After six years on the JazzWorks board of directors, it was time to step off and open the door to some fresh thinking. But a lot happened in those six years.
Up to 2008, there were three people essentially running JazzWorks — Judy Humenick, John Geggie and Gavin McLintock. Knowing what I know now about the magnitude of the task, it’s amazing what they were able to accomplish, and without a full-time administrator.
Then Anna Frlan came on as a paid administrator, and the board expanded. With various comings and goings, there are now nine on the board and more may be added.
The new president is Mary Moore. Anybody who knows her knows she is full of energy and ideas and a great love of JazzWorks. Vice-president is Tim Leah, whom many of you know as a fine drummer and a loyal supporter of the organization. Ira Abrams, who has done valuable work as treasurer for five years or so, continues in that capacity and Peggy Cameron takes over as secretary. With Judy as executive director and the remarkable work of John and Anna, the new board is in good shape to accomplish great things.
To employ a popular cliché, here’s a Top 10 list of things I learned on the JazzWorks board.
10. The environment in which an organization like JazzWorks operates gets tougher every year. There are new and more complicated regulations and filing requirements. Granting agencies usually have less money to dispense and are much more selective.
9. The Carleton Tavern is a great second home for JazzWorks. Although some complain about the acoustics at jam sessions, the tavern is a most welcoming host, tolerating the disorder we create in setting up, allowing the board the free use of an upstairs meeting room and helping us out whenever we do something like throw a party for volunteers. Yes, the meeting room is also used for a darts legue, and yes, the board is occasionally serenaded during meetings by what sounds like 343 banjos. Still, we wouldn’t trade it.
8. Speaking of volunteers, JazzWorks would perish without them. The equipment that we use at the tavern and at camp doesn’t get there and get set up by itself. This website does not maintain itself, nor does Ottawa Jazz Happenings. Naming anybody risks leaving others out — I started a list off the top of my head and came up with about 30 names. But I should at least mention Betty Ann Bryanton, who runs Ottawa Jazz Happenings, a large undertaking, and also MCs the monthly jam sessions, and Alf Warnock, who co-ordinates those jam sessions and sets up the equipment each month.
7. The emotional attachment to jazz camp impresses me every year. As a board member, I got to read the responses to the camp evaluation questionnaire. They were overwhelmingly positive, quite emotionally so in many cases. The faculty gets enormous praise and the facilities at CAMMAC are appreciated too. Anna, John and Judy are often singled out. There’s the odd criticism, which gets attention, you can be sure. But I hope not too much. Statistically, if there are 80 people at an event, the odds are that somebody has to be grumpy about it. And to be honest, sometimes the people who say they get the least out of it are people who don’t put much into it.
6. The faculty love the camp as much as the campers do. That impression is reinforced every year in the happy chatter that follows the faculty concert. Of the nine Canadian faculty members who were at Christie Lake when I first attended in 1999, eight were at camp in 2014. That’s loyalty. I know what the appeal is for people like us, but I’ve always wondered about the appeal for the faculty. It’s not like it’s a lucrative weekend. And many of them teach at other camps and other educational institutions where they work with students who are at a higher musical level. My understanding is that the faculty appreciate the vibe at CAMMAC, the enthusiasm, sincerity and (for the most part) lack of ego of the campers, and those more than make up for lower skill levels. The faculty members also love to hang out with each other and to play. Every year at the faculty concert, I think about the fact that there is probably nowhere in the country where you could hear such a collection of great musicians in one place.
5. The jazz environment in Ottawa has changed considerably. There are more and more organizations that do the things that JazzWorks used to do all by itself. For example, there at least four other jam sessions. There is another jazz camp, Carleton’s. There are other listings of jazz events. And there are other organizations doing jazz education, most notably Alcorn Studios. This is great for jazz in Ottawa, challenging for JazzWorks. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention.
4. There are various ways of getting that attention. One is by putting on concerts by visiting artists. That hasn’t been tried much, except in a limited way at fundraisers. Another way, which has been successful, is to extend the jazz camp experience into the “off-season” by putting on workshops, such as the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout, that ran in 2013 and 2014 and continues this year in a format geared to vocalists. Another is to showcase our camp participants and faculties in such settings as the Originals Concert.
3. Another challenge is making sure that jazz camp is not just a camp for people who are middle-aged and older. Some school- and university-age students have attended camp on their own hook, or their parents’, but scholarships are still the main reason why students attend camp, usually four or five a year, sometimes more, depending upon the generosity of individual donors. There are now continuing scholarships given in memory of Jerry Heath and Alun Davies, two musicians who benefitted and benefitted from jazz camp. There is room for more.
2. At the same time, it would be wrong to neglect our “base” — to use the political term. The most loyal supporters of JazzWorks and jazz camp are older musicians, some of them retired, who come back year after year and support JazzWorks in other ways as well. Camp obviously works for them, and it has to keep working for them. There are lots of camps for students, but not all that many for grown-ups. What we should seek is an atmosphere where the kids and the veterans can enjoy each others’ musical presence. There have certainly been years, such as last year, where that has happened.
1. The old saying goes that if you’ve seen how sausage is made you’ll never eat it again. After years of seeing JazzWorks from the inside, I don’t have that reaction. The more you know about it, the more you appreciate the effort and creativity that go into producing the annual miracle that is jazz camp. See you there, August 20.
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About this blog
Tune Up won't be a calendar of events — Ottawa Jazz Happenings takes care of that. But it will discuss events and issues of interest to the JazzWorks community. Journalist, author, trumpet player and a jazz camper since 1999, Charley Gordon is a former vice-president of JazzWorks.