[9/1/2003] - "Definitely Not Your Parent's Opera"
Open-minded. Experimental. Not many people would use those words to describe opera. But jazz pianist-composer D.D. Jackson does. And when he explains what he means, it's hard not to agree. Unlike musical theatre -- which, as the composer of the off-Broadway hit, Mytholojazz, he also knows something about -- opera, he says, doesn't demand "everything be completely clear and explained to you from the beginning." That may make jazz and opera perfect soulmates.
That's what Guelph Jazz Festival organizers are banking on when they premiere the jazz-opera Québécité, on Sept. 5. They're also counting on the sheer amount of talent behind it: ever-provocative artistic director Ajay Heble commissioned the production for the festival's 10th anniversary; Governor General's Award-winning poet George Elliott Clarke penned the words; a stellar lineup of jazz, gospel, Punjabi-folk and R & B/acid jazz musicians will bring it to life; and the Ottawa-born, New York City-based Jackson wrote the music. He also provided fodder for the storyline. A memoir written by his African-American father and Chinese-born mother helped inspire Clarke's libretto about two mixed-race couples living in Quebec City.
Like the Guelph, Ont., festival itself, Jackson, 36, knows how to push the limits of jazz. He's worked the avant-garde scene with the likes of violinist Billy Bang and tenor-sax man David Murray, and written a sweeping jazz-orchestral arrangement for his latest CD, Suite for New York. Québécité (which will also be performed at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Oct. 17 and 18), he insists, is on the accessible end of the spectrum. "There's always been a melodic bent in my music," he says. "I can't help myself." And be it jazz or opera, who can resist a good tune?
- Sue Ferguson, Maclean's Magazine