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.
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).
Living in a government town that is known as a hotseat of jazz culture (?)
I have spent much of the past thirty 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 buying habit was about to put myself, my wife, and
two dogs (Posey, the intrepid Jack Russell Terrier and Toby, the ever-
cheerful Shih Tzu; sadly, with Posey passing in the spring of 2009, it's
just the venerable Toby) 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, Charlie Christian,
Miles and Johnny Winter, amongst so many others. More than a decade on, I am now receiving
upwards of 150 CDs/month for review consideration, and am in the
position of taking up so much space with review copies that I am, yet
again, threatening to push my wife and dogs out of house and home.
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 Horizons Touched: 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.
In recent times I've become more intimately involved in the Norwegian
scene--to my mind the most vibrant scene 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. I've traveled the country (and continue
to do so) 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 States and Canada.
In addition to contributing to Horizons Touched and regular
contributions to All About Jazz, I've contributed to Downbeat, Jazzwise, Jazznytt and Oxford
American magazines. I've written liner notes for artists including Arve Henriksen (Rune
Grammofon vinyl box, Solidification), Bill Bruford (Summerfold and Winterfold collections, Koch),
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 (ECM Old & New
Masters Edition box, coming November, 2015), Peter Erskine's trio with John Taylor and
Palle Danielsson (ECM Old & New Masters Edition box, release date TBD), (Sharp Radway
(Hymns and Things, Radway Music); had photos published in ECM recordings by Terje Rypdal
(Crime Scenes), Ketil Bjornstad (La Notte) and Tomasz Stańko (Dark Eyes) and in numerous
magazines; and contributed chapters to another (German-only) book on ECM: Die Blaue Klang
(Wolke Verlag, 2010). I've 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), SONAR and Jaga Jazzist, and was honoured to contribute the introduction to
photographer Ziga Koritnik's forthcoming jazz photography book, Cloud Arranger.
In 2012, I curated 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.
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!
My Jazz Story
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!