Some lessons in generosity

As you may have already read elsewhere, I had the honour of sitting on the jury which decided who would receive the inaugural Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Jazz Artist Award. (TAFEJAA for short. Hmm. Needs work.) This past Tuesday evening, I also had the honour of announcing the winner at the awards prevention reception - congratulations once again go to Chelsea McBride for taking the prize, and to the two other deserving nominees, Ernesto Cervini and Alexis Baro.

I ended up getting much more out of my Tuesday evening than simply attending what was a lovely reception. The evening provided me with two outstanding examples of generosity.

First was the generosity of Cheryl and Manuel Buchwald who, last year, out of the blue, called the Toronto Arts Foundation, saying they wanted to make a donation to support emerging jazz artists in this city. When told no avenue currently existed for this kind of support, they worked with the Foundation to create what we now know as (or at least what I'm calling, for the purposes of this post) the TAFEJAA. And, they've committed to funding the award for ten years.

But that's not all. Just before the winner was announced on Tuesday night, the Buchwalds decided that none of the nominees should walk away empty-handed, and so committed additional funds, again for the next ten years, to ensure that the runners-up also get a prize.

This kind of support for jazz is almost unheard of in Toronto. Jazz doesn't have the same tradition of patronage found in classical music and the opera (among others). With their generous donation, the Buchwalds are ensuring that at least one emerging artist each year receives funding which ideally will help them advance their career. I also hope that they are blazing a trail for other jazz-lovers in the city, encouraging more people to step up and support the music in a substantial way.

After the reception came lesson number two in generosity. A number of us hand't yet eaten dinner, so three of us decided to grab a bite. We invited one of Toronto's veteran jazz musicians, who was also at the reception, to join us. (I'm not going to name him, because I don't know if he'd want me to.) It's someone with whom I've already had a couple of great conversations, and Tuesday night was no different. He sat at the table with us three (relative) whippersnappers, regaling us with great stories but also engaging us on a variety of music-related issues. Conversation ranged from concerts we had seen to the roots of reggae (jeez I have a lot to learn) to why Nickelback may or may not be good (seriously). And then he picked up the tab for dinner.

Mentorship has always played a role in the development of jazz music, but it takes a certain kind of personality - a generosity of character and spirit - for the mentorship piece to truly work. Tuesday night, I was so grateful to have the chance to sit in a relaxed setting and listen to stories and have stimulating discussion with friends and colleagues of two different generations. I was reminded that though I have much to learn, I needn't learn in isolation - ours is an outstanding community of musicians who, for the most part, want to share their experiences with others.

Thanks to the generosity of others, what started already as a special evening turned into something much more. A nice lesson any time of year.


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