By John Swartz
Once again, I find myself writing about passings. Yesterday the news of the cancellation of the Mariposa Folk Festival’s July event came and today the death of one of the greatest musicians to walk the planet, Chick Corea.
Most people aren’t going to know who Chick Corea is, but I’ll bet you’ve heard a tune he’s written. Every musician worth their salt knows who Chick is.
His music has been with me my whole life. In the first couple years of my musical journey I heard a tune called La Fiesta. It was on a Buddy Rich album. I immediately on first listen latched on to it because it was so powerful in so many ways. It wasn’t for a bit more time when I started paying attention to the names in brackets after song titles on albums and found out it was written by Chick.
That started another branch of internalizing music. Anything a guy like Chick could write as great as La Fiesta must be worth checking out, right? And there was so much. Celebration Suite, My Spanish Heart and the album it’s on, Spain and so many other tunes.
His collaborations with Gary Burton are legendary. His bands had the best musicians, many of whom were also powerhouse solo artists. He also played on Lance Anderson’s Oscar Peterson tribute album, Oscar, With Love. While the other famous pianists recruited for the project played something Oscar had recorded or written, Chick wrote One For Oscar just for the album.
Chick, who started his musical performance journey in the St. Rose Scarlet Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps in Chelsea, Mass., influenced three generations of musicians about the possibilities of writing for piano, small group and orchestra. He created standards for composition. He filled concert halls around the world almost up until his death with people who like good music and people, young people, who wanted to see a musician without peer perform.
Chick would have been 80 in June. He was on tour last March up to when everything shut down. He had cancer. The world is a less musical place today.
Well, there isn’t going to be a Mariposa Folk Festival 60th Anniversary (+1) in July. I think anyone with any sense of where things would be knew it wasn’t going to happen. Still, the news is saddening.
“We had a board meeting at the end of January. We had a robust discussion at that point in time about the current COVID situation, the vaccine rollout, the probability of getting permits – or not, COVID protocols, those sorts of things and we just arrived at the decision hosting a festival, presenting a festival this year just wasn’t possible,” said festival chair Pam Carter.
Too much up in the air, a government not committed enough to put the brakes on the spread and having no clear plan how to emerge from it leaves more than just the festival with no option to take the step to say, next year.
Even if things improve in April there isn’t enough time to get everything ready for a festival, and it’s not like the virus is going to go away completely. As we saw last summer down south, huge gatherings inevitably turned into outbreaks within a couple weeks. What right thinking person or group wants that legacy?
Last year, the timing meant the festival had some cash outlays already made, and some pending. They offered to all the acts booked (they had a headlining slated announced) the opportunity to play this year. There won’t be a carry forward to 2022.
“We’re going to start fresh. You know it’s (going to be) two years out. It’s not fair to hold artists to a contract when the environment changed. It’s not to say we won’t bring back some of those artists.” Pam said.
Each year the festival committee starts the postmortem on the just finished festival in July, what worked, what needs work, what new ideas get incorporated for next time, and they start planning for the next one right away. So the festival bought more time than the extra year they were working with to plan something really big it would seem.
“I’m hopeful we are going to dazzle the heck out of everybody, for sure. People are eager to get back to live performance, to gathering, seeing friends,” Pam said. “Hopefully we don’t disappoint.”
This year, we may not have a three day festival, but we may get something with the MFF brand. Last summer they participated in the pedestrian mall downtown and brought in a few acts to play in the Arts District on Fridays. If things work out, it may be repeated this year.
“Yeah, absolutely. Once we get this chapter sorted out, we’re looking ahead to seeing what we can do this summer. We’ll absolutely partner with our local venues. If there is the same kind of program as last year, we’ll be participating in the Arts District. We’re looking at some opportunities to have hybrid events where we’ve got a bit of a live audience, maybe stream some live performances, that kind of thing.”
The MFF participated in the Hillside Inside online event last week. Financially the festival is in good shape. The MFF did get a wage subsidy to keep their Arts District office open, and they got a small business loan.
“The festival is on e really solid financial footing, partly because the Canadian Live Music Association has lobbied very tirelessly on behalf of the industry. Some of the COVID relief funds we see in place today are thanks in part to CLMA’s lobbying. Our funders have been very understanding and they have allowed us to use our grants in different ways than what we applied for and patrons have made donations – so we are thankful for that.”
As for next year, it’s too bad the timing is pushing the anniversary to the side, there won’t be 60th (+2) festival.
“I don’t have confirmation yet, but I think we’re just going to call it a Celebration of Live Performance. We’re back, we have live performance, we’ve got community, friends, family engagement and it’s just going to be a big celebration.”
In the meantime, Pam mentioned something patrons, musicians, venue operators and anyone else should look into. The CLMA launched a new publicity campaign using the hastag #ForTheLoveOfLive asking people to use it when posting online related to music to help keep the musicians and venues visible. The CLMA also prepared a series of recommendations to the government to outline what is needed to recover when we can go out and play again.
Changing Of The Guard
Roy Menagh, who last November received the first Lifetime Achievement Orillia Regional Arts & heritage Award, had announced his retirement from waving his arms around in front of the Orillia Vocal Ensemble.
This week it was made official, Blair Bailey will take over.
“I’m 75, I’ll 76 in March. I think it’s important you know when to pass the torch. I’m not unhappy at all with the way it’s unfolding. It’s great. Blair is going to be wonderful,” Roy said.
The May 2020 final concert extravaganza was taken away for obvious reasons.
“All the plans were ready for the 23rd of May. Rehearsals had started and then everything shut down.” The concert was also going to serve as a 10th anniversary of the OVE.
There have been a lot of highlights over his 10 years with the OVE and with the Orillia Wind Ensemble before that, but it was the last thing he participated in he talked about. He and 5 others from Orillia participated, along with 17,600 singers from 128 countries, in an online performance with Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir called Sing Gently. Roy sang in the bass section (he said he used to be a tenor).
When asked what is next, as usual, Roy sidestepped a plan or himself and talked about what he thinks is next for the community.
“The Roaring 20s was a result of that lockdown and incredible loss at that time. They didn’t have vaccines. There was quite a loss of life and pain. So, the result was when populations all over the world were freed up again, it was really the birth of Jazz, there was a huge renaissance in the arts and I believe that’s going to happen again. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”
I’m guessing somehow he’ll have a hand in there somewhere. Blair has been seen once, or three or four times, in the OVE choir. Of course he’s the music director at St. Paul’s Centre, so leading a choir isn’t new ground, and he’s been involved in the productions of plays the church has put on. He’s also been accompanist, soloist, and member of the pit band for everyone in town at one time or another. He still thinks there will be a getting-to-know-you stage.
“I think the first thing is for me to establish a relationship with the choir and the coir to also be comfortable with I’m going to bring to the choir, even though I was filling in for Roy in recent years.”
He doesn’t see any major change of direction for the OVE, recognizing there is 10 years of music charts accumulated to pick over for concert material. The OVE has also done every concert as a fundraiser for local charities and agencies, raising several hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. He’s going to keep that focus.
“Absolutely, that for me was certainly a very important aspect I am very interested in taking over from Roy.”
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia: Corea Images Supplied)