I think the world needs more jazz. I know I can’t get enough of it, and so I guess it’s only natural that I try to convince everyone else.
I come by it honestly. My dad played sax in the RCAF Streamliners during World War Two, sometimes within earshot of the guns on the front lines to bring a little taste of home to the guys at the front. After the war, he used to take me along as a ten-year-old to all the dance halls along the shores of Lakes Huron and Erie to help Lionel Thornton and the Casa Royal Orchestra lug stuff, set up, and pack up at the end. Free labour! I learned I wanted to play trombone when I heard John Thompson play Tommy Dorsey’s Marie, and I got drawn in forever to Miller, Goodman, Basie, Herman, James, and of course, the Duke. And all the rest of them, too.
For fifty years, it got progressively worse. Today, I play in a big band, a trio, and a rock horn band after “blowing my horn” in pit orchestras, concert bands, a symphony, on boat cruises and at funerals, weddings, anniversaries – you name it. My wife is still trying to understand why the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning is the correct tempo for some damn bossa nova that’s been eluding me for a month.
I give time to this festival, because the music “moves” me, and because the musicians who appear are the best, and I can’t understand why everyone else in the world doesn’t see it the same way! I mean, they’re making it up as they go!
I describe jazz, when it’s played by the best, as other-worldly. Consciousness-altering. Soul-affirming. Louis Armstrong’s description: “Jazz is like lovin’ a woman, havin’ a fight, and then makin’ up.” Same thing, right?
Can there be anything as mysterious as a master jazz musician’s creative process? I mean, we’re talking about split-second choices about the notes they’re going to play, HOW they’re going to play them, WHEN they’re going to play them, and even WHY they’re going to play them. And these instant decisions are all driven by the musician’s technical expertise, imagination, experience, emotion, and interpretative abilities. I ask: Is there any other activity that involves more complex brain function than a world-class jazz musician putting it all together on the spur of the moment?
And if there is, I can guarantee it doesn’t sound as good.