Swinging to a summer of jazz

David Hayes July 8 1985

Swinging to a summer of jazz

David Hayes July 8 1985

Swinging to a summer of jazz


David Hayes

From the elegance of Oscar Peterson’s concert at Roy Thomson Hall to the more demanding muscularity of drummer Max Roach’s quartet at a local nightclub, Toronto was, for one short week in June, truly a jazz town. The $400,000 du Maurier International Jazz Festival was the newest in a growing number of summer celebrations in Canada that will also turn Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary into jazz centres. The diversity of music in Toronto was representative of the sounds that will ring around the country this summer. After a performance by iconoclastic trumpeter Miles Davis, it was possible to walk a few short blocks and hear Canadian expatriate Paul Bley’s highly personal piano musings or the seamless ensemble playing of a quartet of New York-based veterans called Sphere. After an evening of concert-hopping, David Callaghan, a weary but exhilarated 32-yearold projectionist and jazz fan, declared: “There is so much that you can’t go to everything. It’s fantastic.”

Both large and small, both international in scope and strictly local, the festivals are bringing jazz to its broadest audience since the fusion of jazz and rock revolutionized popular music in the 1970s. Although many members of that

audience may prefer such brand names as Peterson or trumpet sensation Wynton Marsalis, or are merely attracted to the temporary trendiness of a festival, others are excited to discover the expansive universe of jazz for the first time. Festival organizers hope the

large baby-boom

generation is weaning itself from the relentless thud of rock and is ready for more sophisticated music. Said du Maurier festival producer Dan Gugula: “A lot of people will be drawn to our festival, and maybe some will be converted.”

Although critics are reluctant to describe the trend in jazz festivals as a renaissance of the music itself, this summer more Canadians will hear more jazz and, significantly, attend more live performances than ever before. At the same time, the number and variety of the festivals is impress-

ing observers. With the largest budget and highest international profile of the Canadian events, the $2-million Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which opened last week and runs until July 7, is featuring such superstars as Marsalis, mainstream vocalists Tony Bennett and Mel Tormé and pop-jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Influential but less commercially successful artists include drummer Art Blakey and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. Within Montreal’s eclectic programming, there is also room for the reggae group Burning Spear, New Orleans rocker Dr. John and Mongo Santamaría, who plays salsa, a jazz-inflected blend of African and Cuban rhythms. Said festival cofounder André Ménard: “The music has spread worldwide, incorporating lots of influences. We don’t do the job of a museum because jazz is not a dead art form.”

Many of Montreal’s events are free outdoor concerts, and during last year’s festival 300,000 fans passed through a three-block section of rue St-Denis to celebrate what has become an annual affair. Although rock promoter Ménard and his partner, Alain Simard, could not attract public funding when they first staged the festival in 1980, currently only 25 per cent of its budget comes from the sale of tickets and membership passes. Grants from three levels of government, corporate sponsors and the potential sale of audio and video broad-

cast rights will provide the rest. One reason for the increased support of governments and corporations: the festival attracts $10 million in revenues, nearly one-fifth of that from tourists, in just 10 days, as much as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra or Museum of Fine Arts generates in a year.

Another advantage of the festivals is economies of scale. With its multitude of styles and 2 built-in excitement, 2 a large event swells

the small audience 2 of hard-core jazz en-

thusiasts with neo-

phytes and curious tourists. The organizers of the five-year-old Ottawa International Jazz Festival are hoping that the summer tourist trade will compensate for its reduced funding. In a scaled-down but still impressive program running from July 12 to 20, shows

will be held both inside and outside the National Arts Centre.

All are free except one series of concerts inside the centre featuring Chuck Mangione, Wynton Marsalis, Mongo Santamaría, Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and Montrealer Vic Vogel’s big band backing vocalist Salome Bey. If the festival’s strategy is successful, casual visitors to the outdoor performances will be intrigued enough to buy seats for an indoor concert.

Mangione and Marsalis are the kind of star attractions that appear necessary to enhance a festival’s reputation and provide a financial underpinning to support other acts. Not only may a soldout house produce revenues for festival organizers, stars also reassure corporate sponsors of an event’s potential for success. And it is also easier and less costly to lure such artists as Marsalis and Santamaría, who are appearing at both Montreal and Ottawa, to a second or third festival when they are already scheduled for a Canadian date. Said John Norris, co-publisher of the Toronto-based international jazz magazine Coda: “Jazz festivals are a worldwide phenomenon. Many jazz performers cost too much to bring to a club in a city, so festivals are the only chance we get to hear them.”

Still, the festivals cannot avoid the issue of artistic purity and the importance of having an underlying philosophy. Said Montreal’s Ménard: “Jazz has

trouble with its different audiences. People who like Buddy Rich think Cecil Taylor is crazy. People who like avantgarde jazz hate any kind of old or commercial jazz.” As a result, some festivals appeal to a specialized audience. The Royal Canadian Big Band Festival in

London, Ont. (Aug. 2 to 5), features only big bands, including the Buddy Rich orchestra. The Calgary Jazz Six Festival on July 27 is devoted to local artists.

In contrast, Edmonton’s adventurous Jazz City, an annual blend of ticketed concerts, free shows and educational workshops, appeals to those who argue that jazz should challenge the listener. Founded by the Edmonton Jazz Society in 1980, it operates on a $300,000 budget and a clear artistic mandate. Director Marc Vasey says that because pop artists do not introduce a new audience to jazz, “we try to think of financial considerations as our last priority.”

In an attempt to increase revenues, Jazz City hired jazz-rock guitarist John McLaughlin to open the 1982 festival and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to close it. Neither sold particularly well. Said Vasey: “That hurt our credibility as being at the artistic forefront of jazz festivals in Canada.” This year Jazz City is trying to remain on the cutting edge of jazz by introducing musicians from around the world. Japanese vocalist Harumi Takana, Danish saxophonist Jesper Thilo and Hungarian bassist Aladar Pege will make their Canadian debuts at Jazz City, sharing the spotlight with such established artists as vocalist Betty Carter, innovative pianists McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor and Latin percussionist Tito Puente.

Still, the revival faces some problems. For one thing, there are scores of world-

class Canadian artists, but few of them transcend their roles as gifted backup musicians, opening acts for imported stars or as headliners at low-priced, secondary outlets. For another, the market for Canadian jazz records is so small that no one keeps reliable figures, although it is estimated that all jazz accounts for no more than two per cent of Canadian record sales. That is as much a reflection on the Canadian music industry as on the organizers of jazz festivals. Said Herb Spanier, a respected Toronto trumpeter who was a lastminute replacement for American star Freddie Hubbard at a concert during the Toronto festival: “For a long time we have neglected our jazz artists. Maybe it’s part of the psyche of the country.” Musicians and fans also complain that after the excitement of a festival fades, so does public interest. In Montreal and Toronto, Canada’s two largest cities, few clubs feature jazz on a consistent basis and those that do are rarely daring in their policies. Said promoter Richard Flohil: “It’s a minority music, and a smaller minority than either classical or folk music.”

For years jazz has existed in the shadow of popular music, but it has always emerged into eras of bold innovation. Created near the turn of the century, jazz has shown a remarkable ability to survive. Said Jazz City director Vasey: “We are like evangelists. We have to continually keep up the interest and attract new people to our audience.” For the summer, at least, thousands of festivalgoers seem grateful for the attempts to spread the word.