by carl wilson

Guelph Fest's Fantastic Fiasco

sainkho.jpg

My colleague Mark Miller offers an account in today's Globe of the blowout that went down Friday at the Guelph Jazz Festival. But here's my point of view on one of the most memorable, bad-ass improv shows I've ever seen, which saw a music festival strung up by the weakest wet-spaghetti strings in its own braid of good (or you may say, goody-two-shoes) intentions.

[...]

Mark gets some things right: "Sainkho Namtchylak, a noted singer who improvises in Siberia's Tuvan tradition, was a half-hour into an unhappy, tuneless wail at Chalmers United Church on Friday night. She stood with arms firmly crossed, the picture of defiance, and more than once made a display of consulting her watch, as if to ask, 'How much longer?' At no point did she respond to the tremendous rhythmic undertow generated by the two others on stage, New York bassist William Parker and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake."

Namtchylak's "wail" was actually a drone, and rather than tuneless it was melodically relentless, the same three notes repeated with little variation. (It even could be defended ethnomusicologically, but that would be disingenuous.) Good portions of the audience were walking out and others were buzz-buzzing in their pews, including some beside me doing so in full speaking voice as if nobody could possibly be listening to this - even though Parker and Drake were turning in, off on their own, one of the best sets I've ever heard them do.

At that point, the hapless MC for the evening, one David Burgess, was sent in by festival staff (and according to fest media liaisons, at the demand of other musicians to bail Hamid and William out) and began waving from the side of the stage. Mark was again accurate about what happened next:

"After a moment's confusion, she stopped the performance and reluctantly stepped down to shouts of 'Stay, stay, stay' from the audience. She herself could be heard to ask, 'What is freedom then?' In time, the audience prevailed. Back in place, Namtchylak aired her grievances against the festival and against life in general."

What Mark leaves out here is that after Namtchylak's rant - including some clear charges, like that she wasn't picked up the airport, and some incomprehensible ones - she stood there uncomfortably as tension peaked and members of the audience began shouting out, "Where is the festival director?" and other requests for someone from the extremistly community-minded festival to respond to the complaints and to the awkward situation. There was an utter vacuum. Ajay Heble, the festival's chronically visible artistic director, was for once nowhere to be seen.

Finally, William Parker began playing a golden bowl that produced a calming ring and the focus turned (near unwillingly) back to music. And here's where I differ in the extreme with Mark's account. He says, she "began singing again, this time a little more tunefully but still with some apparent distraction. It was Parker and Drake who gave the music what contour it had."

Obviously Mark would not have enjoyed Namtchylak's performance no matter what. What she did in the ensuing 45 minutes or so was a textbook case of kicking ass and taking names, Tuvan-shaman style. I have a bunch of recordings of her singing, tho I've never heard her live before, and this show outstripped anything I expected. It was furious, virtuosic and encyclopedic, from screams and overtone sequences that seemed likely to splinter the wood of the church if not cause it to burst into flames, to birdlike fluttering melodies that could have turned your blood to fog, and everywhere in between and sometimes - this being Tuvan throatsinging - simultaneously. An incantatory stream of hyperspeed syllables was perhaps most memorable, partly for its pentecostal fire of labial and glottal cascades and partly for the impression (shared, if conversations after the show are any indication, by the whole crowd) that she was putting one mother of a curse on us all.

(Mark claims that the audience cut her off at the end with its applause, but it seemed clear to me the musicians themselves chose their end point - long after their allotted time ran out.)

Parker and Drake served as able accompaniment at that point but their glory was in the first set, while Namtchylak seemed to be throwing the game. I will maintain to all comers, that first section was worth hearing for the bizarre contrast of her inertia and their dynamism - a supremely interesting combination if you closed your eyes to her scowling and just listened to the sound - and I think it's a very weird call to make at any point to decide that an improvisor is doing the "wrong" thing, even if you know that she's doing it to piss you off. That has to be saved for the retrospect.

Still, as Mark said, they were damned if they did stop her and damned if they didn't, and given what we got next, I'm selfishly happy they did.

