Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

straight up

The Bag Lunch Interloper

Written by:

This year’s opening weekend for the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival was a rousing success. People were out in droves.

I was offered the opportunity to perform on the Monday after opening weekend at noon on the Cube Stage in Old Market Square, a little park about half a city block in size.

Just to be clear, I was very grateful for the chance to play at anytime during the festival. However, the Monday after opening weekend at high noon seemed to me like just the right time to perform a concert for mostly squirrels, sparrows, empty chairs and the occasional bag lunch interloper who may wander through. My thinking was that most people were gonna be at work, or they were gonna save themselves for the main acts at night and on the weekends.

Acting on this hunch, I decided to just go crazy and take a lot more chances than I normally do. So I rehearsed some of my most challenging and “experimental” music with a band of musicians that included a few guys that I don’t normally play with. Again I’m thinking, “Who’s gonna hear this anyway?”

As fate had it, quite a sizable crowd of people showed up. Many of them were friends, neighbors and colleagues that I only ever want to impress. So there I was, slightly staggered, though determined to muster the courage and resolve to follow through with my audacious plan.

As I began to review my set list, I realized that I was nervous about choosing the right song to start. When I looked out at the gathering crowd, I was afraid that I might chase everyone away on the first song. At some point a little voice in my head commanded, ”Damn the tomatoes! Full steam ahead!” So I chose a really hyperactive song entitled “Health Sciences Hypertension Clinic.” At least some of the band members had already played that one before. Besides, the tune was just strange enough that it had the potential to get the dreaded mass exodus over with on the front end.

As it turned out, the crowd not only responded favorably, they encouraged me to dig deeper and go further! So I did. The line-up included a baroque-classical tango fusion piece, featuring a brilliant young cellist. We did a portrait of Armageddon in a tune called “Telluride” (a place in Colorado that was named after the expression, “to hell you ride”). An audience member said later that the tune reminded him of Frank Zappa—a big compliment where I come from. We did a slow waltz for my sister, “Theresa Endless.” We did a few other tunes too.

As I expected, there were many times when the band took wrong turns and wound up parked in the wrong station. Wrong notes were legion yet the audience seemed to just grow more and more encouraging. Some people even danced to that music. Perhaps they were professionals from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet?

In short, this is a love letter to the city of Winnipeg! On a sunny day in June, I learned not to underestimate the sophistication of the bag lunch interloper. I also discovered the advantage of living in a city of beta testers.

Copyright! © 2023 dig! magazine.