When the English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth published his poem, “The Rainbow” one of the lines he wrote became an iconic rallying call for all of humanity. The line read: The child is the father of man… The poem became one of Wordsworth’s better-known poems more so for this iconic line, which was so leaden with meaning. In literature class layers of meaning were often discussed; that, for instance “an adult is the product of the habits, manners and behavior that he inculcated during his childhood”, but perhaps most poignantly that “the conduct of a child indicates what he will become when he grows up”. But doesn’t the line hold much more meaning? After all as in poetry so also in music any metaphor created can progress exponentially and this is especially true of music – Jazz music – which not only thrives on arithmetic, but also highly complex geometric governed not only by pitch, but in an almost mystic sense, by colour, texture and timbre.
But between the music conservatoire and the University of Life there lies a conundrum thrown up by Horace – no less – who once posited that poeta nascitur non fit a poet is born, not made. And so between the undergraduate – the initiate [acolyte, to the English-speaking world; acolytus, to Horace; akolouthos, to his Greek counterparts] in terms better perceived by the classicists [and there is still Time for them in 2107] – and the graduate that he or she will become – is a grind that (especially) the Jazz of another Time called “paying one’s dues” is yet to come. However, welcoming these undergraduate musicians On the Road, to use Jack Kerouac’s famously stream-of-consciousness (and then some) phrase; the ones who did not fall beside the wayside and thus those who deserve – indeed – demand our attention is de rigueur, if not for anything then at least to urge and encourage them to seek the highest attainable realm of their art. “Born”, indeed, and as they are being “made”…
In academia, courses in the history of music, the history of Jazz, theory, harmony…and so on, are essential to give the undergraduate a sense of his or her place in space and time, but it can only do so much and no more. The “road” is the real test – of nerves and heart – and often even some of the very best musicians find they have no stomach for it. However, there is virtually nothing to fall back on – no record company has artists and repertoire people qualified enough to know the importance of music “to be born by”, and although crowd-funding has become the order of the day, it’s an arduous process. The brave take the plunge, encouraged, no doubt by organisations such as FACTOR, Canada Arts Council, and other provincial Arts Councils, and others. But the effect of having a big stage on which to strut your stuff is clearly irreplaceable; and also somewhat unattainable for most musicians. Until, that is, an organisation called Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival Inc. an independent, non-profit legal entity specializing in innovative live event production and management opened its doors a few years ago.
The stated mission of T.U. Jazz – the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival – is “to create developmental opportunities for undergraduates in Ontario; to educate the public in the cultural significance of jazz and the diversity of the genre and to help recognize and promote individual and collective works of undergraduate students in the Toronto Jazz community.” Lofty ideals indeed, but clearly David Lee, the founding president and head of event management has walked the walk. Together with Becky Hargreaves vice-president, head of PR & Media, and Ana Tokareva, head of business support (there were others, but they have since moved on) Mr Lee’s team have put together the third edition of this challenging event. Of course, no event of this size could have survived without corporate sponsorship and TD Canada took up the gauntlet to act as main sponsor for this 2017 event to be held between September 7 and 9 at The Rex Bar on opening night (September 7) followed by the main event on three separate stages at Mel Lastman Square in North York, Ontario on September 8 and 9, 2017.
Founder, David Lee, put this entire venture in perspective when he was interviewed a couple of years ago, telling his interviewer how he was drawn to Jazz music because everything about it said “community”. By that, he explained, musicians bonded among themselves – remarkably as in a “jam session” even when they had not met before. Then there was the situation of how audiences formed communities with audiences and even in the face of great apathy from the majority of people; also great difficulty; and the kind of diffidence that Bob Dylan expressed in a song when he sang “it never was my duty to remake the world at large”. Perhaps most remarkably so, Mr Lee founded an organisation that would give voice to musicians who are at that stage in their lives when they have the most to say and sing about as they swim against the tide to search for a voice of their own.
Of the names that appear on the festival marquée a majority of them will be unfamiliar to Jazz fans or to the cognoscenti. But then that’s what this showcase is all about: to give voice to those who are looking to express themselves, and would be denied a forum on more vaunted stages on the Jazz festival circuit in Canada and elsewhere. Naturally, musicians are drawn from undergraduate music and/or Jazz faculties of some of the more famous universities such as the University of Toronto, and Humber College in Ontario, McGill University and elsewhere in Quebec, and elsewhere from other provinces. These will include the Samuel Gaudrealt Quartet, Bassline, Bloom, Chris Maskell Quintet, The Funny Funk Band, Triptych, Foreign Hues, SSJO, Composers Collective, Elena Rawlins, Daron McColl, Lawful Citizen, The Robert Lee Group, Jesse Ryan & Bridges, The Accolades, Birds 1, Triple Baritone, EP Quintet, Happenstance and Mason Chance. Guests from the various faculties will also appear on the bill and will include the trumpeter Christine Jensen and pianist Hilario Duran and their respective quartets, drummer Mark Kelso and The Jazz Exiles, saxophonist Mike Murley and the drummer Larnell Lewis.
Becky Hargreaves in an interview conducted a week or so ago, was at pains to point out that one of the most important objectives of the organisation is to facilitate the osmotic transference of knowledge from teacher to student. Thus, the master classes conducted by Hilario Duran, Mark Kelso, Larnell Lewis Mike Murley and Christine Jensen will be an important part of the package. Musicians – especially those in the Jazz realm, where much of the history is not only anecdotal, and learning is best done first in a live laboratory. To this end, the 2017 TU Jazz Fest, as it is now known, will be quietly adhering to the organisation’s stated “Vision” which is “to be a bridge, connecting the evolving youth jazz culture with its mentors and the community” and to fulfill the posited core values of the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival Inc. which are to foster Education, promote Communication and build Community”.
But this is an environment where much music will be played and being sung and played in the language of Jazz, there’s no telling what will happen. Surely through-composed music will appear on sheet music stands and musicians will stand behind these orchestral stage-props to solo. But there will also be plenty of wild moments as there always are wherever in the world music – especially Jazz – is played. And this is where the black dots will fly off the paper on which they are written. Soloists will soar and the ensembles will have to anchor them; even bring them back to earth from celestial ramblings. Audiences will participate and compositions will change dramatically as a result of all the playing and audience participation. And many a hopeful career will be nudged further up the road where the opportunities, the fortune and the accolades lie. And for another year, we too will be there to savour the moments.
For more information go to the TU Jazz website: www.tujazz.com
An early interview with David Lee, President and Founder TU Jazz