Open for business AND you call that jazz?!

Over the past few months, I've used this blog to chat about the festival and its activities; my adjustment to the position of Artistic Director; and the music I'm enjoying, locally and on disc. The one thing I haven't done is have a good old-fashioned rant.

Well, a couple of things have stuck in my craw recently and it's time. Let's...get...contentious!

Item #1 - The G20 Summit
You may have heard that we're having a little shindig here in Toronto at the end of the month when world leaders descend upon the city for the G20 Summit. And, if you listen to the media reports, apparently the entire city is shutting down during the three days of the summit, June 25 to 27. With almost regular announcements about various institutions shutting down - most recently the AGO - it's been a frustrating task getting the message out that the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is open for business as usual! All of our venues are outside the security zone. In fact, the security fence stops at King Street, three full blocks south of our mainstage and venues such as The Rex Hotel and the Music Gallery. You won't have to pass through any special security and you won't need any special identification - you just need to show up, as usual, and get down to the music.

In fact, believe it or not, there's actually quite a bit happening downtown during that weekend, though to listen to the media - and even our own mayor - you wouldn't think so. Mayor David Miller was quoted a short while back as saying "don't come downtown" during the summit. For a CBC Radio interview yesterday, his tone had changed - he even mentioned the jazz festival, briefly - but he spent most of the interview complaining about how the federal government was essentially shutting down the city instead of reminding people that, for example, the TTC will be running essentially as usual on the majority of their routes, and that there is still a ton to do downtown.

Now, if I were the mayor - and thankfully I'm not - or if I worked for Tourism Toronto, instead of reporting about the venues that will be closed, or complaining about how inconvenient the summit will be to the city, I would be doing my best to promote all of the great things that will be happening in the city during the summit. I get that it would be impossible to mention every activity available to the public over those three days, but certain events - such as the jazz festival, or Pride - depend on this weekend to be seems as though a mention would be warranted.

I understand that there will be a significant number of people truly and wholly inconvenienced by the summit. People who live and work downtown will have a much harder time getting to work or getting home; hopeful newlyweds have had to change their plans because of suddenly unavailable hotels; in parts of the downtown core traffic will be snarled and tempers will be short. I get all that. But if we are truly to show off this city to our international guests, let's be sure we're doing everything possible to promote the activities they CAN do over those three days instead of those they can't.

For more information about what's going on that weekend - including information about how to get around the city - I encourage you to visit You can also search for cultural events happening in Toronto during that weekend at And, of course, check out our performance calendar for full jazz festival listings including Maceo Parker and Martha Wainwright (June 25); Miguel Zenon, Hilario Duran's big band and Herbie Hancock (June 26); and James Hunter, Taj Mahal, Harry Connick Jr., David Sanborn and Joey Defrancesco (June 27).

Item #2 - You call that jazz?!
Two weeks ago, NOW Magazine, one of Toronto's weekly newspapers, included a positive review of a recent Vince Guaraldi re-release, Peanuts Portraits: The Classic Character Themes . In the review, Jason Keller suggests that Guaraldi's popular Charlie Brown Christmas album is "a jazz masterpiece that can stand alongside many of the great Davis, Coltrane and Bill Evans compositions." That comment elicited the following letter to the editor in a subsequent edition of NOW:

"Regarding your Vince Guaraldi review (NOW, May 27-June 2). As Yuletide records go, A Charlie Brown Christmas surely is about as good as it gets. But “a jazz masterpiece that can stand alongside many of the great Davis, Coltrane and Bill Evans compositions”? Give me a break. If NOW wants to review jazz albums, I suggest you find someone with half a clue on the subject. Pete Gorman, Toronto"

I don't know Pete Gorman, nor do I know his experience with jazz, nor do I know what is in his music collection. But something about his letter bugs me. I understand that letters to the editor are only one person's reaction and shouldn't be taken either as a reflection of a more widespread attitude or as anything more profound than they seem on the surface, but there is an arrogance in the letter I'd like to address...and in part because I know it well.

My wife has sometimes accused me of being a music snob - of having clear ideas about what is good and what is bad, what is jazz and what isn't jazz, and which artists should, as soon as possible, be shipped off the planet. However, I keep those opinions to myself. I don't deride others for their musical taste; it's not really any of my business. Plus, music is such a personal experience: one person's masterpiece is likely another person's trash. Just because I like something, it doesn't necessarily make it good, nor does it mean that you'll like it too.

Jazz as a genre needs support, and I don't think it's helpful to be publicly be saying "this is great" or "this isn't great". I've had to do a lot of thinking about this in my role as Artistic Director. There is a lot of great music out there, and unfortunately a lot of it won't sell many tickets. That won't prevent me from booking it at the festival, but even we have a bottom line to meet, and so that means some shows will be booked that purists won't like. But what if, by booking some of these shows, someone comes to the jazz festival for the first time? And what if, when they come to the festival, they have a good time? And at next year's festival, they come back, and maybe try something new?

Pete Gorman - whoever he is - is certainly entitled to his opinion, and it's vital that conversations about what makes art and what makes art good continue to happen. But by suggesting that, based on one review, NOW needs to find "someone with half a clue on the subject", Pete is missing the point: NOW is reviewing a jazz album, and a very good one at that. Let's take that and build on it, rather than showing - as too many people already think - that to like jazz there's some secret code that one needs to understand.

So there.



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