What I'm not glad about is that they behaved like such passive-aggressive Canadian wimp-ass pissants about it after they took the action. And, though I don't know what the details of what happened beforehand, that they were foolish enough to give this notoriously touchy performer - who is after all from an arctic wasteland that was until recently mostly a place Soviet authorities banished people to, and is only lately a celebrated source of indigenous vocal magic - cause for irritation in the first place. As a friend said, "If they'd been dealing with Cecil Taylor or Anthony Braxton, you know they'd make damn sure that nothing like that got screwed up."

Given Namtchylak's position in her musical culture - an utterly unique one far beyond the range and experience of any other Tuvan singer - that comparison seems apt. And so why did it happen? For all Guelph's self-proclaimed "progressive" character, you have to say it is partly because she's a non-western woman who doesn't command that same respect, because as a result people are ignorant about her stature.

Which made it quadruply nauseating that Burgess - who till that point I could forgive because he was the fall guy, the festival's sacrificial lamb - addressed the issue in his intro to the next set (by Andrew Cyrille's great Pieces of Time drum choir) by saying, "We try to bring cultures together and ... the results are not always peaches and cream," or some such patronizing turn of phrase, blaming what took place on interculturalism itself (!) rather than mismanagement and miscommunication. What a TORRENT OF SMARM! The conflict wasn't between Drake, Parker and Namtchylak, Mr. Burgess. Yes, there was cultural friction, but it wasn't artistic. It was between the festival and the performer. It was between her and you.

I have a stake in the whole mess because I'm all over the festival's program materials: "It's the kind of event that makes you imagine music can change things," I'm quoted. Friday night that was both realized - in the frisson of excitement and of shit actually going down - and betrayed, in the mealymouthed nonsense that was used to defuse it.

Mark says, "This then is Guelph jazz: a place where fans defend on principle an artist's right to perform poorly" as if that were patently absurd. But how do you have free improvisation without that principle? How do you have art, whose history's a sum of brilliant mistakes? The disappointing thing is that it's a place where you thought the festival would defend that principle too.

What is wrong with Guelph has long been that the risks it takes are too dictated by ideology and not enough by art, too directed towards community feel-good moments and not enough to making your spine go gelatinous. Don't get me wrong: For a scrapbooky Ont. college town, the Guelph fest is a fucking brilliant and improbable coup, but after so many years in operation it also needs to take off its Birkenstocks, put on combat boots and wade out into the deeper muck.

Here I'm down with Mark's conclusion, if not with how he got there: "How deliciously ironic, then, that an event that takes such pride in being so high-minded in matters of theory could turn so heavy-handed in the cold face of a little reality."

Bottom line is that conflict is a good thing for art and for thinking, especially in the near-fatally confrontation-phobic Canadian arts, and I think what happened Friday is going to help the festival grow up, if they dare process the experience in a way that isn't purely self-serving. Friday they were on the self-serving path but there are a lot of smart critical people around the fest whom I hope will demand better.

That said, another less enlivening conflict, also involving Mark Miller, came on Saturday during the keynote talk by Archie Shepp, which was mainly an enjoyably circuitous exploration into how improvised African-American music (he doesn't use the word jazz, which he considers insulting) carries the legacy of African culture. But repeatedly he referred to Mark's book Cool Blues: Charlie Parker in Canada by analogy to a story about a carful of bigots rolling down the window to yell "Nigger!" at Charlie Parker on a street corner.

Shepp's anger was over what he considered the book's undue emphasis on Parker's drug abuse compared to his music. I haven't read it, but I do know Mark's work in general and I think the implication that he's a racist is straight-up guff, slander and bile. I also think I can understand why Shepp feels that way - he's seen enough racism from the jazz press, enough misunderstanding of the music far and wide, that he doesn't waste time with a fair trial.

But if Mark's book does overemphasize the druggie angle, I'm afraid he's only falling prey to the same temptation as scribes on Ernest Hemingway, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, you-name-'em, always have and always will give in to, which is that the sordid stuff makes better copy. It is much easier to document and describe than artistic process, heritage and inspiration, so substance loses out to substance abuse.

It is taken too far, and absofuckinglutely it is endemically overdone in treatments of black artists, a kneejerk pathologizing reflex. But that doesn't mean books about Parker should just omit his smack problem either. (See Gopnik on biographical criticism below.)

