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International Jazz Festival
Sept 6-10, 2000
~a report on the colloquium~
by LaDonna Smith
In sync with the theme of "crossing borders and intercultural dialogue" this festival and colloquium, the brainchild of Ajay Heble, its Artistic Director, brings together a huge range of practitioners comprised of mainstream, outside jazz, world music, and free improvisational musicians. Alongside that, he simultaneously gathers a meeting of critical scholars within the University system, as well as thinkers, writers, and commenteers outside the academy to forge a collective summit on related subjects of jazz history, improvisation, intercultural collaborations, comparisons, and potentialities of music improvisation, jazz poetry, and world music.
Anthony Murphy from McMaster University delivered on the topic, "Improvising Foreign Relations: Jazz, the American State Department, and Intercultural Communication". He talked about the "jazz ambassadors", particularly the experience of Dizzie Gillespie and his achievement of directness between artist and public. The emphasis on direct communication with people of other nations providing a better understanding of the people of the United States ie. "communication between peoples instead of governments". For instance, in 1956, at the height of racial hysteria in the U.S., our government propaganda was to attempt to bring some public relations "balance" to the segregation issue. The government propaganda abroad was aimed towards a favorable image of race relations in the U.S., an attempt to send a positive cultural message. So a multi-racial big band under the direction of a black leader was a more positive image of race-relations than what was actually going on in the U.S. The State Department used "Freedom of Expression", the bed rock of the American message, as a frontier myth, and in fact a public relations scam. Murphy asked the question,"Does jazz continue to be used as a signifyer for personal freedom, but infact acts as a cloak for continued abuses?" Jazz serves the notion of political liberation, but it does not serve gender liberation. Women are exceedingly token and exceedingly positioned. Murphy told some wonderful anecdotes about Dizzy Gillespie his radical social restructuring antics, citing his refusal to play a celebrity role or attitude with stories of Gillespie's refusal to play for the elite, for his insistence on letting vagrant children into a concert, and even cites an incident when in India, Gillespie actually trades places with the carrier of his rickshaw.
With Jason Stanyek, (UCSD)we encountered the African musical world of pan collaborations, the "common bond", historical and familial, the organic links between cultural and political movements. He spoke of a mode of listening which "directs the gaze of the ear", the historical continuum of collaboration in interethnic activity, hybrid landscapes and heterogeneity. Pointing out the ethnic diversity of the various slave populations, but through co-operative efforts among the slaves, they survived the social oppression. A large discussion of heterogeneous relationship in music followed. A relationship of collaboration that allows differences in ethnicity and style to exist simultaneously, rather than a homogenous whole, citing the "Afro-Cuban Suite" of Dizzie Gillespie and drummer Chano Poso of 1949, where each kept their cultural and stylistic identities, not to efface differences. This, in contrast to the "Graceland" recording of Paul Simon, in which there was an attempt at a "Universalist" collaboration, a universal language seeking to transcend differences. As in the famous quote by Ornette Coleman, "Being in Unity, but not being in Unison" . A further example where cultural differences are embraced, not erased, in the aspect of nothing is "cleaned up", citing by contrast, the penny whistle being cleaned up in Paul Simon's work, to play in a tuning more palpable to the western ear.
Marshal Seoules (Malaspina University College, British Columbia) began his talk with a sound clip of Robert Johnson's "Cross-roads", the blues standard. His subject was "Eshu's Cap: Improvisations at the Crossroads of the Diaspora". The reference was to intransients, travellers, meeting at the junction, the crossroads of chance and determinancy. He referenced to Robert Ferris Thompson's book, "The Flash of the Spirit", the "Oshay" message that test our wisdom and compassion. Eshu's black and white cap was worn in public. Those on the east saw cap to be black, those on the west saw it to be white. Both were present, seeing the cap. The indeterminacy was of presentation and interpretation. The God, Eshu declares that both were right. Eshu opens the commerce between the human and the divine sacrifice, places of openings and possibilities of opportunity at the crossroads, drawing the conclusion that design is never finished. Protocols of improvisation include repetition of the known and revision within the frames and boundaries. Protocols of improvisation seem like a paradox, but in fact there is a need for it, in order to deviate. He refers to the "trickster", and points to the junction in the brain that translates feeling into thinking, the physical crossroads in the limbic system where peptides carry the signals to translate the paradox, and infers that this is the point where improvisation takes place. This crossroads in the brain is the site of improvisation.
