In the spirit of giving here’s a few ideas for the jazz fans on your Christmas List:
1. Buy a local jazz album. Here are a few suggestions: Saloon Standard by Joe Coughlin, The Ian McDougall 12tet Live, The Measure of Light by the Kelby MacNayr Quintet Look for the Silver Lining by Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson, Christmas Is by Maureen Washington, Lucky So-and-So by Melinda Whitaker. Those are just a few options. Search your favourite local jazz artist at iTunes or CD Baby and you’ll find many more choices. Ask at Lyle’s or Ditch Records in Victoria and encourage them to stock local players.
2. Buy a ticket to a local jazz event. U-JAM’s Jazz at the Gallery is a good bet and sells out every year. Check out the local jazz vespers series around Victoria as well as the Victoria Jazz Society’s offerings.
3. Take your friends to the annual New Years eve show at Hermann’s featuring the Victoria Jazz All Stars. It’s always packed and a lot of fun.
I haven’t reviewed albums for some time on this site but one crossed my desk recently that I feel seasonally inspired to write about.
It’s a wonderful new Christmas album by Victoria’s own Bob Watts Trio recorded in the sanctuary of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay and featuring the piano work of the sublime and fiery Pablo Cardenas.
Many of you will know that drummer Watts moved to Victoria a few years ago from Winnipeg (although he still spends a lot of time there for business and music) and established a monthly jazz vespers series at St. Philip. During his tenure at the church he’s worked with the likes of Karl Roessingh, Joey Smith, Rob Cheramy, Tony Genge, Bruce Meikle and Tom Vickery.
Watts most often appears with Cardenas and bassist Ross Macdonald in a trio and indeed they are the personnel on Jazz for Christmas 2.
Before you say, ‘do we really need another jazz Christmas album?’ you should know there’s something unique about this one and its companion Jazz for Christmas 1, recorded in Winnipeg in 2010. According to Watts, these are the only two jazz albums around devoted strictly to interpreting Christmas carols.
That’s right, all the other jazz seasonal albums – there must be thousands of them – offer the odd carol but mostly feature arrangements of popular Christmas songs like that old Mel Tormé classic – you know the one I mean.
This new album includes a deeply blue and soulful Silent Night, a lively jazz waltz version of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and a fast-swinging Good Christian People Rejoice which burns along at 220 bpm – a tempo which apparently left Watts exclaiming an unprintable and unreleasable (but humorously appropriate) “Holy s–” when they made it through what turned out to be a gem of a first take.
You’ll want this one on top of your Christmas CD stack. The tunes may be familiar but the arrangements are fresh, original, and deeply swinging.
Because I took an interest in the Jill Townsend/Cellar Live Ross Taggart recording project and a lot of the funding came from Vancouver Island donors, I thought I should draw your attention to the latest Kickstarter update released today. I had begun to wonder if the project had died on the vine, and so it was great to hear that progress has been made thanks to the freedom of the summer and the facilities at the Banff Centre.
Here’s the update from Jill Townsend and Bill Coon and a short video:
“The Leighton Artist’s Colony at the Banff Centre consists of nine private studios, dedicated to writing, painting, music and multidisciplinary arts. In late August, Bill and I spent two amazing weeks in our studio with a grand piano where we worked on arranging several of Ross Taggart’s compositions for the 17-piece large ensemble. We each spent 6 hours or more in the studio every day, trading off every two hours. The opportunity to have this kind of quiet, focussed and uninterrupted time to spend on writing music was absolutely fantastic and the beauty of the surroundings was breathtaking. The writing continues now and throughout the fall season.”
D.F. Bailey, a novelist friend, recently “tagged” me to participate in a “blog tour” that promotes writers and writing. The idea is that each tagged writer will respond to four basic questions and post the answers on his/her blog. The writer then tags two other writers, inviting them to do the same. Readers of the blogs can then follow the links in the chain and discover new (to them) writers and their works.
D. F. Bailey’s fourth novel, Exit From America, is set in San Francisco and explores the intersecting lives of a writer, a guru, a therapist, an artist and her daughter — and their escape from a world slipping into environmental collapse. He lives on-line at dfbailey.com
First the writers I’ve tagged:
Craig Morrison is a Victoria-born ethnomusicologist teaching courses on popular music and its roots at Concordia University, as well as a musician and bandleader with 11 CDs released. He is the author of Go Cat Go! Rockabilly Music and Its Makers (University of Illinois Press, 1996), American Popular Music; Rock and Roll (Facts on File, 2005), and numerous articles for encyclopedias, journals, music magazines, and daily newspapers. He is currently writing a book on West Coast psychedelic music, based in part on dozens of interviews with musicians active in the 1960s.
