I’m on holiday this week. The main reason I did this was to take in more of Jazz Winnipeg Festival than I generally do. I got off to a good start on the opening Thursday night. The rest of my first holiday weekend ended up filling up rather quickly. In the end I only caught three or four more acts during the rest of the free stage weekend. Being on holidays allows me to not only stay up as late for shows as I wish(although my age seems to be limiting my ability to do that), but also to attend events that occur earlier in the day. One such event is the Jazz Lab. The Jazz Lab is a series of illustrated lectures and Q & As with various performers.
Monday’s session featured Fred Hersch. Hersch is a New York based pianist with multiple Grammy nominations. He is also a battler who has come back from brushes with death to reclaim his place as one of the great living jazz pianists. This story in the New York Times Magazine gives the details. Thanks to colleague Jamie Howison, author of God’s Mind in that Music, for bringing this to my attention.
Due to a scuba diving injury, Hersch didn’t do much playing, preferring to rest his wrist for his later performance at Maw’s Garage. I was a little leery when I found out that it would be a Q & A session, as I find these often revolve around people wanting to confirm their own sense of good taste and depth of understanding.
Fortunately their was very little of this in the session. In large part because of Hersch’s responses. My favourite answer came in response to a young boy of about 10. He asked if Hersch had ever considered playing any instrument other than piano. In his reply Hersch said that he had played a little bit of violin, and it had helped it him in his writing for strings. However, the general tenor of the the rest of the answer was: if you want to try another instrument, go ahead, but you’re fine if you want to stick with what you are doing. A great answer for all of us, but especially for one so young. If you love doing something keep doing it, and don’t worry about anything else.
This is not to say don’t worry about progress. Hersch himself, who turns 60 later this year, is still taking lessons. His teacher is still teaching, at the age of 94. There is no age limit on learning.
The other moment that stood out for me was when someone asked him about lyrics. Hersch responded that he plays close attention to the lyrics associated to any song he plays. He has a collaborator named Norma Winstone, a singer and songwriter. Often when she puts lyrics to his music, he finds that his approach and understanding of his own compositions is changed in the act of reading the lyrics. Such an attitude requires humility on the part of a composer, which was one of the qualities that shone through in the Jazz Lab session.
Aaron Schorr Quartet, NewsCafe
The Hersch Q & A was a really illuminating session. However, I decided that instead of going to take in his performance at Maw’s Garage, I would head over to the Free Press News Cafe for the Aaron Schorr quartet. I bought a club pass this year, and one of the reasons for doing so was that I wanted to focus on shows by local bands.
Aaron Shorr is a Winnipeg guitarist. You will find him playing club dates not only as a leader but as a sideman as well. He also is part of Artists in Health Care. For this show he was leading a quartet consisting of himself, Will Bonness on piano, Julian Bradford on Bass, and Kevin Waters on drums.
The News Cafe doesn’t have a big stage area, so the band was quite close during the performance. Whether it contributed to the tightness of their playing I don’t know, but I doubt it hurt.
As the leader of the quartet, Shorr brings a clean style to his guitar playing. There is very little of the squeaking of strings as his fingers change their position. This contributes to a bright sound. This clean approach was also notable in the Bradford’s and Bonness’s playing.
The repertoire consisted of a mixture of standards and Shorr’s own compositions. It was in the latter that I found what were the two standout pieces for me. These two compositions marked the end of the first set and the beginning of the second.
The first set ended with the tune Leviathan. Introducing the song Shorr explained how he had been inspired to write the tune after reading Moby Dick. My thoughts in hearing it turned to Psalm 104 where verses 24-26 go as follows::
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
While the story of Moby Dick is a revenge tale, Leviathan seems to be looking at things from the whale’s perspective. One can almost imagine the Great White Whale frolicking in the sea, only to be disturbed by the cruel and vengeful Captain Ahab.
The second set began without any introduction. Listening to the piece I was impressed by the attacking quality in the solos of Bonness and Waters. The piece finished with the sound of the quartet conciously petering out. When the piece was finished, Shorr announced the name, “Designated Hunter.’ It was one of those occasion that you say to yourself: of course what else could it be. The song captured well, both the violence of a hunt, and the exhaustion after it is finished.
The members of this quartet will undoubtedly be performing in several other shows during the rest of the week. If you see any of their names listed among lthe performers, you can’t go wrong attending that show.