jazz & blues music blog with news, reviews, concerts & more, with a Canadian focus

February 9, 2008

IAJE Review by Carol Sokoloff

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz news, Canada

Dear Readers;

Dear friend and fellow jazz vocalist Carol Sokoloff attended the IAJE conference in Toronto last month on behalf of Jazz Elements and once again contributes a terrific article to the website with review of the event below:

For four days last month, Canada became the centre of the jazz universe as some 6,000 players, students, educators, music industry representatives and members of the media converged on Toronto, January 9 – 12, for the 35th annual conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators. From morning till well past midnight, the halls of the Toronto Conference Centre and the adjacent Intercontinental Hotel resounded with workshops, performances, galas, panels, lectures, master classes, a busy trade fair and non-stop mingling in a welcoming atmosphere. Spilling over into the neighbouring venerable Royal York Hotel, whose ballroom and now closed Empire Room showcased many a jazz icon over the decades, delegates had a hard time choosing between the many performances and learning opportunities offered.

The conference kicked off Wednesday, January 9 with an afternoon special focus session on ‘New Visions for New Times’. Vocalist Kurt Elling, up for a Grammy for his recent CD, Night Moves, set the tone for the gathering with an inspiring keynote address. He reminded everyone that that, “what we really seek as people – is a revolution of consciousness. It is what great music fosters best. It is the only music worth striving for.” (read the entire talk at http://www.iaje.org )

That evening, the first Gala concert, featured the hot vocal jazz ensemble, New York Voices, joined by guest jazz master reedman Paquito D’Rivera. Along with Senator Tommy Banks D’Rivera had just received IAJE’s President’s medal, at a Gala fundraiser hosted by vocal jazz master, Nancy Wilson. New York Voices set the Conference Centre’s vast Constitution Hall alight with vocal jazz pyrotechnics carried off with an effortless grace and sophistication! After-hours, innovative Nordic Connect entertained in the John Bassett Theatre with a concert of original compositions from Nanaimo, BC natives, sisters trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Christine Jensen, with Jon Wikan on drums and pianist. Maggi Olin. At the nearby Rex Hotel, a Queen Street jazz dive, a Canadian jazz showcase featured sets each evening from 5 p.m. till 2 a.m. with a dazzling array of local and visiting talent. I made the choice to get some sleep as the next morning the real fun was due to begin.

Bright and early Thursday morning an extraordinary line-up of simultaneous workshops, performances and panels got underway. With Technology, Industry, Performing and Educator streams, delegates strategized to take advantage of an extraordinary array of listening and learning opportunities. Hands-on demos of music software; music industry panels; jazz masters in conversation; teacher training sessions, scholarly papers, clinics, workshops and master classes were available covering everything from internet marketing, scat singing, trumpet chops, blogging and CD trends to performance anxiety, composition and improvisation approaches. There was even a valuable ‘ten minutes with an expert’ session in which experienced music industry individuals were available for a one on one consultation. At the same time, there were also concerts by exciting ensembles such as Quebec’s Karine Chapdelaine and Francois Bourassa or college and high school bands, frequently joined by notable visiting artists such as Branford Marsalis. In addition, twice a day the lobby lounges of the Intercontinental and Royal York Hotels offered a stage for artists such as vocalist Libby York or for high energy pro jam sessions From the conference hall foyer, Canadian jazz radio station Jazz FM, featured live broadcasts of interviews with many of the stellar figures present, including the great Qunicy Jones, one of this year’s crop of new ‘Jazz Masters’, to be honoured during IAJE. For three very full days this smorgasbord of jazz delights kept delegates sated and inspired. The only improvement to suggest is the addition of an information screen for bulletins on changes to the schedule (of which there were a few due to weather or illness.) Given the crowded schedule and the distance between venues, it was frustrating to make the difficult choice between sessions, only to find one’s choice cancelled and others half over before one could get there. Considering the high-tech atmosphere of the event, it was surprising to find no up-to date info source offered. Even a lowly blackboard could have served that useful purpose!

Thursday evening the opening of the exhibit hall unveiled a jazzoid’s dream bazaar – overflowing with riches of information, music, instruments, software and networking opportunities. Jazz educational programs and faculties, magazines such as Downbeat and Jazz Times, record labels like Origin and Mack Street, publishing companies like Hal Leonard and instrument and software manufacturers crowded the aisles with a tantalising array. At several booths, there was the chance to meet legendary figures including the Jamey Aebersold stand where the influential educator and musician was in attendance while the entire collection of his outstanding play-along book and CD learning tools was available at an excellent discount. For all the many items one was tempted to buy, there were also many free compilation CD’s handed out, so no one left empty-handed.

