Jazz: It’s All That

Blitz Magazine, May 2003

Festival: n Time of festive celebration; merry-making; [periodic] series of performances.

jazz1Jazz: n Syncopated dance music, of US Negro origin, with characteristic harmony and rag-time rhythm; (slang) pretentious talk; ~ adj Discordant, loud or fantastic in colour ~ v Dance to, play, jazz; arrange (music) as jazz; arrange (pattern) in vivid or grotesque form; brighten, liven, up.

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that our society’s cultural deep-freeze was such that jazz was something that could be enjoyed only behind closed doors. You had to be a grown-up, you had to be of a certain race or class, or you had to be slumming.

In fact, the first proper jazz festival didn’t take place until 1954. That was the famed Newport Jazz Festival, which has presented Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday, among many others, and has stirred a lot of controversy: riots in 1960, 1971 and 1972 caused the festival to move to New York; it didn’t return to Newport until 1991.

Luckily, the Newport idea caught on and, with the help of Newport Fest founder George Wein, festivals were initiated in London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. Today, there are jazz festivals all over the world—from Turkey to Australia to India. Each year, tiny Italian villages burst with festival visitors; the concept is huge in Japan. Canadians, of course, are always up for anything and the country now hosts some of the world’s top jazz festivals, most notably in Montreal and Vancouver.

jazz2 jazz3 

The Vancouver festival consistently presents one of the most culturally-diverse music celebrations in the world, gracing the city with what the Vancouver Sun has called “Ten Days of Heaven”.

All day, every day, inside and outside, jazz of all styles is presented at 40 venues, by 1700 musicians doing 400 shows, many of which are free. With 2002 attendance of 430,000, it is the largest cultural event in western Canada and one of the biggest musical events in the nation.

Festival co-founder John Orysik calls this festival—any jazz festival—‘a cultural lubricant’.

“The jazz festival engages people. It brings music to a large group of people in a short span of time, and it brings the music to everyone—people of all ages, races, socio-economic levels. It allows music to be introduced, and marketed, strategically and effectively, in the biggest context, and it has an event cachet that you don’t get with a one-off concert.”

Orysik explains what it is that makes jazz so popular in every corner of the globe. “It’s the spirit, the energy, the freedom. The music is…everything.”

Gretzky, Tylenol and the Real Spin City

gretzy1Blitz Magazine, November 1999

Watching the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease riddle Michael J. Fox as he testified before the US Congress recently, I wondered if Wayne Gretzky was also watching, and whether he felt horrified or mortified.

Gretzky, as you know, attached himself to a disease—osteoarthritis. He doesn’t have it; he’s never even been tested for it. He does have some pain, which (duh) he acknowledges as being the result of a lifetime spent playing a violent contact sport.

I don’t know how Fox’s 1998 announcement of his affliction affected Spin City’s ratings, but my theory is that it inspired a Johnson & Johnson spin doctor. That this person saw the sincere (and justified) outpouring of affection and concern for Fox and thought: ‘Hey! Gretzky’s a famous, popular, polite Canadian! A renowned athlete! He’s gotta’ be in some kind of  pain! We’ll tell the media he’s got arthritis! We’ll connect it to the non-profit sector! Sales of Tylenol will soar!’

On September 14th, this appeared, care of Canadian Press, in the Vancouver Sun: ‘The disease that affects more than four million Canadians has hit one of the country’s greats: Wayne Gretzy, recently retired hockey hero, seems to be suffering from arthritis.”

On the 15th, the item was on the front page of the Globe & Mail.

On the 16th, the TV commercials began. Interview format, Wayne Gretzky claiming to use Tylenol to treat the symptoms of a disease which he does not have.

Well, it blew up in the company’s face, with the media crying foul and Gretzky back-pedaling at slap-shot speed, telling the National Post that he often uses paying gigs to promote worthy causes, and claiming to be the victim of a newspaper war.

But Gretzky ain’t Bambi, and I doubt that it’s coincidence that the Tylenol/arthritis thing, the announcement of his new National Post column (yeah, right), the naming of an Edmonton highway after him etc., coincided with the launch of his clothing line at The Bay.

All of this got me thinking that Gretzky’s PR people forgot a crucial rule: Never make a journalist look foolish. There isn’t a journalist alive who hasn’t been duped–who’s been too busy, or too lazy, or too ambitious, or too short of time to check a fact. Who has printed information from a press release, or the newswire, without stopping to question the information. Who has then found himself with egg on his face.

‘Thing is, burned journalists have terrific memories. And the next time they receive information from that guilty PR firm, account executive or client, they will remember. And toss it aside. Or fact-check it until the subject screams for mercy.

The moral of this Gretzky story, then, is that unscrupulous, untruthful PR campaigns benefit no one, demean all involved and, in the long run, do nothing but damage.

 

English: Decay Sets In

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Blitz Magazine, March 1999

I’m looking at the cover of the February 15th edition of Maclean’s Magazine. Under the heading ‘Future Shock’, there are two lines which read: ‘The U.N. says Canada is Number 1. But that can’t last unless we make radical changes–from lower taxes to better education.’

          The latter sentence is, of course, grammatically incorrect. Which, considering the fact that it appears on the cover of Canada’s esteemed national publication, is disgraceful.

          At home, in the February 8th edition of the Vancouver Sun, a business reporter has, in her article, included the sentence: ‘Then there’s bulk subscriptions.’ I know that, if I were so inclined, I could spend a couple of hours editing today’s Province.

          A current ICBC television commercial uses the word ‘impact’ as a verb, disappointingly continuing a trend which began last year. This joins the currently-popular ‘Just because……..doesn’t mean,’ on the grammatically-incorrect bandwagon set in motion, in the main, by lazy journalists and copy writers who would rather skew their language than try to find a better way of saying something in the allotted space or time. (My favourite short-cut was presented by former BCTV consumer reporter Kimberly Halkett, who invented the word ‘fraudulated’ as a catch-all for use on her beat.)

          Another source of blame is art directors who, increasingly, are the ones making the decisions on how words and phrases are presented.

          Recently, an art director friend proudly displayed her lay-out for the identity of a housing development. Underneath a beautifully-designed logo, she had used the title ‘Towncentre’.

          “Town centre is two words,” I said.

          ‘It looks better as one,” she replied.

          “It’s bad English.”

          “So what? It’s a logo. I’m creating an image and I have artistic license to do what I want with the words.”

          I beg to differ. If I were a client commissioning advertising and/or design, the last thing I would want is an image or campaign which appears to encourage mediocrity.

          I am, of course, over-reacting. At the University of British Columbia, senior English instructor Jane Flick, who has had her students stand in silence to observe the death of the apostrophe, remains philosophical.

          “Incorrect usage is how new words come in. It’s the nature of language. You can’t hold back the sea.”

          I side with Irish dramatist Lord Dunsany who, long ago, declared war on corruptors of language. As he wrote in The Atlantic Monthly in 1936: ‘To every complaint that one may utter about bad language, one usually gets the answer, “A language must grow.” This is true when we have some new invention needing a new name, but it is of vital importance that we should be able to distinguish between growth and decay.”

 

Blitz Magazine, March 1999