do on albums like Dream Logic (ECM, 2012) and The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers (Rune Grammofon, 2012), respectively. Instead, he dismissed his use of pedals as being secondary to his preparations, and that was that.Steve Raegales


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