Catching my breath

You know when you say "okay next week I'll start writing regular blog posts" and then suddenly it's two months later? Yeah well...

September and October have been absolutely jam packed. Happily, it's been busy for lots of what I feel are the right reasons, but it's meant having to carefully prioritize my daily to do list, and writing here has unfortunately fallen behind. And so, for your reading pleasure (?), here's a summary of what's kept me busy over these past several weeks.

Here at jazz festival headquarters, a lot of the busyness has revolved around various deadlines. We're making some exciting changes to the festival, and that means pursuing revenues from a variety of sources. I've kind of lost track of the number of grants we've applied for since the beginning of September; and of course each asks questions - and requires answers - which are slightly different from the other. At the same time, the Canada Council Touring Grant deadline this year was moved from December 1 to October 15, so we had far more submissions coming in at this time of year than in past years, all of which required evaluation and, eventually, discussion with my colleagues from jazz festivals across the country. And then, of course, there's the whole matter of booking the festival: at this time of year the list of potential artists is very long, which means many emails and phone calls to artists and agents to assess fees and availability, followed by budgeting, offers and negotiation. I'm pleased to report that we've already confirmed some great shows - stay tuned for more details.

Over at Continuum (my non-festival job), the beginning of the season is always a flurry of activity. This year was made slightly more complicated by a last-minute (and somewhat unavoidable) programming change, so the final work on the season brochure, website, etc., was crammed into a very short period of time. Ultimately, it looks great and I'm excited about the season; now, of course, it's audit time. The challenges - and joys - of my Continuum work are actually quite similar to my work with Toronto Downtown Jazz, and, between the two jobs, I get to work all sides of my brain. The schedules don't always play nice with each other, but the work is satisfying nonetheless.

Outside of my official work duties, I've been kept busy with a couple of big items. With my big band, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, I'm gearing up to what I hope will be a May recording session - our first CD in about nine years. Of course, recording is expensive, so the first couple of weeks of September were spent writing a grant, finishing off a new composition, and recording a demo to submit as support material with the application. (A quirk of these sorts of grants: you must submit recordings of the pieces you are applying to get funding to record. Note to self: record more live performances!) At the exact same time, I was preparing for the next round of Toronto Arts Council Music Project Grant assessments, which meant reading and evaluating 59 grant applications. So for a couple of weeks there I was spending every night either writing a grant, reading grants, or composing. That, I would say, was not an ideal schedule.

Most recently I had the opportunity, thanks to an Ontario Arts Council Compass grant, to do some mentoring with John Nugent at the Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF). Over the course of two weekends, I spent time with John in Rochester discussing many aspects of our respective festivals, picking his brain in particular on how the RIJF is structured, and how he approaches his artistic programming. It was an excellent series of sessions; the discussions evolved naturally. For example: I figured we'd spend a fair bit of time chatting about programming - how we each choose artists, how to balance the program with a variety of musical styles, etc...but that ended up being one of the shortest discussions. It went kinda like: "So what do you aim to book?" "Well, good jazz." "Oh cool." I mean, that's oversimplifying a bit, but there were no great revelations in terms of booking a great artistic festival. Where we discovered some substance was in discussions surrounding the various ways RIJF is set up to support the booking of outstanding artists - passes vs. hard tickets, free shows vs. ticketed shows, box office and staffing, etc. I enjoyed delving into these various topics, and I found especially satisfying the way in which we could continually connect each subject with that end goal: assembling a fantastic jazz festival. I have much to digest!

And then of course there's trying to be a good father to two rambunctious kids and a good husband to my very supportive wife. I did manage to see some music (John's MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra, a couple of shows at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, Snarky Puppy), make some music (with the Chris Hunt Tentet and thanks to a semi-regular jam session), go to a wedding and take an actual weekend off...

So - I look forward to being in touch again soon, maybe even with some festival updates. In the meantime, if you're a local musician, please keep me posted about your new projects, and consider submitting to the TD Discovery Series Special Projects, announced yesterday and accepting applications until 5 pm on December 2. And, whether you're a musician or not, feel free to drop me a line - a coffee break is always welcome.


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