This time the Rolling Thunder Gil Scott-Heron Review rolled into Guelph Ontario, where you will find the only jazz festival with an academic conference attached to it. Michael New and I were the speakers, chaired by Rob Wallace. Our panel was in the first session, and well attended, so we went into the rest of the sessions worry-free and on an up note. I'd gotten the idea to present a Gil Scott-Heron panel here when I was in Guelph last year to be one of two keynoters along with Jayne Cortez. That year, the outdoor portion of the festival featured a performance in tribute to Gil, so it seemed we'd find a receptive audience there in 2012, as we did.
Later in the day, Rob Wallace teamed up with Joe Sorbara to offer a workshop on John Stevens's book of improvisation exercises. I hadn't known anything about Stevens, so it was a revelation to hear Alan Stanbridge's intro putting Stevens in the context of British improvisation in the 60s and 70s.
The first evening's performance was by the group Beautiful Tool (the name apparently contributed by cellist Peggy Lee's mother!). I described their music to a friend afterwards as Norah Jones on acid. Mary Margaret O'Hara's front woman act was, at the least, eccentric, and her singing was as beautiful as the tool of the group's name. Especially memorable was a duet featuring Peggy Lee's cello and O'Hara's singing on a radically revamped rendition of "I'm Forever Chasing Rainbows." The group's book includes many intriguing originals. I was really struck by their opening number, "When You Know Why Your're Happy," a studio version of which you can find on an earlier O'Hara CD here.