If you’re brave enough to leave home

Picture this: a pianist pounding the strings of a piano with mallets, a bassist bouncing his bow in the low end, a clarinetist violently playing without a mouthpiece, a vocalist hyperactively whimpering and croaking in a psychotic flurry. Imagine all these elements, and then imagine them all at once, playing together in a flawless improvisation. They call themselves Ion Zoo, and there were only six people in the audience.

Who are these musicians, and what are they trying to do? According to Jared Burrows, the host of the Jazz Presentation House Studio, people aren’t spending enough time getting to know their music, or coming out to events. Basically, the listeners aren’t as devoted as the musicians, and it certainly shows. The ratio of venues to musicians in Vancouver is stifling.

So where have all the people gone, and why aren’t they out enjoying such engaging concerts? “It’s just indicative of the times,” explains Darren Radtke, host of the Heritage Grill jam sessions, “I don’t think people go out to hear live music [anymore].”

So is it only musicians who listen to other musicians? The majority of the people at the Heritage Grill had instrument cases with them, evidently waiting for their turn to play. It seems as though if these jazz nights had any original goal, it’s getting a little lost in the struggle to find a broader audience. “In general, it hasn’t really taken off,” says Radtke. 

Lacking the demand for live music naturally results in decreased business and an elevated ratio of musicians to venues. So how demanding is it to survive solely as a musician? “A lot of us are making a living as jazz musicians, but you have to do everything right,” explains Radtke. “Most of us are teaching… there’s just not the need or appreciation for [live] music [as there used to be].”

So what is the motivation behind all the hard work it takes to become a musician, and is their any viability in the struggle to play full time? Cole Schmidt, Capilano jazz program alumni, explains, “It’s not about the money. Security is in playing the music”. Schmidt argues that in the long run, music is the most valuable life investment, regardless of financial viability.

With that outlook in mind, groups such as Ion Zoo are creating something vitally important with their abstract musical expression. Listening to their instinct-based improvisation style is especially refreshing compared to the more accessible music we tend to hear on a daily basis.

Carol Sawyer, the vocalist of Ion Zoo, explains their “right-brained” approach to music. “It’s entirely unexplored… we’re free improvising… we just open our ears”.  

So open your ears, be social, and come out to support the local music scene. If you don’t instantly become a jazz fan, you’ll at least be in complete awe. Jazz Presentation House hosts events every Wednesday at 8:30pm,  and the Heritage Grill has a jazz night every Thursday. If you still aren’t convinced, look to the invaluable words of S Club 7: “There ain’t no party like a [jazz] party!”

//Harrison Prat

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com