Genres Uncovered | Jazz

Apart from “Careless Whisper,” do you listen to jazz? It’s much more than just a sexy sax riff played over and over again. Nevertheless, I encourage you to get swept away by the late, great George Michael, and by all means, let his smash hit be the soundtrack to this post.

Where in Winnipeg can you enjoy jazz regularly? Do we have a jazz club? We could use some more sax puffin’, tom and cymbal brushin’, upright bass pluckin’, horn blastin’, scat poppin’ and smooth singin’ every weekend. Sorry, that was exhausting, but it’s true!

I believe the closest thing we have to a jazz club is Soul Night at The Cavern in Osborne Village. Soul blends elements of gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz. But what is jazz by itself?

A Passion For Jazz! academically refers to the genre as “a genre of American music that originated in New Orleans circa 1900 characterized by strong, prominent meter, improvisation, distinctive tone colors & performance techniques, and dotted or syncopated rhythmic patterns.”

But wait… the site then defines it as a lifestyle: “Jazz is not the result of choosing a tune, but an ideal that is created first in the mind, inspired by one’s passion and willed next in playing music. Jazz music is a language, sometimes intimate, often boisterous, but always layered with experience and life profoundly lived.” Woah, preach.

I think the word improvisation says it all. Maybe even collective improvisation. Jazz is free flowing music. I’d say pure jazz comes out when musicians jam or express themselves freely during a solo. The genre doesn’t need to be bound by musical structure and can be free to go in any direction the musician or artist feels at any moment.

I had the pleasure of seeing one of the best jazz guitarists in the world perform at a jazz club in Minneapolis a few years ago. Pat Metheny is his name and he has had an amazing career in music spanning over 40 years (just read his ridiculous bio). His improvisation is mind-blowing and is the basis for most if not all of his music he’s written.

When I think of jazz, I normally gravitate toward the instruments of the genre: piano, saxophone, upright bass, brass, guitar, etc. But vocal jazz has a huge part as well.

Nadia Douglas, a Winnipeg-based jazz singer with rich alto vocals, performs at restaurants around the city (i.e. Mona Lisa Ristorante and InFerno’s on Academy), so keep an eye out for Nadia. She has a show next Tuesday, Jan. 31, at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre… but it’s at 2 p.m. So if you have the day off, I recommend heading over there to familiarize yourself with smooth vocal jazz.

If you love jazz and you’re looking for a fun festival in the summertime (within the city limits), the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival is the place to be. On June 22, Gregory Porter—a sultry singing jazz-man—will be in town to perform at the festival.

Sources: Jazz Winnipeg, Manitoba Music, A Passion For Jazz!

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Genres Uncovered | Orchestral

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The WSO and the students of Nunavut Sivuniksavut present “Artic Symphony” at the Centennial Concert Hall on Dec. 8, 2016—source: vinceho.com

I hope you’ve had the pleasure of a night out at the symphony. The sheer brilliance of a live orchestra heightens the listening experience. To hear many musicians—a grand ensemble of strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion—play such detailed music in unison is quite impressive and very beautiful.

You may say, “Agh, but classical music is not for me.” I respect that, but please do not broadly group orchestral music with classical music… OK, I may or may not have put those words in your mouth, but I did want to casually segue into my next point.

Orchestral music refers only to the instruments the musicians use to play the written piece. Like I said earlier, an orchestra typically consists of strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion. So you could write an orchestral rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece, where the genre is orchestral, but the music is the farthest thing from classical.

Check out this great orchestral cover of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”. I love the enthusiasm at 2:33 where the flutist and conductor are completely feeling the solo. Hilarious.

Classical music refers to the style or type of music that is normally played by orchestral instruments (e.g. piano sonatas, string quartets, etc.). Did you know that classical music should technically only refer to the music written in the Classical period, which was between 1750-1830? Those were the years when legends like Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn carved themselves into history with their godly musical brains, golden skills, and ever-flowing quills.

In Winnipeg, we have the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. It performs orchestral shows of any sort, and its events are always a fun time. Sometimes they include an element of pop culture too. Just last month, the WSO performed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial‘s score while the audience watched the film.

If you’re free this weekend in Winnipeg, head on over to the Centennial Concert Hall and take in the world premiere of “Soundtracks Live” (8:00 p.m. tonight and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday).

The WSO will entertain you with selections from the most recent critically acclaimed original movie scores, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In the meantime, enjoy this Star Wars piece from the Winnipeg Youth Orchestras.

Sources: quora.com, wso.ca, winnipegyouthorchestras.ca

Genres Uncovered | Ska

Once a week from now on, I will sail into the black hole of music genres and re-emerge gliding on the sound waves of genres I would not normally pay attention to today. I’ll especially tap into Winnipeg’s music scene and see what insights I can dig up. I hope you enjoy.

First up… Ska.

Remember the days of driven ska music? I mean, I think of Five Iron Frenzy, Less Than Jake, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sublime who all encompassed the ska sound in some way, shape, or form. Even No Doubt had some ska influence in their tunes. It is a genre that I never really got into, but I feel like ska had its popular place in the 90s.

 

What is ska anyway? Originally, the genre included a walking bass guitar line, rhythmic percussion on the offbeat, and a lot of upstrokes on the guitar. This means syncopation: accented notes are displaced in the music’s rhythm. In other words, the musicians emphasize unexpected notes in the beat, but it works in a dance-like rhythm (if that makes sense).

Ska originated in Jamaica in the late 50s and was the precursor to reggae music (I didn’t know that). It was not until the 70s when the Brits fused Jamaican ska rhythms with the fast paced tempo of punk rock and the genre started to become popular worldwide.

The genre came up in a discussion with a friend the other day and it got me thinking… I don’t hear much of the ska or ska punk rock genre these days, but is there still a ska scene in Winnipeg?

We have the bold and talented Dirty Catfish Brass Band, but they’re not categorized as ska. They’re more of the Louisiana brass band, traditional jazz and soul. Their sound doesn’t rely on a bass guitar and rhythmic reggae elements at all.

This brings me to a misconception that I always thought: ska has to include brass. It doesn’t, which was news to me. Apparently, brass and wind instruments (i.e. trumpets, trombones, saxophones, etc.) were only added when ska evolved into ska punk. So it depends on the subgenre of ska (you gotta love the ever-changing convolution of music genres over time).

I did some digging and found out that there used to be a ska and reggae festival here in Winnipeg. Greg Milka Crowe (a high school music teacher here in Winnipeg) played in it yearly and explored the ska genre as a frontman with different bands in the 90s and 2000s. Check him out in the video below with his band The Scarlet Union:

 

The closest thing to a happenin’ ska event in our city may now be the Winnipeg Soca Reggae Music Festival, which will be held outdoors at The Old Market Square this summer—July 14-16, 2017.

p.s. To my surprise, fellow CreCommer Sean Guezen was in a ska punk rock band called The Salvadorian Garbage Men.

“None of us really knew what we were doing, but it didn’t matter,” said Guezen. “The fact that we could write funny, idiotic songs [was fun,] and it just kind of worked.”

My conclusions… ska = groovin’ fun.

Cheers.