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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chris Ferguson, Creator Of The 2013 Steel City Jazz Fest: Five Minute Interview

There's a lot of hoopla these days about entrepreneurs, start-ups, and risk-takers who are helping to re-invent and/or re-vitalize Hamilton's artistic community. Anyone who take a stroll down James Strett North during an Art Crawl understands this.

Chris Ferguson performs in Kit Kat with Haolin' Munk.
Still shot from video by BE + ME Productions
The Hamilton Audio-Visual Node is one such entity. A block away from James North on Barton Street East, the HAVN storefront is a mult-purpose space that represents a new model of openness and partnership. In their own words, "HAVN is a multi-modal node for the development, exhibition, documentation, and dispersal of sound, images, and ideas."

Scroll to the bottom of this message to see an example of such a partnership. The jam-jazz/funk band Haolin' Munk filmed their recent video there. And Chris Ferguson, creator of the Steel City Jazz Fest, plays tenor saxophone in the band.

Interestingly, the money to fund the Haolin Munk video was the result of another partnership and entrepreneurial effort spearheaded by Cobalt Connects.

Partnerships Abound


Yup. It's happening right under our noses. New stuff, fresh ideas, fresh talent. It would be easy for the new, young talent to push ahead and ignore the past.

To their detriment.

But Chris Ferguson is not making that mistake. When you walk into HAVN, a gallery of photos and newspaper article blowups about Hamilton's jazz history greets you. Chris and his team had made sure that they understood the past before trying to alter the present.

Sharing the results with the community was critical, hence the gallery display. It's still there if you drop in to HAVN at 26 Barton Street East; very modest, but effective.

Yes, Hamilton has a rich jazz history. Articles appear about the Hess Village Jazz Festival, the Bay Area Jazz Society and others.

I took a few minutes at a meet-up event hosted by the HAVN to speak with Ferguson.

Are these your pick of venues?

I approached all of them. Homegrown was first on my mind, my own band Haolin Munk has played there before. The Baltimore House is also a great venue. I saw Mike Malone first there. And other people said that The Pearl Company is great if you're going to do jazz. Gary and Barbara were a great help to me getting in touch with artists and booking groups.

How did groups get on the roster?

Some of them were bands I knew about, and some of them emailed me wanting to get involved. One thing I didn't expect was just how many people wanted to take part. So many people were glad some to see something jazz happening in Hamilton. They want to see it grow and become a regular event.

What do you think jazz fans are like? Are they a unified breed or are they splintered?

It's hard to describe a jazz fan. I think all kinds of people like jazz. We have our stereotype, perhaps, of a really cool setting with people sipping wine, etc, but I think that's just a stereotype and it doesn't mean much. All kinds of people like jazz. Jazz is such a broad term that encompasses so many different kinds of music. On the surface different types don't seem to have anything to do with each other at all.

How do you see Canadian Winter as jazz? I would have thought they fit more into the rap category.

Canadian Winter aren't a jazz band, they're a hip-hop band. Of all the "non-jazz" genres out there I think jazz and hip-hop have the closest link. It's the same idea as in a jazz combo where you have a rhythm section and a soloist. It's a very similar setup in hip-hop where you have a DJ or producer, and a rapper. A lot of rappers write down what they perform, but there are people who can freestyle and make it up on the spot. To me, good jazz is about the proper interplay between the rhythm section and the soloist. Historically, it's the same black music tradition that they come out of.

Do you think Haolin Munk and Canadian Winter will end up jamming together after they both play?

Oh yes, that's the plan! A few extra musicians, for example Kojo Damptey and some other special guest rappers and vocalists will come in. We end up with big this ten piece band called the Snowbeach Players. Its fun playing in a big band like that!

Tell me about the Cat Bernardi Quartet.

They're one of the bands that got in touch with me. They're fairly young. One of my goals was to include some of the great young musicians and bands who have come out of the Mohawk and Humber College Music programs. They write original vocal/jazz compositions, and they also do some standards and even pop.

Did Mohawk or Humber ever get asked to sponsor or help out the Steel City Jazz Fest in any way?

(laughs) No. It's something we should do next year. In the process I sent out lots of emails asking people if they wanted to get involved. I didn't contact the programs directly, but I did get in touch with a lot of the young musicians, and the faculty: Mike Malone used to teach at Mohawk, and Bob Shields is currently teaching there.

Thanks for taking the time Chris!

You're welcome.



Video by BE + ME Productions

"If you play music for people drinking cocktails, it’s called cocktail music. If you play for people who can’t afford cocktails, that’s jazz." - Brian Browne



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