Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day two

Day two of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and we had a busy agenda. First stop was a workshop with one of the jazz greats, Quincy Jones. These workshops were free events put on by the festival, and since Quincy didn’t appear to have a particular outline planned for his session, it became more of a question and answer period, facilitated by Claude Nobs, the festival organizer. Audience questions tended to be all over the map; some having to do with breaking into the music (and particularly film scoring) business, and others concerning Jones’ experiences with the “who’s who” of jazz and pop music. Two things in particular resonated with me. The first was that jazz was really a musician’s genre (that is, musicians also make up the core of its audience), and that jazz was a “gumbo” that tended to consume—and be changed by—everything in its path. His other observation—something I need to take more to heart at this stage in my learning curve—was that there was nothing worse than an opportunity you aren’t prepared for. His prescription, of course, was to prepare like mad, and when you’re ready, the opportunities will come. I think I’m gonna write this out and tape it to my music stand at home.

After the workshop, we had a little time before the evening concert began. First up was a duo performance of Chick Corea and Gary Burton, and it would have been great had we not found out upon arriving to the auditorium that the seats we bought (pretty much all that was left at the time) were standing-room-only at the back of the auditorium. That is, behind all the stadium-style seats—and the only real view of the performers were glimpses of them on two large monitor screens up front. It was a big disappointment, mostly because although both Corea and Burton regularly tour in the U.S. and we can see them at home, the same couldn’t be said for the late show—the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band—who we had really made the trip to see. Fortunately, since the big band wasn’t nearly as familiar to the audience as Corea and Burton, at least a third of the people left and we were able to score fourth-row tickets from a sympathetic English couple who wasn’t staying (and if they ever read this, we just can’t thank them enough).

At this point, everything changed for the better, because the George Gruntz band was spectacular. Gruntz is a Swedish composer who writes these unbelievably rich and textured arrangements of his own tunes, band members’ compositions, and a few standards. The band was made up of jazz heavyweights from all over the world; guys like Marvin Stamm and Jack Walrath on trumpet; Dave Bargeron and Earl McIntyre on trombone, Sal Giorgianni and Chris Hunter on sax, Howard Johnson on baritone sax/tuba, Danny Gottlieb on drums… all monsters. They played nearly two hours of the most intense big band jazz I think I’ve ever seen—right up there with the Mingus and Vanguard bands in New York. Some highlights: a killer alto solo from Chris Hunter on So: What (Serious Fun), great trombone solos by Gary Valente and Earl Mc Intyre, and a surprise sit-in by Adam Nussbaum, who happened to be in the audience.

We were so wound up afterward that it was a few hours before we were able to sleep—just a total, life-altering experience.

Just, wow.

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