15 June 2007

Don Byron ... (at RIJF)

The 6th iteration of the Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF) has been up and running for about a week. Tonight I finally made it downtown for what my AWOL research assistant Caroline Kobick would call “a show.” I heard a trio headlined by Don Byron (clarinet/tenor) with Jason Moran (Piano) and Billy Hart (drums). Byron refers to this as his “Ivey-Divey” trio partly beause it is modelled after a group led by the legendary tenor saxaphonist Lester Young (w/ Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich) in the late 1940s. ('Ivey-Divey' being one of Young's off-beat phrases of praise or resignation.)

Among the extremely cool things about this trio is that it spans generations; Hart is nearly 70 (but do not let that fool you!), Moran is in his early thirties (don't be fooled there either), while Byron is just shy of fifty. In any case, the music was superb, not a revivalist exercise, but subtly understated and edgy at the same time. The "show" was at Kilbourn Hall at our very own Eastman School of Music, which is a terrific medium-sized venue. Byron, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music joked tonight that he'd last been in Rochester three decades ago for an audition at the Eastman School, noting too that he was not admitted. Byron released this CD on Blue Note in 2004. I recommend it as well as his many others.


All in all the show was well worth the trip downtown. But enough with the praise. The RIJF is really quite embarassing. For every show like this evening there are at least three or four that are not Jazz by any description. Those that bear a family resemblance to jazz are pretty much as mainstream and unthreatening as you might imagine. Glancing down the schedule, it 's a safe bet that the dissonant notes likely are as scarce as meatloaf in my Irish Catholic grandma's pre-Vatican II kitchen on a friday night. The vast majority of the performers (especially headliners) are white, which might be fine at a bluegrass festival. This, however, is an undertaking allegedly presenting an art form whose virtually every major innovator has been, and continues to be, African American. Basically, though, the organizers have taken the label Jazz and plastered it on a line-up of sundry pop acts that will appeal to - read not challenge or threaten in any possible way- suburban ticket buyers. And, speaking of those ticket buyers ... the audience. which was overwhelmingly white (in a city with a population that is nearly 40% African American), seemed to think they were attending the all-you-can-eat buffett at a strip mall Chinese joint. There were massive migrations in and out of the hall following and during virtually every number. You'd think well-brought-up suburbanites would know how to behave more appropriately.

[The photo of Don Byron top right is © Cori Wells Braun.]
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P.S.: In a post on trumpter Dave Douglas some time back I noted that his music publisher is called "Noenmity Music." Byron's compositions are published by "Nottuskegeelike Music."

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the audiences were pretty odd. Interest in or even understanding of the music seemed to be minimal. I plunked down a decent amount of money to see Jerry Lee Lewis (as you noted, not really jazz, but someone I wanted to see at some point in my life nonetheless). The crowd was the worst part of the show. Everyone sat there like a concrete statue, as if they had been accidentally been transported to an alien planet and where utterly baffled by what was transpiring, until he played Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On and Great Balls of Fire. Not that those are bad songs, they certainly aren't. The point is that these two songs represent a small portion (literally and in terms of style) of the music he's made over the years. Furthermore, when he announced that he was going to play a Gene Autry song, there was complete silence, broken only by a few snickers and laughs! Did they know anything about the artist they were seeing? I guess it was just "the thing to do in town" for those with time and 60-80 bucks to spare.

20 June, 2007 21:53  

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