After Charley Gerard's presentation highlighting ideas contained in his book, Jazz in Black and White: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Jazz Community, a lively discussion insued bringing out points that implied that intercultural music making has become reflexive and self-conscious. Globalizing forces have moved to a new level as a cultural influence. There is the universalist attitude that it doesn't matter where you came from; you are making music! There is the pan collaborations where focus on cultural similarities is important. There is the de-territorialization of music creating a kind of homology as in say, samba or Brazilian musical influences which are absorbed into North American music. This brings up the "de-territorizing" of music when musical forms are uprooted and the question of "authenticity" (a social problem as in white guys playing "black" music).
Also were discussion on the question "what is play?" and meditations on the idea of play. What is going on? How much is theater? How much is performance? How much is autonomic? Most languages have a subjunctive mood. The place of improvisation in the brain could be the place where the indicative and the subjunctive argue/ or "play".
The afternoon session introduced somewhat lighter discourse through its theme Navigating Cultures: Institutions, Improvisation, Infrastructure. Lead off by Paul Anderson (Univ. of Michigan) in a lively review of Tavernier's film "Round Midnight" which depicted a jazz musical life based on emotion and circumstance vs. the years of technique it takes to become a musician, to embody and live the art. He points out the director's choices, and the possible popular misrepresentation of the artist's life and lifestyle. Anderson concluding that "the frontier between life and fiction is always thin. Which is the shadow? Which is the act?"
My presentation entitled "What to do at the Fork in the Road: Improvisation as a Model of Social Behaviour and Cultural Navigational Technique" can be found on this site elsewhere in its entirity (http://www. the-improvisor.org -go to ARTICLES), so I will refrain on a partial summary here. Needless to say, I pointed towards a spirituality that exists in music improvisation and the recognition of that impetus for expression (see the article).
Finally, David Lee (correspondent for Coda, co-author of Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz) whose topic was "Structure and Infrastructure: Past and Future Theatres of Improvised Music," spoke in a highly personalized and engaging manner of his own experiences in music. With a touch of humor, he brought personal experiential recollections to a lay level of understanding. He pointed out that the lack of commercial appeal steers improvised music into the more "intimate" and smaller venues, thereby creating more integral communities based around the music. Citing a friend dying of cancer, who bought a beautiful painting from another artist, who declared that she would like to die gazing at the painting, speaks of the power of the spirit. The intimacy, the ultimate goal that if the music (or art) can move just one person, and bring to them peace and joy, then that is the whole purpose and meaning of this artistic existence. His point moved me almost to tears, and transformed my being to a state of awe. What is the listener, but a state of conciousness.
On Thursday, the keynote speaker George Elliot Clarke (Univ. of Toronto) cited the work of Frederick Ward in his talk "Writing as Jazz". From his powerfully inspiring talk, I am moved to seek out the work of the black poet from Nova Scotia. Ward, in his words, was one of the least heard, least performed, least understood, baddest jazz poets of our time. This he contrasted with the notion that the "spoken word movement," with it's historical treatment focusing on white poets, that Ward was truly disseminating popular beats with popular words. He cites the sound poets non reliance on syntax, and the overlap of slam, rap, and popular poetry. While white beat and hippie poets are documented, Ward was the true devotee and practitioner of a jazz poetry.
Ward's achievement was according the voice's primacy, of giving the voice flavor, using voices like instruments. Some of the origins and precursors were notably the black church, with its songs, dance, moanings, oratorical prowess, and improvisational voicings. Another aspect of his work reveals jazz relationships of syncopation, signifying, call and response, repetition in lieu of mass fusions of rhythm and text with emphasis on polyphony: multiple tones, multiple rhythms, multiple meanings, merging and melding multi-cultural influences of jazz, blues, and church, bop, and cool. Irregular phrases, on and off beats, avant garde jazz, with its freedom and improvisation on a grand scale, with its completely free handling of multiplicities and even furthermore, more aggressive as multi-cultural, spontaneous changes, masking double entendre, and rhythmic emphasis on what would be a weak beak. Virtuoso free rhyming, blurring the rhyme, scatting, vocalizations becoming extreme verbal rituals, grunts, painterly renderings in words to be delivered or spoken in an outspoken way, deployment of lyrics and vocaleze, "Hey-bop-a-re-bop!"
