When Rob Clutton picked me up at 7am to head into Guelph I wondered if I was making a mistake. Once we got the coffee flowing and heard the first words of Anthony Braxton’s keynote speech I was sure I hadn’t. Who else would I rather hear opening the Guelph Jazz Festival with his insight, warm anecdotes and sense of humour?
Right from the the start he referenced Coltrane and Brubeck and I knew he wanted to communicate with us. He told the story of his first two solo concerts over 40 years ago where he began his life’s work and took us up to his latest ideas.
I was inspired by the fact that he finds one third of his concerts to be from the “unknown”. Maybe I found this inspiring as I always find those who think improvising is all new are a bit ridiculous.
He played part of composition 19 for 100 tubas…I have to get a copy of that. He told the funny story how it was written almost two decades before he recorded it. (no surprise…hard to find 100 tuba players!)
He spoke of his relatively recent studies of trance musics from different parts of the world such as Indian music or Gregorian chant. This was where he described himself as a professional student of music. I had heard this term used before in other disciplines but I really thought it was neat to think of someone like Braxton as a student.
He played excerpts from about five pieces and explained them while referencing the handout he gave us that was mostly lines, shapes and squiggles but each one had a name or something to go with it.
After reading Forces In Motion (a great book about Braxton on the road) I felt like I knew the man a bit. Being in the same room with him was somehow inspiring and even uplifting. All the images and preconceived notions I might have had were close but he is a very humble, friendly and warm person for sure.
William Parker and Amira Baraka were hosted by Ron Gaskin (who I am listening to on CKLN as I type) in the next panel.
I wouldn’t want to follow Braxton in any way and certainly not with words. Maybe this was the reason for my limited attention span in this panel.
Gaskin was good and the boys seemed to have fun with lots of laughing and tossing ideas back and forth in their own friendly way. (I would have enjoyed hearing my pal Ron Gaskin speak more but I guess he was just there to be the ref)
Following these guys (after the yummy lunch provided by the festival…thanks!) was a cross cultural jam hosted by Lewis Melville. Among others it included Jah Youssouf (from Mali) playing the N’goni, Dave Clark, Jayme Stone, Jesse Stewart, Marianne Trudel, Alain Derbez from Mexico playing soprano sax and adding some interesting poetry that fueled the rest of the jam.
The highlight for me besides every note the Jah played and sang was Dave Clark improvising with a pair of tap dance shoes in his hands and then using them to lead the audience in a four part rhythm jam that was very successful and inspired the band to even a higher level!
Charlie Haden gave a great concert with the Liberation Orchestra on Sunday night and the complete package for me was hearing him speak as well the day before in an onstage interview.
On a personal note I went to Guelph to try to temporarily escape my bluegrass life that I am somewhat secretly living inside my house but Charlie opened the interview speaking of the beauty of bluegrass and Country music and ended by teasing us with the description of his next big project; a bluegrass record with Allison Krauss, Bela Fleck, Metheny, Frisell and more! Oh well…no getting away from it.
My fave quote from this session was when Charlie reminded us that “jazz is a struggling art form…doesn’t matter if you are playing protest songs or All the Things You Are.”
Finally, my hat is off to all the folks from AIM Toronto who performed with Braxton on Saturday night. It was beautiful, complex, ambiguous, humorous, very dynamic, dramatic (big and small dramas!) and more. What seemed like one large piece was apparently three pieces divided by two improv sections including spontaneous conductions by members of the large ensemble.
I guess I went to Guelph to be part of the jazz world that I know and love but on that Saturday night their music definitely took me elsewhere and made me happy, thinking mostly of orchestral music and about all the individuals there onstage that I am so lucky to know.