Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jazz journal leaves Yardbird out in cold
Downbeat blew it when it left city club off guide to top jazz venues

Roger Levesque


Fans of the local jazz scene will want to take issue with the February edition of the American jazz journal Downbeat.
In its guide to 100 Great Jazz Clubs, the long-running music magazine makes a serious omission in not mentioning the Edmonton Jazz Society's Yardbird Suite. In business at its current location since 1984, it's likely the oldest jazz club in Canada.
The survey does list four Canadian clubs, typically forgetting that anything happens between Toronto and Montreal in the east, and Vancouver in the west. Not to put down the competition, but at least two of those don't begin to match the Yardbird for longevity, size or significance of artists presented.
If this sounds like the mere boasting of a local yokel, then I suggest the editors of Downbeat consult Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, David Liebman, Joe Lovano, Sheila Jordan or Lew Tabackin. They're just a handful of world-famous jazz artists who've appeared there more than once and remarked how impressed they were with the organization and atmosphere of the club. (For an amazing list of past performers, check the archives pages at
It's particularly ironic that Downbeat failed to do its homework at a time when the Yardbird is such a beehive of activity.

From Feb.14-17, the venue plays host to some 20 school jazz bands during the JazzWorks 2007 non-competitive big band festival. For more than a decade, JazzWorks and the Yardbird have played a key role in fostering upcoming jazz talents.
In March, the EJS marks the 50th anniversary of the original Yardbird Suite with 10 special shows over five weekends, with returning performers like singer Mark Murphy, saxophonist Lew Tabackin and keyboardist Doug Riley with the Sandro Dominelli Quartet.
w Note: Anthony Wilson, originally scheduled to play the Yardbird this Friday, has had to cancel his appearance. Instead, you can hear the excellent DADs Trio that was to back him up. That's bassist Rubim De Toledo, pianist Chris Andrew and drummer Sandro Dominelli.
The music starts at 9. Tickets are $18 for members, $22 for guests, at Ticketmaster or at the door.

At the youthful age of 24, pianist James Carson has to be one of the most gifted rising stars of the local jazz scene. He's just the latest example of a kid who started out in the EJS-sponsored Littlebirds years ago.
You can hear him at the Yardbird on Saturday, leading a quartet with saxophonist Brett Miles, bassist Thom Golub and guitarist Jim Head (music at 9 p.m., tickets are $8 for members, $12 for guests). Carson has also been taking part in hip-hop jazz dates at the Rose & Crown Pub on Saturdays with Miles and others, an ongoing gig except for this weekend.
When I last chatted with Carson in late 2003, he was home from his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music outside Boston. While earning his degree at the prestigious jazz college, Carson enjoyed regular mentoring from the likes of such world-class artists as Cecil Taylor and Joe Manieri, and poet Robert Creeley. Carson's debut CD, a session of improvised duos titled Arms Outstretched, offers evidence of a serious talent far beyond his years.
After graduating from the NEC in 2004, the enterprising musician set off to see the world for some 18 months and came back with enough stories to write a memoir of his travels. Now he's back home to do some "woodshedding." Literally. He's exploring the possibility of building a log cabin for unlimited practice opportunities.
"It's all about solitude," Carson explains. "For me, solitude is the source of all creation. Finding that focus and freedom is all part of the whole thing, life and music."
While Carson's musical interests were previously focused on the avant-garde and open-form free playing, he's changed his tunes, so to speak, as a means to further his own artistic growth. The quartet this weekend will focus on updating the standards repertoire.

 The Edmonton Journal 2007