Though he spoke with rich eloquence, Shepp remains the sharp provocateur he always has been: The accusation of Mark was a tangent from another point, but when he realized it was getting a rise he dug into it. I don't blame Shepp; he has reason for his pique, and his verbal grenade did its job, to percuss the point home. Racism is a question white critics of jazz have to take very seriously; we may never casually absolve ourselves of those underlying biases.

But Mark didn't deserve to be cast as the bête blanc here. His career has been one long, self-sacrificing demonstration of devotion to this music in all its forms, and whatever our other differences, I will stand up for his integrity.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 13 at 11:46 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (14)

 

COMMENTS

I was at the Namtchylak-Drake-Parker concert in Guelph. I didn’t, however, stay in church long enough to get the full text of the sermons issued forth from the various pulpits secreted around the building. I left, feeling embarrassed for the performers and those in the audience who stayed and allowed Namtchylak’s rage to be sprayed relentlessly into their faces. To anyone who found her “performance” interesting or defensible on any musical grounds, I suggest a ringside seat at the next US war—I understand they can be quite sonically “interesting” as well.

In a sense, of course, the Festival was hoist on its own petard by this incident. At one point, the hapless MC actually had the temerity to say something about people in the developing world understanding that sometimes “music is more important than food”; I shouted out “Let them eat CDs”, but few in the PC crowd would have seen my point, never having experienced hunger or deprivation in their lives. But be that as it may. Given the tendency of political values to rush in where a cowardly refusal to confront aesthetic questions has left a gaping vacuum, what really went down that evening will likely never get a proper airing, not in Canada at any rate, and definitely not by the Festival itself.

There seems to be a belief that improvisational jazz (pace Mr. Shepp) and improvisational music in general cannot be judged aesthetically. A friend puts it this way: once you’ve entered a concert of that kind of music, you’ve implicitly agreed to abandon all possibility of judgment. My friend doesn’t like the kind of music served up at the Guelph Jazz Festival, belonging as he does to the “my 8 year-old could have done that” school of art criticism; I find nothing disturbing in his attitude. What is disturbing to me is that supporters and appreciators of the music seem to share this attitude when they suggest that whatever Namtchylak chose to do should have been accepted as an improvisation and to shut her down was tantamount to a denial of artistic freedom.

I love the Guelph Jazz Festival and cannot express strongly enough how thankful I am for it’s very existence. I don’t understand why more Vancouverites don’t join me on the occasional pilgrimage I take to my former hometown to have the opportunity to listen to such a concentrated offering of great music. I really do wish, however, that alongside the feel-good PC nonsense served up as rationale for the value of the music, someone at the Festival would take an aesthetic stance and defend the decision to shut Namtchylak down on the grounds that she was not performing the improvisational music she had been hired to perform. I don’t deny that there was power in her “performance” or that it was an impressive “performance” in itself, just that it was not music in any way, shape, or form. From my perspective, the only sexism or racism involved in the situation was that of the people who, because she was a “woman of culture”, felt she should be allowed to continue expressing her very personal anger at the expense of the 3 or 4 hundred people who’d paid to see her in good faith, people who’d had nothing to do with her not being picked up at the airport or with attacking her with a hammer.

Posted by michael wilson on September 26, 2004 12:55 PM

 

 


Interesting to read the varied perspectives on the Namtchylak/Parker/Drake concert in Guelph. Surely it confirms an old adage (tho precisely which, I’m not sure: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ or ‘There’s one born every minute’?).

Anyway, and for what it’s worth, I too was at the concert and felt very much perplexed by what I’d witnessed. Unlike those who listened from up close and managed to pick up the subtle nuances of Namtchylak’s microtonal pitch shifting, I listened – and watched – from up in the peanut gallery (late start leaving Toronto, bad traffic, good seats gone by the time I got there). So I can’t comment on Namtchylak’s employment of this particular technique in her vocal palette. But last time I checked, there was a strong argument to be made that the success of a given COLLECTIVE improvisation ultimately rested on the degree of COMMUNICATION between the players. And to my ears there was little to no communication between Namtchylak and Parker/Drake, and consequently little CREATED (a proviso: Parker/Drake valiantly tried to get things going).