The poet deploying jazz devices to the poetry, striving to achieve the aesthetic rhythmic complexity of the music, the "open-ended closure" of works written to be improvised, Clarke pointed to Ward's writing and work signifying its genius and its powerful debts to jazz.
From Marc Chenard's (jazz scribe for Coda, Musicworks, Jazz Podium, and Improjazz) talk "Instinct and Design: the Dialectics of Improvisational Music, we gleaned some appearances and simple principles of the differences of jazz and free improvisation. The tradition of jazz hall-marking a basic theme and variation scheme vs. free improvisation with a different schematic. In Jazz, Chenard related that it starts with a "form", and you improvise a "content". The performance must have a "mastery" of the form. It entails a competence and an instinct to design an overall performance. In free music, there is nothing. The aspect of "performance" really drives the music. The performer shows his experience and competence on the spot. So a content is being developed on instinct as the performer trys to design something, and out comes the form. Again there is a competence involved in performance. So in traditional jazz, form is what you start with, whereas in free music, form is what you end up with. Chenard noted the famous Steve Lacy quote about the difference in composition and improvisation where Lacy says, "In composition, you have all the time you need to write 15 minutes of music. In improvisation, you only have 15 minutes to write 15 minutes of music."
Later in discussion, George Lewis asked, "Is there really NOTHING before you start improvising?" Chenard, came back with "no". Your history, your training, your baggage is all there. Nobody starts in a total vacuum. George Lewis affirms that the implications are far greater. "You have all the preparedness. You leap off into the void."
Also part of the Communities in Dialog panel were Zack Furness (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and Kevin McNeilly (Univ. of British Columbia), the former speaking on "Masada and Musical Zionism" and McNeilly's "Radical Piety: John Zorn, Walter Benjamin, William Meyerowitz." A discussion in which aspects of Jewishness, contexts and references, the relationship of Zorn's packaging, liner notes, and mythologies decoding the music for you, in an attempted expression of Jewish consciousness outside the framework of orthodoxy. Perhaps the aesthetic aims at piety and sanctity, as in the Masada performance representing a kind of Jewish revivalism; but in fact points to Zorn's genius as a punk radical and cultural impresario, bringing out that Zorn's point could be justly, the act of listening, as the scratching, groove noise, contexts and referencing are very important to his work. And the question also arose, "Is the performance a substitute for the religious practice that it represents?"
The Keynote speaker on Friday was George Lewis, (Univ. of California in San Diego) renowned for his pioneering leadership as trombonist, improvisor, organizer, and educator. His subject: "The Old People Speak of Sound: Personality, Empathy, Community". George is a dynamic and engaging speaker, who speaks more from his heart and mind, than from his notes. He began his talk with an engaging conversational informality with the statement, "Black music is the mule that pulls the wagon of the whole commoditization of music along."
As the black jazz generation was causing music to become "de-Euro-ized" and more obviously multi-cultural, Lewis pointed out that the modern rise of "sound artists" (ie. Marinetti, Cage, Busollo,etc.) and sonic arts were primarily another classification of music movements in which the white artist was premier, with an exclusion of African-American artists, implying distinctive further nobilities on the white side, and certain fixities of black music. He pointed out wrong framings of music, and certain racialized notions of authenticity and cultural theft and noted that racialization is one of the places that we lose perspective.
Look at the the systems of cultural productions. What is "being stolen" is subjectivity itself--the cultural system's exercise of power. Individuals can take advantage of it, or not. He confronted the systems that were being cultivated, and exposed the so-called "experimentalist" as being pan-European, and self serving. He challenged us to "grow up" and recognize multi-cultural, multi-ethnic variety of areas in twentieth century experimental music. The messages are introspective. They are ourselves, our possibilities. "What you live really does come out of your horn". Concepts of sound point to deeper levels of meaning. Sound is not timbre.
George proposes the notion that we should be thinking about a "body-based" musical analysis. That music comes out of and is orientated towards the listeners from a bodily perspective. He made an analogy to an "autism of culture", the inability to perceive other minds, other cultural backgrounds and meanings. That Euro-centric musical training doesn't equip the students to hear anything that is different to their own experience as anything but "noise". To hear only noise is to remain removed from the slave's message.
