Jazz, And Not-Quite Jazz

Marc Ribot performing in Ottawa Sunday Night

Sunday night I’m standing in line at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to see guitarist Marc Ribot, and the guy in front of me is talking to his friend, lamenting the fact that “this used to be a real jazz festival.”  And I wanted to say, “dude, you’re in line to see Marc Ribot, a musician who is anything but straight ahead jazz.”  But I never use the word “dude” so I kept to myself.  He had his own idea of what real jazz is, and it was different than mine, or that of anyone else standing in line.

But he was right about the fact that this festival is not just a jazz festival.  He saw it as a bad thing, but I talked to others who see it as a very good thing.  The truth is that most of the music at this (or any) jazz festival is undoubtedly jazz.  But to sell tickets, the harsh reality is that there has to be more than jazz.  So, they book blues acts like Robert Cray and John Mayall, pop stars like Janelle Monae, and bluegrass bands like Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers.  Great music, all, but jazz it ain’t.

John Mayall performing in Ottawa

What I really like about all of this is that the organizers are unapologetic about the non-jazz because it’s all good music.  Since most of the music at this festival is real jazz, purists come away happy, and blues/pop/bluegrass fans hopefully come away thinking they should add a little jazz to their musical diet.

In the end, great music is great music and each of us knows what that means for ourselves.  Since last Thursday my mind has been opened up to some music that I wasn’t expecting to like, and I imagine lots of other people have experienced the same.  But more than anything, this festival has reinforced my love of jazz.  And if hearing more great jazz means listening to some killer bluegrass, as I will tonight, well I’m okay with that.

The TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival continues through Sunday.

8 Comments on “Jazz, And Not-Quite Jazz”

  1. Ellen Rocco says:

    It is so cool that you are there to cover the festival…in real time! Keep those photos and insights coming.

  2. Bob Falesch says:

    I wonder which Marc Ribot that jazz fan was expecting (I’m guessing the drivin’ avant-jazzer incarnation). There are some who would claim that Francois Houle is not jazz either, but I’m gonna try to make it up to Ottawa tonight for him. I may have to miss DeJohnette (frown). I hope you catch him. I know Rudresh (one helluvan alto player; out of the Stitt-McLean school of hard-boppers) who, at least through scanning the schedule, would be my personal highlight of the festival.

  3. BB ny says:

    How was his show? The duet he did with Alan Toussaint was sublime!
    Look at the headliners for the New Orleans Jazz Feast this year: Bruce Springstein, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, etc.
    I find this much more offensive than Ottawa’s stretch to bluegrass and I’d argue blues has a place as the wellspring of jazz.
    Last night was fantastic in spite of the rain and looking forward to Bill Frizzell (he’s all over the map) and Chris Botti.
    Jazz or near jazz is great by me.

  4. Joel says:

    Bob, I didn’t know that Rudresh was playing with Jack DeJohnette. That gets me even more psyched for the show. He’s a very exciting player.
    BB, I went to the Marc Ribot show because I’ve never understood the appeal and wanted to see for myself what I was missing. I’ve played guitar for 30 years and I like dissonant, challenging music of all genres. I went in wanting the lightbulb to go off so I could finally get what he was all about. Unfortunately that didn’t happen at all for me. The crowd loved him, but I’m not there yet.

  5. BB ny says:

    Thanks for the Jack DeJohnette tip. I’ll check out that show.

  6. Bob Falesch says:

    Car pool?

  7. Bob Falesch says:

    Btw, I made it up to Ottawa for the François Houle. My expectations were met (I know Houle from many records, but never caught him live), and my post-set mini-chat with drummer Harris Eisenstaedt was engaging: “If any band should be awarded for obscuring the barlines (understand- Houle has at least one foot at all times in the bucket of common jazz harmonic ideas), I’d hand it to you guys.” Harris: “We’re glad it struck you that way.” “Your time mostly eluded me, but during the middle of that first tune, I thought I felt a long stretch of four.” Harris: “Yeah, four might have broken out at one point there” (…laughs all ’round).

    A highlight for me was the slow tune (didn’t catch the title), an homage to the great Gil Evans. I could definitely hear something resembling those tightly coiled Evans harmonies so familiar from those great old sides with Miles Davis, and the break from ultra-high energy of the other tunes let the lyrically minimal playing and rich chording of the pianist Benoit Delbecq ring out clearly.

  8. Joel Hurd says:

    Great report, Bob. I wanted to catch that show but once again ran up against the inconvenience of not being able to be in two places at once! I imagine tonight will be a strong night with Parc X Trio, Frisell and Esperanza. But Jack DeJohnette tomorrow night is the one I REALLY can’t wait to see.

Comments are closed.