IAJE in NYC
Technically, the reason a sprawling, swinging convention occurred between Jan. 10 and 13 at Times Square’s Sheraton and Hilton hotels was jazz education. From its host (the International Association for Jazz Education), to the wandering hordes of teens skulking about in their embroidered windbreakers and woodshedding on Nestico charts, IAJE is an unofficial headquarters for all things Aebersold: It’s where clinicians, student big-bands and lab ensembles come to learn, to roost, to be coached and to be judged on an Olympian point-scale. It’s a scene that any Village-Vanguard-hopeful must conquer, and yet, to many who attend shows at the Vanguard, or buy records, or read JazzTimes, it’s often invisible. Somehow, IAJE offers much to these folks too.
With its panels, live interviews, modest tradeshow, business seminars, concerts and the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters ceremony—not to mention NYC’s regularly scheduled proffer—IAJE becomes something of a jazz analogy to rock ’n’ roll’s annual South by Southwest assembly in Austin—albeit with less Budweiser. This year’s celebration was overcast with the deaths of Alice Coltrane and Michael Brecker (for a personal account of the group catharsis that occurred at the convention, read Bill Milkowski’s Solo column on pg. 26 of this magazine), but the powwow advanced with results alternately illuminating, arcane, funny, promising and outright brilliant.
The “Jazz Journalism in the Noughties” panel saw Ashley Kahn encourage aspiring Nat Hentoffs (or Ashley Kahns) to be ambitious and broaden the scope of their pitches. A cross-generational discussion titled “Producing Miles Davis” featured Teo Macero, George Avakian, Marcus Miller and the always-outspoken Bob Belden, who berated Sony for the monolith’s ignorant refusal to market its tomes of classic jazz. Jazz-industry utility man Bob Blumenthal and überbassist Christian McBride reprised their roles as Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, respectively, for Excuse the Musical Disruption, where they butted heads on topics ranging from MySpace (McBride promised to hook Blumenthal up with some choice “friends”) to the always controversial fusion of jazz and hip-hop (McBride insisted that it works only when the artists integrate the styles organically; Blumenthal sighed and drew comparisons to forced commercial experiments of the 1960s).
It was a delight to see the elusive Ornette Coleman in the flesh during his chat with progeny Greg Osby, but the free-jazz pioneer proved that his intrepid mind is expressed more efficiently in musical terms than linguistic ones. Ever the leader, Coleman essentially reversed roles with Osby, who deserves credit for daring to interview this purposefully abstruse icon in front of a live audience—the journalistic equivalent of riding a bull. A few grounded questions among so much philosophical banter would’ve made this spiraling, elliptical Q&A more insightful and less nonsensical, but it was still worth witnessing and had an effect similar to that of hearing a Coleman recording: a blinding flood of sound that’s off-putting but forces you to deconstruct it.
Two other musician-to-musician conversations were less intimidating but by no means boring. Marcus Miller grilled fellow electric-Miles-alum John Scofield, who professed that he developed his distinctly fluid technique from an inability to cop the rapid-fire runs of John McLaughlin. Christian McBride questioned Roy Haynes, who, per usual, dressed like a cowboy-pimp and graciously told of a brief jaunt with Louis Armstrong and stints with Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan. At a live DownBeat “Blindfold Test” hosted by Dan Ouellette, bassist Ron Carter’s barefaced criticism—directed toward sacred cows like Bill Evans’ trio with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro—was an antidote to the guarded, obscured judgments so many players offer during these exercises.
Performances were many and often, and no matter how hard they tried, tireless concert-goers ended up missing more gigs than they made—there were that many to choose from in the clubs and around town. On closing night, Sylvain Luc, a French guitar virtuoso whose mastery extends far beyond Gypsy jazz, dazzled a crowded house before a moment of silence was held for Brecker and Coltrane. Charlie Haden choked back tears while delivering a brief eulogy to both his late bandmates, and led his Liberation Orchestra through charts full of rhythmic adventure (even turning out reggae-style riddims on one fetching tune). On the other side of the street, Charles Tolliver’s ensemble proved that big bands can be as audacious and airy as they are powerful. Though the IAJE didn’t officially christen the set a clinic, it brimmed with lessons.