Aural culture is too slow! We don't have time to listen. We already know the heavily scripted media version. George puns about "canned" music: "canonizations", models of history, safe confinement of historical embodiment, and change might actually provoke alternative realities (oops!).
"Why express diversity over nurturing?" he asks us. Individuals and collectivity do co-exist. We also reach out for one another. Make an atmosphere in which we all call survive, which we can all have in common. As Charlie Parker is quoted "sound is meaning-rich carriers of community". Not to talk of sound and silence as "durations" which lack relationship. In the Cage's context, sound is distanced from intentionality and empathy. George says to us,
"Daily lives offer powerful opportunities for 'sound'. Sounds do have meaning. Behind the mind, the sound demonstrates the soul."
He laments and scorns the passive submission of people to sound to "just DO IT to me!" without personal involvement. But he advocates everyone to listen in a dialogical way, to take part in defining and facilitating, establishing connections between one person and another. A true awareness of our Sound brings an affirmation of identity, and a nurturing of community.
The colloquium, to my mind, as a unique and powerful presence in the Guelph Jazz Festival week sets off an internal community inquiry into the making of music, and the social ramifications of it. It brings to us the artists, up close, and creates an opportunity for people and artists to co-mingle, communicate, and learn from each other. Also the fact that the colloquium is free and open to the public makes it accessible to all, although few community people are either aware of it, or they do not make their presence a particularly dominating part of it.
The workshops which accompanied the colloquium were also free, but to me, avoided for the most part the potential which they could serve as a true "workshop" which would function as a springboard for more dialog and interaction between the public and the artists. Too frequently, the workshops were just large co-minglings of musicians. More experienced artists collaborated/improvised quite well, creating a dynamic concert of sorts, while less experienced artists politely and cautiously contributed very little of their true potential. More structure, in that case, could have produce more beneficial results in combining musicians of homogeneous instrumentations, or disparate musical aesthetics, as in the case with the Global Strings workshop, which unfortunately gave each artist very little space in which to explore their potential, either individually or collectively. By contrast, good intention and positive leadership was demonstrated by Jesse Stewart in the New Communities of Sound : Expanded Musical Resources workshop, but the sad part was that there were too many participants for the time allotment, and the free improvisation that followed resulted in the last three participants rushing through a sketchy presentation of their expanded musical resources, as well the collective improvisation was a shallow and pointless duration of soundings, rather than a substantial free improvisation that would stand as art. Also, the Jazz Cooperatives, Jazz Communities: the AACM and the ICP, brilliant as it was a performance, with George Lewis, Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins meeting Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, and Michael Moore, could have been more appropriately termed a "Musical Meeting" rather than a workshop. I found this to be true also, in last year's so-called "workshops", where the musicians more often just played a concert or created a musical meeting, rather than run a workshop (Jesse Stewart's facilitation of a workshop, again, being the exception).
My participation in the rest of the weekend festival was minimal, my primary function was as a presenter in the colloquium. I was neither participating as an Artist, nor was I recognized as Press, so my attendance to the festival concerts was incomplete and somewhat "sketchy". That being the case, I will refrain from reviewing the concerts. I will note, however, from what I did see, the concerts were well attended by the public. The planning of more accessible jazz and multi-ethnic musical groups like the hip Klezmer group, Paradox Trio, or Jane Burnett and the Spirits of Havana in the jazz tent, and the presentation of the world famous Instant Composers Pool from Holland, or classic jazz trios like the Equal Interest Trio: Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins, and Myra Melford in local church halls pleased both mainstream and avant garde tastes, and fostered broadband public interest and participation. One of my favorites from these public concerts was the appearance of George Lewis with the NOW Orchestra, a tremendously energetic modern big band and gifted group of musicians and composers from the Vancouver area. I found this sort of planning sprinkled with the more esoteric Bookshelf Midnight and afternoon (small theater) concerts for the "musician's musician" to be a very astute "structuring dynamic" for the festival's success.
My respect and admiration goes out to the Guelph community for supporting the leadership of Ajay Heble's vision. Hat's off to Ajay and to everyone who made it possible: from the quality of the artist's participation to the dedication of the community, itself, by it's financial support, it's volunteer force, and its public participation. This is truly an example of Community.
For further information about the program of the Guelph Jazz Festival,
Sept 6-10, 2000 go to www.uoguelph.ca/~jazzfest/