Another point: Surely all who attended will agree that the first 40 minutes of the concert was largely a failure, given the massive talent on stage and the potential for something truly great. So I wonder why Parker and Drake kept playing for as long as they did when Namtchylak was not listening, not communicating, and impatiently checking her watch. What the festival organizers did – giving Namtchylak the hook – was INEXCUSABLE. But did it have to get to this point? Did Parker and Drake have any responsibility to wind things down – if only momentarily, perhaps to confer with Namtchylak and try to get on the same page – when they realized the performance was a bust? I dunno. Thoughts???

Posted by Randall on September 23, 2004 9:56 PM

 

 

Hello Carl! It's comforting to hear from someone else who felt about Namtchilak's show the same way I did. I thought the second half was unbelievable. And as for the first half, once I got past squirming in expectation of change, I found it remarkable in its own way. Most people I spoke to perceived it as pure protest, but to me it was music, however fuelled by her anger and frustration. Drake and Parker seemed also to hesitate for a few minutes and then went along with it and they were smoking. They would have dropped out if they thought it was just a 'scene'.

By the way, I have heard recordings that pair Asian improvisors with shamans (like Kang Tae Hwan's 'Tokebi', for instance). These recordings contain enormous tension because the musicians don't sound like they are playing 'together' in the conventional sense - it's OK to say 'conventional' for free improv, right? Sainkho comes from a different tradition but shares that quality, even on her recordings. I think this may account for at least part of some listeners' discomfort.

Regards,
Michelangelo Iaffaldano, Toronto

Posted by Michelangelo Iaffaldano on September 20, 2004 8:22 PM

 

 

p.s. india cooke and joelle leandre BLEW ME AWAY!!...it doesn't get any better than this...guelph festival rox!!

Posted by nilan perera on September 20, 2004 12:58 AM

 

 

...yeah, i was in the front row for this one......
1)in spite of the fact she was putting her own agenda on display (with lots of lighting!), i found that her 'performance' became a fairly interesting display of microtonal pitch shifting...i too was initially bored silly but i buckled down and really listened and found that she was actually doing something....what was wierd was the fact that drake and hamid seemed to be playing on another planet....not very improvisational...who thought this pairing up in the first place??
2) she was being pretty obvious about wanting to be gone when her time was up (checking her watch), so it'd probably been ok to let her go the extra 20 minutes (i'm guessing)..instead of making a 'scene', as my mom would say.
3) pulling someone offstage at an improv music gig for 'contractual reasons' referring to their performance, as explained to me by mr.(shoot the messenger)burgess, is laughable in the extreme....along the same lines as handing out speeding tickets at a formula 1 car race (ref.'apocalypse now'in more ways than one))
4)the thought of the possibility of pulling someone off stage because some 'sponsors stormed out' is a scary one...i really hope this wasn't the case for all the obvious reasons.
5)i hope that the festival engages in some conflict resolution training....don't let this lesson go to waste!!
6) as for ramblin'-cool-old-guy shepp....i'd get pretty wierded out too if i was intelligent and had full knowledge of the systematic rape of my people and culture for the past few hundred years....racism is systemic in north amerika and none of the things he said is news to african people...deal with it!...and as for his horn playing...well, he's always been articulate...some people just dont like what he says....i do!

peace...nilan

Posted by nilan perera on September 20, 2004 12:40 AM

 

 

"it is interesting and often fun to read critical discourse on music in the press, but claims by an individual to speak for what the audience as a whole were feeling are speculative at best."

good point rob. that shouldn't restrain a critic from saying exactly how he or she felt about it, but as always, critics shouldn't go putting thoughts in the heads of other people, whether performers or audience, as much as we can help it.

thanks a lot for your points. (everybody.)

Posted by zoilus on September 16, 2004 2:53 PM

 

 

the "contractual agreement between audience and performer" was broken by the hook, not the performer. i paid a cover charge to listen to musicians, not festival staff. i made a decision do engage in a listening way with what was happening in the music. the idea that someone outside of that relationship thinks they know what's best for me or the musicians is untenable. similarly, it is interesting and often fun to read critical discourse on music in the press, but claims by an individual to speak for what the audience as a whole were feeling are speculative at best.

i also want to say that while the fiascos are getting a lot of attention, there was a lot of wonderful music at the festival this year!

