I met Steve Kirby in October of 2004, right around the time of the first issue of dig! magazine. A clever graduate student thought we’d be a good match of skills and temperament for a poetry-bass duo. We had great fun at our gig, and before he left, he handed me a magazine, proudly and excitedly, as he has with literally hundreds of people over the past decade. That was my introduction to the magazine, and to Steve’s boundless enthusiasm for jazz, and determination to use it to reach out and build a strong community.
A couple of issues later, I was joining the work parties, generating content. A couple of issues after that, I was stepping into the copy-editing role and discovering, on the fly, the magic of magazines.
I was also discovering the magic of jazz. I grew up saturated with classical music, but I’ve always been interested in jazz. I was one of those accidental listeners—Nina Simone because I heard her at a record store, Miles Davis because everybody loves Kind of Blue. Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Betty Carter, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman. They intrigued and delighted me.
Over the past decade with dig!, I’ve talked to a lot of musicians who work in this art form. I’ve heard concerts that amazed me, and a few that were so startling that they revised my sense of the world and my self. I’ve watched young musicians discover the discipline and begin to speak in their own voices. I’ve watched kids soak up the permissions and challenges like cool water in a desert. I’ve even sat at the piano myself, though not often enough.
More than that, I’ve learned about the art form itself. I’ve been soaking up its concepts and philosophies, and delving into its history. It’s an extraordinary approach to art—collaborative, adventurous, subtle, and demanding. It is schooling me as a writer, it is teaching me about life.
I was just getting my footing at the writers festival when I attached myself to dig!, and these two big loves have braided themselves together in ways I didn’t anticipate. I read now as a jazz listener—I have a better ear, sharper analytical skills, and a bigger imagination. I curate a program of readings the way a jazz artist puts together a set. I think of an on-stage interview as an improvised duo. When stuff goes wrong (as it most certainly does in a festival with so many moving parts), I remind myself that thinking on your feet requires flex. As Steve told me ages ago, “Welcome the impediments—they give you a chance to exercise your creativity.” Thanks to my immersion in jazz, I’m happy to call myself a recovering perfectionist. I have fun.
The visiting artists I talk to—both musicians and writers—are stunned by how much happens in the arts here in Winnipeg, and how original and energized and compelling the work is. It’s true. We have artists in every discipline doing extraordinary things, speaking their truths eloquently and passionately. We have unusually engaged audiences too—eager and respectful witnesses. I’m happy to call this city home because the culture here is so alive, so us.
Thanks to all of you for your interest in dig! magazine—the little jazz engine that could—and for helping us arrive at our tenth birthday feeling so satisfied and eager for more!