discover jazz – day 3

scratching

Sunday, rainy and cool and just right for a few of the indoor-oriented happenings at the Festival.

JazzLab opened today, Discover Jazz’s annual mini-festival of educational sessions, creative exploration, and improvisation. JazzLab offers artists the opportunity to develop their art in the (very) public forum of the Firehouse Gallery on Church Street, while being streamed live on the air at Burlington’s community radio station, The Radiator. It’s quite a setup, and often provides some of the event’s most interesting and adventurous programming.

I  stopped by the Firehouse this afternoon looking forward to the scheduled “how to” demonstration with the iconic hip-hop producer and innovative DJ, 88 Keys. The write-up said he’d be sharing some of his moves and talking about his life as the producer of folks like Mos Def, and Kanye West. I arrived a little late for the session, and never did see him. Had he been there earlier? Was the person actually leading the demo someone who was introduced as a sub during the first part I missed? I didn’t find out the answers to either question.

What I did learn (from the unnamed DJ leading the talk) was how the standard “paradiddle” drumming figure translates into a comparable rhythm with the scratching technique used in turntable DJ’ing.

I found out what effects with names like “2-click flairs” (aka: “orbits”); “crabscratches”; and “stutter crabs” sound like in the context of a serious groove in progress. I’ve heard these effects before, of course, as has most anyone whose even moderately familiar with the popular music of the last 20 years or so. (Remember DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the Fresh Prince? Me too. And that was just the beginning.) But it never occurred to me the sounds I was hearing were stock patterns and moves, with commonly known names among those in the business. Turns out these artists have developed their own musical language, parallel to the conventional one we all know with common tempo and dynamic lexicon like “allegro” and “forte”, and standardized notation. But the terms and lingo for this kind of music-making is specific to the tools and moves they use. Unlike standardized musical terminology, “crabscratching” and “crossfade hits” don’t apply universally to music made with a diversity of instruments. Turntable DJ’ing is very much its own thing, with its own specific language. Who knew it was such a refined (and defined) art? Did you know there are schools to teach folks the ins and outs of  how to be an ace “scratch DJ”? All true.

Great afternoon with JazzLab learning about this world which, until today, I’d only experienced from the outside listening in.

From there it was on to a short walk around Church Street, a visit to the new Big Joe Burrell statue (its animated bronze sax gleaming with moisture in the afternoon rain), and a stop at Leunig’s to catch the first couple of sets with the Queen City Hot Club (guitarists Jim Stout and Jared Volpe), a group that debuted at last year’s Discover Jazz Festival. They kept the packed streetside tent swinging through favorite standards like All of Me and Daphne, and Swing Gitane.  The insistent splatter of rain on the outdoor patio tiles was right on cue when the duet launched into Django’s nostalgic classic, Nuages (“clouds”). It just wouldn’t have sounded right to hear that song on a bright, sunny day.

Mose Allison also held two shows tonight at Flynn Space, but I didn’t make it to either of them. I’m not a big fan, honestly. It’s not personal, I know Mose is a great songwriter and pianist. It’s that half-singing, half-talking patter style that doesn’t do much for me. (Though I do recall enjoying his performance years ago when he came to the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Festival, where I was a student at the time. Has it really been 25 years???) And really, by the time the Flynn Space shows were starting this evening I’d already had a full day and didn’t need anything else to make it better.

Tomorrow evening: 7pm at the Firehouse, Alison Segar’s new film about local trombonist, drummer and composer James Harvey; and then at the Flynn Space  a late-starting show (8:30) with two acts; mandolinist Jamie Masefield and clarinetist Brad Terry followed by gutarist Stephane Wrembel & The Django Experiment celebrating the life and music of the late Django Reinhardt in his centennial birthday year.

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