Posted by rob clutton on September 16, 2004 6:28 AM

 

 

To the last point a simple misunderstanding. Sainkho was most definitely booked, anticipated and provided a strong presence in the workshop with the other female improvisors hosted by Kate Hammett Vaughan. In any other situation there would have been a flight number, a ride, personal host (in the case of someone like Archie Shepp or Amiri Baraka). Through either miscommunication or ill communication there was no word from Sainkho prior to her arrival. Literally an hour before the performance there was no word on her whereabouts despite repeated efforts in the previous days to make contact. She was rightly pissed though about not being picked up and in her eternal credit she diligently made her way to Guelph and the Ramada where she 'appeared' moments before she was to go on.

Posted by Luke Bowden on September 15, 2004 6:32 PM

 

 

i'm reluctantly weighing in because i don't understand luke bowden's statement that sainkho "arrived unanticipated" for a workshop that she was clearly scheduled to be in on the website, in the program, and in the colloquium flyer... her presence was part of the reason i attended the workshop, as well as the friday night concert, and i feel priveleged to have heard her voice.

Posted by rob clutton on September 15, 2004 6:07 PM

 

 

Just to clarify the quote was me quoting myself to seperate my remarks here from an uninterrupted chronology relatively speaking. Hindsight is bound to be twenty twenty on this one and I am capable of acknowledging my complicity. Look these things happen, sound companies get ripped off, promoters screw each other over, sidemen go home broker then when they went on tour- the important thing is that we react swiftly and compassionately and moreover make a decision out of the public eye and stick to it. The delicious irony for me is that of all the people to walk by while the board was flip flopping it had to be Mark Miller. I was glad to have that transparency though.

Please appreciate that I really don't want to be painted with the passive aggressive brush and that I was trying to effectively do group arbitrage with a bunch of spun out soccer dads. I also didn't really 'decide' to turn off the mics I presented it as the least extreme decision to Ajay and he selected it as his option (I thought it his only option but further wincing decisions were made disregarding my informed perspective). Also consider that at this point I was assessing whether this could be perceived as a contractual violation (which it wasn't and really the master stroke in Sainkho's credit), whether to settle for her full fee, whether to sternly rebuke her or dissuade other festivals from booking her. The whole situation was highly malleable and open to multiple interpretations.

It was one of those really impossible situations with no precedent and hence required an innovative response. Considering no one noticed the microphone being turned off, I believe as soon as the row started up- the sound guy brought it back up by the way, it seemed like the best way to minimize cranial bleeding in the audience. Her ambient voice and the bit that was going through the other onstage mics was more than enough. Thank you though for your sage remarks and appreciation of the deep nuances of this situation.

Posted by Luke Bowden on September 15, 2004 3:44 PM

 

 

Thanks Luke. I was a bit confused in your account as to when you were quoting and whom you were quoting and when you were speaking for yourself, but the background is helpful.

That said - taking her out of the sound mix would have been the MOST passive-aggressive approach - although i guess turning her down to a less dominant level in the mix would have been reasonable. interrupting her was the more honest and brave approach, if it had been done right, although whether honesty is the highest value in this case is another question.

Also it seems clear that the cultural aspect of it mattered less than the personality, so I would withdraw my remarks in that direction. Sounds like S.N. was more impossible than I could have imagined.

Posted by zoilus on September 15, 2004 3:14 PM

 

 

Carl you really are getting what went down here. In my eyes it was a crucible for a particularly convoluted and complex subculture no one wants to admit they don't understand. The emperor wears no clothes. I would like to give you a touch more biographical information to flesh out your understanding though. Below is an autobiographical firsthand account from behind the scenes. I spent the most time with Sainkho, Parker and Drake, settled their restaurant bills, got them to their hotels, managed their soundcheck and expectations. But I am just one volunteer working 18 hours a day for a week straight for a festival that doesn't seem to know whether it's Reno or Vegas.

