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Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Monday, May 08, 2006

JAZZFEST, TULANE and PROGRESSION IN THE ARTS

Jazzfest has come and gone. I think I’m on my way to becoming one of those New Orleanians who doesn’t even bother to go, or maybe only goes for one day. It just wears me out too much. And, as I’ve said before (I may even have said it here) I’m not really into outdoor, ‘festive’ jazz. Deep down, I believe the music is best enjoyed in a sheltered area with four walls, floor, and ceiling, and a waiter standing by with a tray of cocktails, as God in Her wisdom intended. Of course, it ain’t all out at the fairgrounds. Plenty happening in the clubs, too.

I’m not going to attempt an overview, as I did last year, or even a series of individual reviews. For a variety of reasons (some of which I’ll go into shortly) I’m just too beat. And not at all anxious at the moment to crank up the default style for reviewing New Orleans music these days, which is mostly cheerleading with a soupcon of vernacular culture-mongering thrown in. You know, the old ‘rich gumbo of styles’ routine. It’s true of course, but you don’t need to hear it again from me.

I will say a couple of things. There are old-school jazz guys in this town who know exactly where the line between art and commerce lies. They have to; they’ve been out there scuffling with the horn way back when ‘art’ didn’t have nothing to do with it. ‘Art’ was an alto player from San Pedro, you know? So now you can walk into the WWOZ Jazz Tent and see a monster tenor player like James Rivers with a harmonica welded onto his flute, switching back and forth, singing Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man.” And then following that with a way up version of ‘Trane’s “Moments Notice.”

Also, I’m glad I’m not Derek Douget. Derek is Ellis Marsalis’ tenor player. Derek had to face off against Lew Tabakin at the Jazz Tent the other day, for 20 minutes worth of Tenor Madness. Scary.

And Herbie Hancock walking into Terence Blanchard’s gig at Snug Harbor and asking to sit in. Double Scary.

That’s all I’m going to say about Jazzfest in New Orleans. Except why don’t you all come next year? You’d be fools not to.

TULANE

I’m fried, me. I mean beat to my socks. The confluence of Jazzfest, French Quarter Fest, end of term exams, end of term concerts and the impending “Lagniappe” semester (a special 6 week compressed semester that Tulane is offering its students free of charge this year) has kept me very, very busy. The All-Ensemble Jazz Concert at Tulane’s Dixon Theater was in many ways a vindication and acknowledgement of all our collective efforts since Katrina. The theater itself took two feet of water. All of the orchestra level seats had to be replaced, as well as a great deal of the electricals. It’s a miracle that the semester happened at all, and the viability of the concert space is largely the work of Michael Batt and the Tulane technical staff.

In terms the ensembles themselves, all of them acquitted themselves magnificently, in particular my “Friday” Combo. I’ve worked with most of these guys for two years now, and have watched them develop from a high school level to the threshold of professional status. Bassist Will Buckingham, in fact, just made his professional debut at Jazzfest this year, as a sideman for Patrice Fisher. I’m proud of Will, and of all my students. It’s a privilege and an honor to be associated with them.

This years’ concert was extra special kicks, because it featured our new jazz piano instructor, Frederick Sanders. I’d never met Frederick before (although we have a mutual friend in clarinetist and jazz educator Alvin Batiste) but he came highly recommended. His resume is certainly impressive. It includes stints as a sideman with Clark Terry, David “Fathead” Newman, Roy Hargrove, Eryka Badu and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I was short a piano player for the big band, and asked Frederick if he’d take the chair for the concert. He was an hour early for the dress rehearsal, stayed late, and asked if it would be ‘alright’ if he sat in with the Friday band as well. He lit up the whole room at the concert, and the students rose to meet his efforts. I’m a firm believer in giving the students opportunities to play with world class musicians. It never fails to kick their playing up a notch.


PROGRESSION IN THE ARTS.

I’m often asked (usually by people not from here) if I think New Orleans music is ‘stuck’ or ‘failing to progress’ in some way. Usually this is asked by folks who haven’t caught any music beyond Preservation Hall (never mind that the music and musicians there are utterly unlike those from say, thirty years ago) but sometimes I even hear it from people who’ve dipped more than a toe in the local culture. This progressive view of history is so deeply ingrained in our worldview that folks are sometimes shocked when I say that I don’t think music progresses.

Really. Nothing ‘progresses,’ man. Changes and mutates, sure, but the idea that Wagner is somehow more ‘developed’ than Frescobaldi, or Archie Shepp more ‘sophisticated’ than Lester Young is not grounded in any kind of logic. It’s an idea that grows out of trend-pimping and here-today-gone-tomorrow hipster aesthetics, not from any serious examination of the music.

How would one define ‘sophisticated’? As ‘more complex’? In that case, a four voice Baroque fugue would rank as more complex that a lot of present day homophonic melodic construction. Modal jazz? Alphonse Picou was doing it in 1925. Graphic scores? Check out some of those early renaissance motets in Grout’s “History of Western Music.”

So if we use only the ‘change and mutate’ model, New Orleans music is anything but stuck. Certainly the brass bands, especially those staffed by younger players, don’t sound anything like the old heads. Even the ‘new school’ guys, like the Dirty Dozen and the Rebirth, don’t sound anything like they did twenty years ago, and the really young bands, like the Stooges, and the Young Soul Rebels, also have their own thing. The funk, brass-hop, brass band, straight-ahead jazz, avente garde jazz, rhythm and blues and traditional jazz bands all share personnel and a high level of musicianship. As Alvin Batiste once told me, all these categories ain’t nothing but divider cards in a record store. They are dreamed up by marketing executives, not musicians. New Orleans may seem like a very conservative town, but it’s in a swamp. Things change all the time. Of course, sometimes they sink.

Okay, that’s it. End rant. I just get tired, sometimes, of ‘jazz journalists’ who fly down from New York for a weekend, take a walk around the French Quarter, and conclude that “jazz is dead in the birthplace of jazz.”

Comments on "JAZZFEST, TULANE and PROGRESSION IN THE ARTS"

 

Blogger tcsenior said ... (9:11 PM) : 

john, you're too good to us.

-max

 

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