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John Kelman

With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.

About Me

I was born in Winnipeg, Canada and stayed there until the age of three, when the kiddie train in McKellar Park closed up and the only reason left for staying was the tropical climate. Relocated against my wishes to Ottawa, where I have lived ever since, I now bask in the balmy winters, where temperatures often reach -40C (that's -40F for you non-metric folks), and the temperate summers, where temperatures often reach a humid 35C (that's 95F) or more. Add the wind chill factors and humid early readings and...well, you don’t want to know!

Living in a government town that is known as a hot seat of jazz culture (?) I have spent much of the past 45 years or so as a freelance guitarist backing up numerous singer/songwriters, some good, others, well... what do you get when you add an “e” to the word “artist”? Answer: someone who takes themselves way too seriously.

Realizing that my CD spending habit was about to put myself, my wife, and the various animals that have shared our home (currently, two absolutely lovely sibling cats - the brown & white tabby, Matty, and Russian Gray, Coco - and how two cats can look so different yet come from the same litter is a lesson for another day) out of house and home, I realized that the trick was to start writing about what I'd been listening to so passionately, since my first guitar teacher introduced me to Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Barney Kassell, Miles Davis and Johnny Winter, amongst so many others.

In between reviewing a crazy number of releases (especially considering I insist, unless absolutely impossible, upon listening to anything I write about 8-10 times before putting virtual pen to paper), I spent between 8-10 weeks a year, beginning in 2008, traveling the world to cover festivals and other musical events, with particular emphasis on Norway, where I spent 3-4 weeks each year. Then tragedy struck and I was hit with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (yup, the same illness that plagues Keith Jarrett on and off). The result, since mid-2014, has been a significant reduction in what I can do and, beyond one festival in Europe (and even that, not every year), my travel is limited to close-by Montréal and Toronto, as the rigors of international travel are such that I simply can’t do it any longer. Still, I always said that if that travel had to end I’d be grateful rather than bitter; after all, I’ve been able to see the world in ways I’d never have been able to otherwise, and meet a great many musicians, journalists and others who remain friends to this day.

In 2005 I was asked, by Steve Lake (of ECM) and writer Paul Griffiths, to contribute to a book they were putting together about the label. It's a privilege to have been a part of HorizonsTouched: The Music of ECM (Granta, 2007). With 21 contributions from writers around the world covering the entire breadth of the label and also including bios/testimonials from artists, graphic designers and many others, a wealth of colour and B&W photos, a comprehensive discography and more, it's a remarkable book and I'm honoured to have been a small part of it. I also contributed to German-only book about the same label, Die Blaue Klang (The Blue Sound)), as well as an introduction to my good Slovenian friend (and one of the best photographers in the world) Žiga Koritnik’s first book of images focusing exclusively on music, Cloud Arrangers.

Having become intimately involved in the Norwegian scene following a “right place, right time” invite to the second year of the still-ongoing Punkt Live Remix festival in Kristiansand, Norway —still one of the most vibrant scenes at the moment, with an almost unreasonable (!) amount of remarkable music being made by so many people in a country with such a small population (5 million). I've traveled the country, from Bergen to Kongsberg, Oslo to Molde, Stavanger to Svalbard—and, of course, to Kristiansand for Punkt, perhaps the most unique music festival on the face of the planet. I've also covered events in Malaysia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Amsterdam, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

In addition to contributing to those book contributions and regular (but fewer now) contributions to All About Jazz, I've contributed to Downbeat, Jazzwise, Jazznytt and Oxford American magazines. Amongst the many liner notes and photos - did I mention I shoot my own shows for the most part? I’ve contributed liner notes for releases by artists including Arve Henriksen (Rune Grammofon vinyl box, Solidification), Bill Bruford (Summerfold and Winterfold Collection releases for Koch, and an upcoming box set collecting the drummer’s three albums with keyboardist Patrick Moraz, to be released soon on Summerfold Records), poet Jan Erik Vold (Blackbird Bye Bye, with Bill Frisell and Arild Andersen, Hot Club of Norway), Terje Rypdal (Odyssey Live and in the Studio, ECM), Dave Liebman and Marc Copland (Impressions, hatOLOGY), Stanley Jordan (Friends, Mack Avenue), Matteo Sabbatini (Dawning, Fresh Sound), Alex Sipiagin (Prints, Criss Cross), Samuel Blaser (As the Sea, hatOLOGY), Tom Harrell (Number Five, HighNote), Joe Chambers (Moving Pictures Orchestra, Savant), Wallace Roney (Understanding, HighNote), Jaga Jazzist ('94-'14, Ninja Tune vinyl-only 20th anniversary box set), SONAR (Black Light, Cuneiform Records), John Abercrombie (The First Quartet, ECM Old & New Masters Edition), Peter Erskine's trio with John Taylor and Palle Danielsson (As It Was,ECM Old & New Masters Edition ECM), (Sharp Radway (Hymns and Things, Radway Music) and the Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis collaboration, The Stone House, for MoonJune Records, for whom I’ve also written liners for Dwiki Dharmawan, Dewa Budjana and Machine Mass.