"I was directly responsible for the hospitality and staging of the festival over the course of five days. I had not been provided adequate resources or staff to meet all of the artists needs although everyone was well taken care of in the end. Sainkho disappeared a few days prior to the event and was upset to not have been met at the airport which she did not inform anyone she was arriving at. She miraculously arrived unanticipated for a workshop on the second day of the festival which should have been an omen of things to come. On the day of the performance she waited a bit for her soundcheck while Cyrille and his quartet ran through their rehearsal time. Drake and Parker were milling about town and unfortunately Sainkho was left unattended. She was stoic and impossible to begin with but her mood soured. She disappeared again right before the performance prompting me to hold the doors until she could be located. She turned up in full costume right before the show literally. Parker was in a sort of mardi gras day headdress and full robes as was Drake. They took the stage and I breathed a sigh of relief. Twenty minutes later the artistic director of the festival Ajay Heble approached me wild eyed to say can we talk about what is going on here as I noted a tuneless drone from inside the church doors with a joyful sound right behind it. Ajay explained how she had been checking her watch periodically and was in my words ‘taking the piss’. I took Ajay into another room and advised him of his options. By this point perhaps fourty minutes of an hour performance had elapsed. The sponsors had stormed out exacerbating the situation greatly from the festival’s perspective. Essentially my advice was there is nothing you can do, let it go on and it will be over soon. The Pieces of Time four piece drum quartet was the second half of the double bill so my hope was to focus on that and just let this horror show play itself out. The farthest I was willing to go is kill her vocal mix literally taking her microphone right off line. It was agreed this was the course of action to take. With some difficulty I achieved consensus with the soundman to remove her from the mix and thought the matter resolved. At this point in the lobby of the church members of the jazz festival’s volunteer board began to debate whether or not to pull her. Again, while my opinion was not respected due to my place in the pecking order, I made explicitly clear that to pull her was not an option given the values the festival and audience hold dear. While not present tending to Cyrille et al the MC was surprisingly tasked with getting out the hook and proceeded to the stage to wave her off. At this point the true horror show began. The music stopped. Sainkho effectively had a private conversation with the talking head with the full audience present. She was speaking in her broken way about how she was a professional and had two degrees (alluding to her less than professional treatment), she spoke of not wanting to bear the cross behind her in the church, she reacted to a sponsor (‘Partners In Therapy’) poster as if it had been intended as a slight against her own recovery from a vicious assault. In short she had a narcissistic or grandiose episode with touches of delusion. The audience then became vocal as the ten percenters and one percenters expressed their satisfaction at the course of action or dissatisfaction at the ‘violence against artists’ as one particularly vocal woman who later stood at the front of the church screamed out. It would be hard to imagine just how ugly the scene was. And then like a squawl that suddenly passes just about as the audience was going to go ballistic William Parker brought them back from the void. He ran a wood stick around the rim of a metal Buddhist bowl and created a softening dulcimer tone. The room slowly settled and Sainkho opened her mouth and sang like a songbird. For thirty more minutes perhaps they gave the performance they should have to begin with and Sainkho administered her trademark if a touch lacklustre throat singing. The audience, the selfsame audience that had endured her di or tritonal screed, leapt from their seats and gave her a too cute standing ovation. The show let out for intermission and Pieces of Time brought everyone back once again."

It may be off point to lay all of this on cultural or racial differences though. I endeavoured to treat everyone of every race, gender and skill level equally and was quite successful except in this and a couple of very limited instances. I was given no budget whatsoever to pay for any of these artists hospitality, begged, borrowed and stole to meet their requests and generally endured a pride swallowing, deeply shaming (and deeply rewarding) series of experiences.

Part of the challenge on that particular bill was that Andrew Cyrille was prickly himself and had a compliment of intensive needs of his own. The festival doesn't seem to get that if you invite artists from around the world to travel often upwards of ten hours for a one hour performance you can anticipate high technical expectations on their part. Andrew Cyrille asked for a Ferrari drumkit and they gave him a souped up Volvo (okay it was a '83 Tercel), the same one they inadequitely supplied Susie Ibarra with. These folks aren't primadonnas generally but do demand that they be treated with the respect they deserve. They are conscious of the rip off and not wanting to get burned like any old sideman.

