The Art of Jazz Celebration is an amazing event. This year, the theme was about a Global Jazz Village and it lived up to the name in spirit, music, musicians and audience participation. The inaugural year, 2006, I considered this a spring jazz festival, and a great one at that. It was much more; it was enlightenment for many, including myself.
I felt like I was in jazz heaven that first year, witnessing performances by jazz giants, famous names like Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, John Handy, Barry Harris, Dave Holland and Charles McPherson. I will always treasure the final performance of the great bassist Earl May who played as if he wanted the music to go on forever. Earl May is gone now, but his music will last forever. I also realized that this event was different. The musicians on hand were in a relaxed state of mind. They easily conversed with the audiences, jammed at the late night jam sessions, and awoke very early in the morning for the 11:00 AM workshops.
The Art of Jazz is something that incorporates a multi-faceted, multi-layered, living, breathing entity that is this wonderful thing called music, and all that jazz, encompassing a wide array of musical elements from all over the world in many different forms. In order to reach out to a youthful audience, or any audience that is willing to divest from the pop music standard, education is necessary. Workshops, the special events for children, such as jazz for juniors, samba drumming for kids, or Mike Stevens’ big harmonica concert lessons are all vital in broadening the listening landscape and keeping jazz alive, jazz - as in good music.
The final concert of this third annual Art of Jazz celebration featured the highly acclaimed multi- instrumentalist and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, Egberto Gismonti. Mestre Gismonti was featured in different settings, solo piano, duets with Jane Bunnett, and with multi-instrumentalist and 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Don Thompson. He also played with the Penderecki String Quartet, along with bassist Jim Vivian. The performance included a Cuban choir, Groupo Vocal Desandann, as well as a master Indian percussionist.
Leading up to this incredible mix of world music, audiences were entertained, educated and introduced to a grand mix of musical styles over the course of the celebration. There was something for everyone. If you wanted heavy sounds, Cindy Blackman would oblige. Latin sounds, straight ahead jazz, funk, blues, folk, you could find elements in the numerous events taking place over the five day celebration from June 4th 8th, all throughout the sprawling Historic Distillery District. Many of the local Toronto-based musicians put on free performances. I managed to check out a few of the acts: Elizabeth Shepherd and her trio, the Artie Roth Quintet, Kellylee Evans, Nancy Walker’s Trio and Maractu Nunca Antes.
The Artie Roth Quintet was literally and figuratively smoking as Mr. Roth noted that his bass was burning his fingers, so intense was the mid-day sun beating down on the Pure Spirits stage. The quintet was comprised of pianist Dave Restivo, trumpeter John MacLeod, saxophonist Kelly Jefferson and drummer Adam Arruda. The first set consisted of songs from the Roth CD Parallels (2005 Independent) songs that impressed, "Rhyme and Reason," horns blasting out a duet of smoke and mirrors magic, while drums and bass let loose with an anything goes type of head space, and piano digs to set out the direction for escape by soloing with taste and distinction. "Gone But Not Missed" a lament on past employment experience, "Memories Remain" featuring a wonderfully melodic solo by John MacLeod, and a passionate bass solo by the leader Artie Roth, added to the fire of the performance.
A fitting conclusion to this masterful celebration featuring the immensely talented Egberto Gismonti took place on the final evening--a genre defying musical stylist, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and 21st century master composer whom pays tribute to the Renaissance. Mixing elements of pop with classical, elements of Brazilian traditional songs with nature and fusing it altogether in a seamless fashion of pure and natural harmonic beauty.
The concert started with Mestre Gismonti performing solo on piano. He would flow through three compositions that had rich texture and many colors. His playing was elegant, classical, modern and contemporary, and left you feeling completely at ease, mellow, peaceful and at one with the world. The third number he performed was especially wonderful as sounds of waterfalls morphed into jungle like sounds with chords that were very bright and airy. This went back and forth, the jungle canopy and the waterfall of notes. He simulated a natural environment in the ancient cellar.
The next segment featured the Penderecki Quartet; Jeremy Bell (violin), Simon Fryer (cello), Jerzy Kaplanek (violin) and Christine Vlajk (viola), with guest bassist Jim Vivian. The compositions that they performed were very soothing. The audience delighted in this fine display of chamber music performed to perfection by this world class quartet of violins and cello. From slow melodies with lush strings to melodies that reminded me of a soundtrack from a movie, something like Love Story. I would have gone to see the movie if they used this music, very lovely. Jane Bunnett performed with the group, Jane on soprano saxophone, as well as flute, and Mestre Gismonti on piano. It was a beautiful duet that highlighted the depth of Ms. Bunnett’ soprano playing.
Indian master percussionist Trichy Sankaran, accompanied by his daughter Suba, playing a south Indian classical tamboura, a four string lute-like instrument, opened the second set and performed an amazing composition. Professor Sankaran demonstrated some simple drumming concepts to start, a tani avartanam (mrdangam solo the two headed south Indian drum), an A-B cycle or talking drums followed, chanting rapidly and imitating the chants on his drums. The patterns became very intricate to the point of incredible, until he ended with "And so on."
Don Thompson and Jane Bunnett played with the choir from Cuba, ten voices that produced a beautiful serenade, the Groupo Vocal Desandann. Mr. Thompson composed a song for Gismonti entitled "Gismonti" a moderately paced song with a very uplifting beat, a powerful marching rhythm with Don Thompson playing brightly coloured tones on piano. Mr. Thompson would return to play bass in a duet setting with Mestre Gismonti who played ten string guitar, the two produced a marvelous serenade that mesmerized and hypnotized, so intense was this composition.
The party, the celebration, the festival, the late night all-star jams drew to a conclusion with most, if not all of the participants agreeing that the Art of Jazz is alive and well. The question on most peoples minds is, how to follow-up for next years celebration?