I’ve had photos published in ECM recordings by Terje Rypdal (Crime Scenes), Ketil Bjornstad (La Notte) and Tomasz Stańko (Dark Eyes), Iro Haarla (Ad Lucem), amongst others, as well as a single image (I challenge you to find it!) in Jaga Jazzist’s Live with Britten Sinfonia and the cover for Jan Erik Vold’s Blackbird Bye Bye, and in numerous magazines. I've also written press sheets for Greta Aagre and Eric Honoré (Jazzland Records), the Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Group (Motéma Music), Samuel Blaser (hatOLOGY), Cryptogrammophone Records, Komeda Project (Independent), John McLaughlin (Abstract Logix), Switzerland’s SONAR, Italy’s Deus ex Machina, expat Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff and Jaga Jazzist.

One of the highlights of my life? In 2012, I was invited to curate a series at Norway's Kongsberg Jazz Festival, a collaboration by AAJ, Kongsberg and Music Export Norway. All About Jazz Presents: Doing it Norway presented seven shows, over two days, that featured some of today's most creative Norwegian musicians in contexts both old and new. It was a very gratifying success, both creatively and in terms of attendance.

Despite Chronic Fatigue slowing me down, I’ve begun carving, in recent years, a particular niche for myself in the realm of extensive and in-depth articles, especially covering large mega box sets. You’ll usually need a good pot of coffee to read those extended pieces, but if you’re like at least some of the folks from who I hear, you’ll hopefully find them worthy of your time.

All of this has been a direct result of my affiliation with All About Jazz, and being able to leverage opportunities thanks to AAJ's international reach and large readership. It's all just a matter of going after them by providing quality service bolstered by the strength of AAJ. You can do it too!

Note, 2020: I am currently on temporary hiatus from contributing to AAJ as I work on my first book, to be published by Panegyric Publishing, the book publishing arm of Panegyric Records, King Crimson's record label for the past decade or so, in 2021.

The book will be based on my copious writing about that band for AAJ, along with coverage of projects by members past and present, as well as one degree of separation. I will be updating/improving the AAJ content, as well as writing new material - section introductions and connective tissue to link the various articles together into a book that can be read as a whole or as a compendium of discrete articles.

I'll return to contributing new content to AAJ once I've finished the book, though future ”themed” books collecting other AAJ content are also possibilities. Having published, at this point, 2,843 articles for the site, there are many, many possibilities! You can follow my progress with the Crimson book by liking/following my new Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/jkelmanbooks.

My Jazz Story

Published on: 2018-06-10

Thanks to a terrific guitar teacher from the ages of 10-16, I was introduced to a broad range of music at an early age, from Miles Davis to Johnny Winter, from Weather Report to Wes Montgomery, and from Larry Coryell to Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Playing on the road for a couple years, in my late teens, may have taught me that the road was not for me, but it also cemented that music was and remains a passion—a priority in my life, no matter what else is taking place—and that while my musical tastes run as broad as that guitar teacher's (maybe even broader), jazz and improvised music remain what interest me the most. A mid-life change to writing about jazz and, ultimately, becoming Managing Editor for All About Jazz, the internet's largest jazz site, and seeing the world one festival at a time—from Svalbard to South Africa, from Molde to Malaysia, and from Montreal to Mannheim—have taught me that opportunities are always there for the taking. Personal interests in labels like ECM, and artists like Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Joe Locke have led to professional affiliations and projects ranging from liner notes and CD photos to press sheets and public speaking. You just have to be prepared to meet people, sus out those opportunities, and grab them. I am fortunate to be able to give something back to many of the musicians who have meant so much to me throughout my life. And it IS good fortune - something I never, ever forget - to be able to do what I do and, through my writing, provide (hopefully!) something that helps spread the good word about musicians ranging from well-established to up-and-coming. And also I never forget that writing for All About Jazz has led to so many of the opportunities I've received in the 12 years since I hooked up with the website at the beginning of 2004. While I know the website benefits from my work, I think it's important to acknowledge that it's a two-way street, and that as much as I give to All About Jazz, All About Jazz provides back to me...in spades!

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