by carl wilson

Guelph Revisited: Royal City Standoff

"Everyone running around all upset and rumors flying. Can't you feel it in your fingers and your toes? It's like being alive ... man, all that conversation!" (Rayanne, My So-Called Life)

James Hale writes in the comments sections, backed up in part by Tim Posgate:

" .... she would have been given the hook -- literally -- a lot earlier if she'd been performing at the Apollo Theatre ... What you don't address, Carl, is that this was a contractual agreement between audience and performer, not simply an artist making a statement."

Right, and Namtchylak deserves criticism for her behaviour. But the problem is that it's improvisation: At the Apollo the hook is a known part of the contract, but at Guelph it's not. What's expected at the Apollo was obvious. But improv is often entertaining only by a tenuous stretch of the imagination. It doesn't follow the rules to begin with, so how do we say when the performer is breaking the rules?


To use a canonical example, wouldn't John Cage's tuxedo-clad silent piano player have gotten a big humongous hook? Experimental music flirts with disaster on purpose. Part of its contract, I'd argue, is that disaster might actually happen. This incident made one wonder whether Guelph's feel-good vibe can handle that aspect of the music.

"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."

But isn't that quite a lot to learn actually - how to handle such a situation? After all, Guelph didn't use the hook - it invented a hook where none had been before. If it was unclear in my previous post, I think that's actually a brave and justifiable choice, but it's not a simple one, and surely it has implications. I'm sure the festival won't make a habit of it, but this option suddenly exists. What if it is used again, with slightly less justification? It would not take many incidents for Guelph to become known as the festival where they'll stop your improv if they don't like how it's going.

As well, the follow-through was terrible, and I don't think it's fair to put it all on Burgess. Even though he comported himself gracelessly, he was also thrown out on his own into a bizarre and hostile situation by people above him in the hierarchy, rather than have them risk articulating their own positions, which would have been greeted with much more respectful attention. If you're going to do something as serious as stopping a performer mid-show, no matter what the reason, you are humiliating the performer and senior festival people should have the guts to show their faces too.

The other lesson is that if you are bringing in a performer who is globally renowned for being temperamental, be prepared. Even if she's not the most famous performer and you'd rather not bother, don't allow things to get out of hand. By being so difficult she risks screwing up her own career, but don't allow room for it to screw up your festival too.

Edited to add: 1. I seem to have been off-base on this aspect. From reports in backchannel emails and also in the comments to the original post (see below), Namtchylak's mood was so erratic that nobody could have anticipated where it was going. So I take back my remarks on that matter.

2. The role of the sponsors and the desire to placate the sponsors is emerging as a depressingly central element in this tale. Again, see comments.

Needless to say, if it does go wrong, don't follow up by delivering an ethnocentric moralistic homily, as if the whole incident were some kind of staged parable you'd put on for our betterment. Ahem.

As for the Shepp talk, I think James has misunderstood me -

"What he served up was not scholarship..."

I never said it was anything of the sort. Just said that it was an enjoyable ramble around his subject, when it wasn't turning to slander.

I do think addiction is an over-stressed and undercontextualized topic in jazz writing; not having read Mark's book I shouldn't comment on that particular case. In general it is a challenge to balance an account of personal dysfunction with one of artistic creation and arts biographers, for good reason, consistently have trouble with it. Shepp was overlooking that and assuming it was solely a black-jazz thing when the same applies to artists, musicians, writers, actors, etc. etc. whenever their stories are told.

So I agree with James wholeheartedly that what Shepp said about Mark was bullshit. I just don't think that it came out of some sort of gratuitous maliciousness - I think it had to do with the defensive habits of a lifetime, which are formed by things a lot more concrete than jazz journalism, but with which jazz journalists have to be prepared to contend and cope.

If you're a white writer or musician or fill-in-the-blank in jazz, you'll probably get called a racist along the way, and if you can't handle and even sympathize with that, however unfair the specific charge may be, you're heading into the wrong minefield. I'm quite sure Mark knows that, even if Shepp's wild punch stung.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 15 at 1:17 AM | Linking Posts




Zoilus by Carl Wilson