Jazz Artists on the Greens 2011: Come Early, Stay Long!

poster-smallThis weekend’s ninth edition of Jazz Artists on the Greens at WASA Greens on April 9 looks promising on a number of fronts. One, new location. In a space more associated with “fete ’til you wet” carnivalisms, Production One Ltd., has made a concession for more space, unique ambience and an opportunity to transform a field of dreams for public service sports folk into the listening fields for music that entertains and enhances. Two, talent. The cast is a continuation of that teams’ ability to move beyond the usual suspects. Sporting a pan-Caribbean cast of singers and instrumentalists, the musical range challenges the notion of last year’s event review question by Mark Lyndersay, “Where’s the jazz?” On one front, deification of imported norms, and justification of the status quo mark a point in the spectrum of ethereal taste that these islands need to navigate carefully lest they wallow in stasis. On another, biased opinion stated as “fact” is a cerebral exercise left for editors seeking to sell newspapers.

What is a “fan” to make of this if confronted with no knowledge or particular affinity to this unknown? I like the statement of young reviewer from www.trinijunglejuice.com, Kris aka Jokey Juice, “Now I will be honest to all readers here, I don’t particularly like Jazz music, however I do enjoy particularly good music, and this evening I was truly given great music.” Nary an American superstar, but just us Caribbean folk have made a happy camper out of a determined critic last year. What can a Grenadian pianist, Jamaican and Bajan songstresses, a Cuban saxophonist and a Trini pan master do for the teeming masses in search of entertainment options so soon after this year’s Carnival Las’ Lap? Make more social network followers?

Most importantly why this weekend looks promising, Production One Ltd. has a pedigree of stated punctuality, improvised aesthetic excellence and elan, and the ability to create events where you have a damn good time. I have been a fan from the beginning. This group transformed Sean Thomas’ vision of a place for jazz musicians to play into a must-be-there event of this post-Carnival Lenten reflection. Sean Thomas left the team last year to seek a vision of jazz fusion with chutney, parang, calypso, and even a new attempt at a festival, but I am seeing and hearing less of him; one wonders if intemperate decisions were made in haste.

Jazz Artists on the Greens is the signal event that begins a jazz season in the Caribbean preceding St. Lucia and Tobago by days and weeks, and allowing us to hear the possibilities of jazz transformed from the American response to the blues with improvisation into a renewed inversion of Caribbean rhythms on improvised melodies. Jazz Artists on the Greens has grown from a couple hundred limers on the lawn to thousands. A word of advice, come early, stay long. The show starts at 5:00 pm, and these people like to pack the show with the exciting and popular acts in the beginning. Trinis are notorious for short attention spans, so I have seen persons leaving during masterful sets by artists after 8:00 pm! It’s not even the witching hours where we come alive like soucouyants to fete ’til breakfast serve!

This thing called the jazz festival in the Caribbean is interesting. All About Jazz columnist, Frank A. Matzner stated,

…jazz events have become de rigueur throughout the world of international tourism and the jazz festival concept has blossomed into big business…encouraging new gatherings to pop up on seemingly every strip of sand along the Caribbean chain. Though billed as jazz festivals, the majority of these events—particularly the newer ones—have taken to packing their schedules with everything from pop to R&B in order to attract younger, broader audiences.
—Matzner, Frank A. “Staying Straight: The Third Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival.AllAboutJazz.com. 21 December 2005. Retrieved 5 April 2011.

The Production One Ltd website, www.jaotg.org also cites this quote, and concludes with the boast of producing, in all the intervening years, an event “with an ear tuned to traditional jazz and its Caribbean variation,” hopefully legitimising that columnist’s claim that we have been subject to a watered down cocktail. The “atmosphere of lavish escapism” attendant on the various jazz festivals in the Caribbean including Tobago, has not taken hold on the Greens apart from the idea that jazz can be listened to on mats, blankets and lounge chairs while sipping wine and consuming tender victuals. That image has been taken up in an interesting book by Jamaican-born academic, Belinda Edmondson called Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture and the Middle Class where she notes that this imported “model of culture” speaks to the upwardly mobile aspirations in us all.

One is part of a different milieu on the Greens than if at Soca Monarch on the stadium floor. The integration of our unique Caribbean-ness with the idea of music as commerce should not be mutually exclusive. We want the best. We paying top dollar, and we want to identify this as our own. No problem, let the slow-growth organic model of a Jazz Artists on the Greens be the template as opposed to the hit-and-run approach of Plymouth Jazz Festival with imported superstars and no permanent footprint beyond a specific profit margin.

Rolf Doyle, a Production One Ltd. team member, says he wants this event ultimately to be as big and popular as St. Lucia Jazz and Barbados Jazz Festival—which was cancelled this year, by the way—but “always remaining true to the jazz.” Rolf might turn out to be right. I going, what you going to do?

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