Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Dogg My Cat

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Reflecting on my arrival in Canada back in 2003, I’m reminded of the proverbial first meeting of the dog and cat. Upon spying the highly enthusiastic, overly confident yet slightly clumsy dog, the cat finds herself mildly amused and even somewhat charmed so she begins to purr. However, when the dog hears the cat’s purring he says to himself, “Hey!? What’s she growling about?!” With all good intent, the reckless pooch trots over into the cat’s personal space and shouts, “Hey!! C’mon!! Loosen up!! Let’s have some fun!” Now in cat language, that effort just sounds like a lot of loud barking and yapping! I don’t have to tell you what happens next.

Like the dog, it took me a minute to pick up on the subtleties of communicating here in Winnipeg mostly because my cultural differences tended to redirect the meanings of the things I heard or said. I cut my teeth in New York and, as we all know, that city is a place where many people go when they feel they want to compete on a global level. In an environment like that, you want friends and mentors who are consistently tough on you to help you get your act together. It’s like being in a wolf pack. In that setting, a friend who is always complimentary is suspect—they may not have your best interests at heart.

There’s also this saying in New York: half of getting the job is being there. This line of reasoning can explain the differences I’ve had in traffic priorities. In New York, you can miss a lifetime opportunity by being the fourteenth person in line for thirteen openings. Here in Winnipeg it’s a little more courteous. People tend to hear every interview or audition even when the individual is days late. 

There’s never much real reason to hurry here. The cost of living is way less expensive. Also there are quite a few more systems of support in place for a solid journeyman professional. Because of these more favorable situations, the urgency to develop your craft beyond that level is entirely at the discretion of the individual. Though these circumstances can afford you a lot more decency and sanity, they can also seduce you into complacency. 

Both cultures have their strengths and pitfalls. New York can turn you into a howling lunatic and Winnipeg can turn you into a perogi.

In jazz, art imitates life. At the very core of this art form, musicians are speaking across cultural divides. The southerner’s main currency is the blues. The east coaster’s main currency is dissonance. The Euro-musicians favor an a-rhythmical approach. The Israelis want you to invent something they’ve never heard of before. By studying the preferences of other cultures, musicians add to their own strength and versatility. Every time I perform with a musician from out of town it always starts out a little bumpy but by yielding to each other’s preferences we are challenged to go beyond the places we normally go. 

We are like a tapestry here in Winnipeg with many well-defined cultures. I wonder what will happen when life begins to imitate jazz?

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