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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Jazz Summer"


There is an episode of TV’s “Who’s The Boss?” where Tony convinces Angela’s hip mother Mona to invite her straight-laced daughter to a jazz club in a way to loosen her up. That plan works too well, as Angela can’t get enough of her new lifestyle of all-night bohemian parties with people who are unaware that the day has two twelve o’clocks. She attains that morning-after glow, mind still floating in the reverie of having found her true being. That moment came to mind when I felt EXACTLY the same way at work on the Monday morning after the first weekend spent at the jazz festival.

It was the summer of 1995. There I was, 9 AM in the basement warehouse, with such a happy head space that I didn’t know I was still wearing sunglasses! This was the first taste of the new life that was evolving for me, all because of an ad in Sam The Record Man.

Although I’ve loved jazz since I was a kid  (those adolescent Saturday nights spent twiddling the radio knobs for the CFCA big band program while my peers drank and fornicated) I had really only begun seriously exploring the music in the early 1990s. My friends and I had tired of the “classic rock” format, and sought other forms of music to define ourselves. Whereas they found new plateaus in the burgeoning alternative rock scene, I found solace in going back to the roots: first to blues, then to its close cousin, jazz.  Even so, it was tough being a jazz fan in a small town. You had to take whatever slim pickings were available in delete bins, garage sales or thrift shops. (More on that in a future post.) Moving to the big city for school changed that.

In the first two-thirds of my three-year course in broadcasting, I hadn’t fully taken advantage of all that the city offered. My leisure time was largely spent in record stores or repertory cinemas. Sure, I had cherished friends in college, but for those hours outside of school and work, I still felt that there was something missing. At the end of the second school year, in the summer months leading up to my field placement in the fall, the time seemed right for change. Those hot nights and weekends were devoted to the jazz world I’d been enamoured of. It was more than just the music: it was also the way of life and state of mind that it represented. I think too, that my brother’s sudden death the previous December instilled the realization that life is too precious a gift to waste, and one had to get out and take full advantage of it.

The mid-1990s was a perfect time to be a jazz fan. CDs were more affordable, and countless back catalogue recordings were being issued to disk for the first time. There was a renewed mainstream interest in the music thanks to the so-called Young Lions -players like Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, et al- who brought a new vitality, and a new young audience, to the form. Even those who enjoyed the most extreme forms of “alternative music” would support the new avant garde jazz scene (David S. Ware, Fred Frith, etc.). And in the years before CJRT rebranded to JAZZ-FM, one’s favourite music was still generously showcased on college radio shows throughout the day. Speciality TV channels like Bravo had an impressive catalogue of programming dedicated to the form. Plus, with a recovering economy, a lot of Canada Council grant money supported independent music venues and recordings.

In other words, there was a bottomless pit of jazz new and old for discovery. I wanted to immerse into it as much as possible, and find some like-minded comrades in the process.  This task began inconspicuously enough, with a visit to the jazz department of Sam The Record Man, and viewing an ad for volunteers at the DuMaurier Jazz Festival. It seemed like a perfect way to get inaugurated into the jazz scene. Since I worked during the week, I had volunteered for some shifts on the two weekends that bookended the festival.

The final weekend, while hanging around the volunteer headquarters, came with the revelation that there were other people looking to start the same kind of jazz community I was. A handful of us had formed a little community, resulting in subsequent nights on the town, house parties, and the forging of lifelong friendships.  Because of the festival, our lives had changed significantly: especially for me, as through “a friend of a friend”, I would soon meet Susan, the love of my life.

Several times my life has undergone major changes, just due to the right alchemy of things in the air at the time. The summer of 1995 was one of these. This is the first of many blog posts to be published in the next few weeks, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of that “jazz summer”, with  jazz-related posts, and reviews of music pertinent to me at the time- which charted a path to a new consciousness, and to coin a phrase from the “Who’s The Boss” theme song, a brand new life.

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