The Gala concert that evening put the spotlight on British jazz, led by saxophonist, Courtney Pine, while after-hours, pianist Kenny Werner’s Delirium Blues Project with vocalist Roseanna Vitro took the stage. In the hotel ballrooms jam sessions offered students and educators a chance to play. One excellent trend observed at this year’s conference was the featuring of female bass players including American player/vocalists Esperanza Spalding and Kristin Korb and Canadians Jodi Prozniak and Brandi Disterheft.

The memorable highlight of each IAJE gathering is a Gala celebrating the US National Endowment for the Arts naming of the year’s Jazz Masters, called ‘America’s highest honour in jazz”. Having attended that event in New York last year, I wondered how such an evening of well-deserved national pride in a truly American art form could possibly be held in Canada. In a historic joint ceremony both the NEA and the Canada Council for the Arts also planned to honour the great Canadian pianist and composer Oscar Peterson. His unfortunate passing just prior to the event made for a stirring remembrance of this bright light who exemplified the universal language that is jazz. Accepting the honour on his behalf Peterson’s widow remarked that “Somewhere a star is shining brighter in the sky.” The following day a public memorial concert at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, while not a part of the IAJE schedule, featured some of its luminaries such as the newly-named NEA jazz master, Quincy Jones.

NEA chair, poet Dana Gioia and Canada Council chair Karen Kain began the event with a tribute to Oscar Peterson, with pianist and protégé Oliver Jones taking over the bench with the Peterson trio of Dave Young, bass and Terry Clarke, drums. Following this, the evening’s newly appointed Jazz Masters were honoured individually with an audio-visual summary of each one’s musical contribution followed by the bestowing of the Jazz Master’s Award. This year’s inductees into this august company, now totalling 100, were percussionist Candido Camero; composer, arranger, producer Quincy Jones; composer-arranger Tom McIntosh; trumpeter Joe Wilder and pianist and composer Andrew Hill. In addition, The A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master Award for Jazz Advocacy was given to classical and jazz composer-arranger Gunther Schuller. The acceptance speeches by these revered figures were truly inspiring, overflowing with love and affection for both the music and the beloved fellow artists with whom they share this honour.

Paying homage to the unforgettable Quincy Jones arrangements for Frank Sinatra, vocalist Kurt Elling and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra conducted by the great David Baker blew the roof off the room with some ultimately swinging versions of these classics along with some newer Elling experiments. The tremendous reception Elling received led one to suspect that, after seven previous nominations, this might very well be the year this dedicated artist wins the Grammy for best vocal jazz album.

To close the night, fellow contender in that category, vocalist Tierney Sutton, performed an after hours concert, highlighted by a moving rendition of A Timeless Place ( or, The Peacocks) –– dedicated to its lyricist, British singer Norma Winstone, present in the audience. Backed by Victoria, BC native, Neil Swainson on the bass, Sutton’s pure voice, clever arrangements and relaxed performing style were the perfect night cap to a remarkable evening in jazz.

Once again the next day, the amazing line-up of sessions, concerts, panels and workshops, exhibits and master classes took place – everyone still enthusiastic though showing some exhaustion on this the final day. One highlight of the day was the concert by Jane Bunnett’s Art of Jazz All Stars, with special guest Jazz Master Jon Hendricks, father of vocalese and Don Thompson on vibes. Also that day SOCAN’s new composition commissions by emerging composer Andrew Jones and established composer Fred Stride were premiered. In the evening, the final Gala featured a showcase of Canadian jazz with cutting edge performances by Quebec’s Francois Houle Octet and the innovative Les Projectionnistes and Toronto drummer Barry Romberg’s Random Access Large Ensemble. Closing the night and this wonderful conference was an ensemble of Canadian jazz greats, billed as the Mainstream Icon Quintet, with Don Thompson, on piano, the legendary Guido Basso on trumpet, Dave Young on bass, Ricke Wilkins on sax and Terry Clarke, drums.

It was an elegant note on which to end this exceptional gathering of those addicted to jazz. With the hundreds of performances and seminars that took place over these four amazing days, this article has merely skimmed the surface of this extraordinary event. The full schedule is posted on the IAJE website (www.iaje.org) along with some photos and highlights, and even a quick glance will make your heart race! For those who wish they could have been there, recordings of most workshops are available from www.onsiterecording.net. And don’t forget, there’s always next year, when the whole engine revs up again – this time in Seattle, Washington, January 7 – 10, 2009!

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