My second tag is in the works. Stay tuned.
And now my (Rick Gibbs’) answers:
1. What am I working on?
I’m writing two books. The working titles are The Perfect Guitar and West Coast Jazz: The Long and Short of It. The first is a work of creative non-fiction that follows the building of an acoustic archtop jazz guitar by Victoria luthier Robert Anderson. I commissioned Robert to build the guitar for me in 2012 and sat in his workshop off and on for a year while he completed the project. Inspired by books like Tracy Kidder’s House and Witold Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World, I’m weaving various historical, technical, scientific, cultural and personal threads into the story, including my encounter in 2010 with internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist Pat Metheny while working on a CBC radio documentary about the celebrated Canadian guitar builder Linda Manzer.
The second book will be a collection of articles about Canada’s west coast jazz scene, some already written for publications like Monday Magazine, Boulevard, Coda, and my blog Island Jazz. I’ve covered the scene for seven years now, writing profiles of jazz greats like Ian McDougall, Hugh Fraser, Phil Dwyer, Ingrid Jensen, and Joe Coughlin and profiling institutions like Hermann’s Jazz Club and the lively jazz vespers scene on Vancouver Island. We live in one of the most jazz-rich regions in the world but it’s never been seriously documented except in short pieces in the local media. By collecting stories I’ve already written and telling new ones, I intend to create a historical and contemporary mosaic that tips a literary hat to the great jazz musicians on Canada’s west coast.
2. How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
I’m not sure that it does except to say that I always try to find my own voice and write as clearly and simply as I can. I’ve been told by editors that reading my work is a pleasure because there’s rarely a bump in the road. I embrace Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sentiment that “easy reading is damn hard writing” and do a lot of rewriting even for the most basic piece of journalism. But all good writers do that and so ultimately any differences will be found in voice and subject matter.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Writing for me comes down to three things: love of subject, love of form, and love of language. It’s always about my heart even when my head is involved. I spent a year writing about a four-month trip through India, Nepal and Sri Lanka that my wife and I undertook in 2002. While that manuscript remains unfinished, it’s a good example of my heart driving my writing. I fell in love with India and so I wrote about it. I love travel books like Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time and Gary Geddes’ Sailing Home and and so I tried to emulate them. Similarly, my latest projects are inspired by subjects that excite me and works I’ve read and admired. Books like But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer, the only book about jazz that Keith Jarrett recommends.
4. How does my writing process work?
I’m not a planner. I plunge in with an image, quotation or detail that excites me and go from there. I’ll follow it until it runs dry and then grab something else and pursue it, gradually piecing the story together around ideas and details that interest me. In the end I have a rough mosaic that I work and rework until all the pieces fit. I tend to rewrite on the fly, which goes against all the advice I gave my students when I taught high school English and creative writing, but I can’t help it even though it slows me down and sometimes blocks the flow of ideas. I just can’t wait to get in there and tinker with the words.
As I write 155 people from the west coast jazz community and beyond have pledged their support for the project on Kickstarter that will see ten Ross Taggart compositions arranged and recorded by the Jill Townsend Big Band in Vancouver. With 8 days to go they are doing well, having reached nearly 75% of their goal.
It would be a shame if they fell short now.
For those who haven’t pledged – fans and musicians alike – here are seven reasons to consider doing so.
1. It’s a good cause. Ross Taggart was a beloved member of the west coast jazz community and this project will honour his name.
2. Under the Kickstarter crowd-funding model, the campaign must be 100% funded to succeed. Otherwise the project will receive nothing.
3. This is the first major Kickstarter Canadian west coast jazz campaign that I’m aware of. If it succeeds it could set a precedent for future campaigns that would see other local musicians receive funding for their special projects.
4. It won’t cost you much; you can pledge as little as a dollar (although I would hope you would pledge a little more than that :-).
5. Our provincial and federal governments do little for the arts (particularly jazz) compared to European countries like Norway; this is a way for you to support directly an art form that is starved of funding.
6. For musicians: it may seem odd or inappropriate to pledge money to your colleagues when you work so hard yourself to be part of this community and to raise funds for your own projects. But consider this: by adding your name to the list, you help create a groundswell that will see this and other jazz projects succeed under the crowd-funding model. (The list of contributors can be viewed on the Kickstarter site and your name will carry a lot of weight.)
7. For fans: if you pledge at least ten dollars, you’ll receive a wonderful recording of some great tunes and help keep not only jazz but big band jazz alive on the Canadian west coast. What better way to spend the equivalent of two fancy coffees at Starbucks?
I wish them success. You can pledge here.
Note: if you have concerns about the security of the Kickstarter site, read the security notice they issued following the news that they had been hacked recently. It may reassure you.