In terms of Sainkho specifically the blow by blow should fill things out for you. There was an episode earlier in the afternoon where she had a scene with the audio archivist for the festival concerned (unnnecessarily) that her unique voice would be pirated for samples (the audio recording is for the festival's archive and their use solely and is moreover a contractual obligation). I truly believe she was somewhat mistreated but that she never could have been pleased. Some players have their shit together on stage and their business shit too and she was not one of them.

You have seized on all of the elements of this story that I find extremely distasteful. The board was woefully incapable of assessing the maelstrom they were involved in and did behave like wimp ass passive aggressive Canadian pissants. Burgess should never have been asked to do what he did- he was the pharmakon but a not very good one. It displayed a wholesale ignorance of the values of the collective endeavour. His remarks afterwards were in fact a TORRENT OF SMARM and certainly did not reflect the candour, tone or content I advised. My hope is that the egotism and elitism that this inner circle has aggrandized themself with will be swiftly drained like a lanced boil.

In particular I would like to say that if someone purporting to be a media liaison (I am imagining Vish Khanna a local writer was who you were referring too) told you this was done 'at the demand of other musicians to bail Hamid and William out' then that is most certainly a grossly distorted spin or a boldfaced lie. The audience was divided but the musicians in attendance, such as Susie Ibarra and Reggie Workman, while feeling it was grossly unprofessional and seemingly unprecedented would likely have come out on the side of the artists. Besides if that remark were even remotely true then Burgess would not have had to offer Hamid an apology at my insistence because of (to paraphrase) how incredibly uncool that was. Hamid said later in his gentle giant way that when something like that happens it disrupts everyone's energy and creates a palette with which to work (another paraphrase). Everything happened as it should but it was not a fine expression of grace under pressure. If the board's actions had been put to music it would have been a dreadful mess. Great improvisation is based on high levels of active listening- their listening sucked and they played a straight up bad tune. There are a tonne of other remarks I could make but am writing a big piece for publication. I will say that Moye and Asante had the best lines of the night. News at 11.

Posted by Luke Bowden on September 15, 2004 12:26 PM

 

 

Carl, I am not sure how valuable my comments are as I was unable to attend this year's festival (what a drag!) but I find the situation to be very complicated, and everyone seem's to have some valuable input and suggestions on how this should have been handled.

I do think it is good to remember as James pointed out, it is a contracted performance, that not unlike Charlie Parker's days on the planet, there are some expectations when an artist is hired to give a performance.

I also would like to point out that just because someone is an experienced and popular improviser (standing in the shadows suggesting the hook be given) doesn't mean they are necessarily any of the following:
a) successful jazz festival directors
b)mental therapist or sociologists
c)open-minded, patient listeners

p.s. I like Mark's book.

Posted by tim posgate on September 14, 2004 11:18 PM

 

 

I'm still processing my thoughts on Sainkho's "performance" for my own review in Coda magazine, but at least one free improviser who witnessed it, drummer Famoudou Don Moye, felt that she would have been given the hook -- literally -- a lot earlier if she'd been performing at the Apollo Theatre, where they used to do that on a regular basis. What you don't address, Carl, is that this was a contractual agreement between audience and performer, not simply an artist making a statement. I don't share the view that the Guelph festival or any other festival has anything to learn from this, other than how to handle such a situation more tactfully than David Burgess -- as ham-fisted and foot-in-mouthed an emcee as you'll ever find -- did.

On the Shepp keynote, I have to disagree with you wholeheartedly. What he served up was not scholarship, or even original thinking, but third-hand research and first-rate vitriol. The entire context for Charlie Parker's triumph at Massey Hall has to do with his addictions. Any book about the event that does not address this would simply be dishonest. Miller was simply doing his job, and for Shepp to compare this with a white racist yelling "Hey Nigger" from a passing car is just bullshit.

Shepp has been given more praise by white critics than most musicians ever get. What perhaps he hasn't received is much praise since the mid-'80s, when the quality of his playing dropped off significantly and the amount of media attention he received followed.

Posted by James Hale on September 14, 2004 5:01 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson