Did you ever wish you could meet one of the superstars of jazz in an intimate setting, where you could feel totally free to ask them anything about their life or music? Well, thanks to Professor Norman Cornett and his “Dialogic” sessions held alongside the Jazz Festival, you can.
It’s up to you to decide how deeply to immerse yourself in the process. For the full experience, you and a handful of other people attend one of the professor’s seminars, during which he plays a selection of unidentified tracks from artists who will be taking part in the series. Listeners are not told which artist they are listening to; while listening, they wear blindfolds, and the lights are turned off.
When the lights are turned back on and the blindfolds removed, listeners are then asked to write: 1. One word to describe the music and their experience of it; 2. One sentence to describe the music and their experience of it; 3. One paragraph; 4. One stream-of-consciousness ramble; 5. One tweet. They also suggest a title for the track, and guess how long it lasted (the idea being that if the track is 8 minutes long but you guess it was 4 minutes long, you must have been having a great time). Professor Cornett then collects the papers, which are submitted anonymously.
The second part of the experience is the actual meeting with the artist. I attended one yesterday morning with David Murray, Grammy-winning saxophonist and founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, among other ensembles. Mr. Murray played last night at the festival with his Infinity Quartet and Macy Gray.
To begin, Professor Cornett played a segment of one of the tracks from Mr. Murray’s latest album, Be My Monster Love, which some people had already heard in the listening session. He then read one of the anonymous responses and asked the artist to respond, after which the floor was opened for any and all comments and questions. This procedure was repeated at intervals with a couple more tracks. The Q&A/discussion lasted two hours.
While the written responses of participants were interesting, the real gratification came with the informal dialogue that developed between the seminar participants and the artist. In answering people’s questions, David Murray told us quite a bit about his upbringing, his musical predilections, his spiritual beliefs, his family, his travels, what it’s like to work in the studio, what it’s like to work with a poet, a producer, and so on.
He told us about the time his girlfriend threw his favourite saxophone out the window before leaving, and the negative impact (of losing the sax, not the girl!) that had on him for several years. There was much discussion about race and jazz, to whom jazz belongs, to whom it speaks.
He told us about the time Jacques Cousteau called him on the phone to ask if he could use an excerpt from one of his recordings in his next film, because the whales in the film responded to it. He spoke about Macy Gray (with whom he is performing at the festival) being stopped at customs, but then being recognized by her distinctive voice the minute she started to speak. And of course he spoke about the music, about its fragility and its power, and why “we should all say thank-you to jazz.”
Upcoming sessions feature Karen Young, Dave Restivo, Vijay Iyer, and the great Oliver Jones. Both listening and dialoguing sessions take place in St. James United Church, at 463 Ste-Catherine West, just west of the festival site.