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Stanley Jason Zappa's Epic Gig Trek

Chris Rich By

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During the second week of June, saxophonist Stanley Jason Zappa undertook a fairly demanding performance trek with two colleagues, saxophonist Catherine Sikora and percussionist Nick Skrowaczewski.

It began in the Okanagan wine region of southwestern British Columbia and concluded at the Casse Tete Festival at the inland city of Prince George, around 500 miles to the north. It was held at The Exploration Place between June 13th and 15th.

Zappa provided a sense of the venue options and outcomes.

"There were three venues: the club, the winery cellar, and the festival."

"Interestingly, the show with the lowest attendance was at the self-described "music venue" in the area. One gentleman sat at the bar, had a few drinks and periodically checked his cell phone. Another gentleman had the soup special and was heard to say "I enjoyed the music" (while the music was going on.) One waitress was training someone new. She modulated the volume of her voice such that she could always be heard above the trio. Very impressive."

"The performance in the cellar of a winery had a much better attendance. It also had better acoustics and lighting than that of the "music venue." People were quite receptive at that performance, and I think the architecture of the space had a lot to do with it. A number of teenagers from Kathy's after school art group came to the show. They made a special point of asking me if I knew Catherine (Sikora) was a way better saxophonist and musician. I made a special point of telling them of course I knew that."

Sikora found a lot to like about the venue as well.

"The audience at the Quinta Ferreira Winery gig was all ages, from teenagers to seniors, and I got the sense that they enjoyed the music though it was certainly new to them. They were attentive and totally quiet during the performance, only applauding after pieces ended and not after solos, and afterwards some people I spoke to were curious about how we structured the performance, as they were entirely unfamiliar with free improvisation."

These two events served to prepare the three for the more elaborate options awaiting at Casse-Tete II.

"The festival was, even more so than last year, well attended and enthusiastically received. There's a curiosity and respect that I've never experienced anywhere else."

Ms Sikora elaborates.

"At the Casse-Tête festival in Prince George there were several musicians in the audience, and I got the sense that the majority of people there were somehow involved with the arts. Again they were quiet and attentive, and receptive to the music. The reaction of the people I spoke to after our set was very positive, and most of the questions I was asked afterward were to do with the improvised music scene in New York City and the kind of work I do within that scene."

Jeremy Stewart, the Casse-Tete producer and a participating artist provided an inside sense of how the event worked out.

"The audience for Casse-Tete 2014 was around 100 people, give or take, over the weekend (excluding The Piano Drop, which was over double that). Half of those were comped musicians, volunteers, etc. Much of the paying audience also consisted of musicians, and the players present were from all across the musical map."

"Judging from the comments I received, Catherine Sikora's set was perceived by many as the highlight of the festival, with Stanley Jason Zappa's set also very well attended and considered. I was one of two bass players in the latter set. Stanley had requested that I find a fretless bass to play, which I did, borrowing a fretless electric Godin 5-string hollow body, a really cool object. The guy who loaned it to me was not acquainted with free improv in any respect, but he seemed genuinely thrilled with the use we put his bass to."

"During Catherine's guest spot in Stanley's set, I felt this incredible energy and moment of insanity where all I could think was "I can't fucking play!" Her playing outstripped my ability to respond, but there was no lack of generosity there, and everything sounded great except the words in my head."

Zappa and Stewart share thoughts on how it all worked with the broader community given the sparsity of musical events in these isolated locations.

Zappa observed a gradation of improved experience quality from the trough of the local gin mill to the peak of Casse-Tete.

"The hipsters habitues of the 'music venue' couldn't care less. The teens in the wine cellar have now 'heard this kind of music,' whereas before, they hadn't. The festival goers believe in and want to support experimental / improvised music that much more."

And Stewart was able to get some feedback from neighbors in Prince George.

"I had people tell me on Facebook that they didn't go to the festival because 'since [they] didn't know any of the artists, [they] assumed it was just noise.'"

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