On June 27th, 2018 I cycled downtown for another instalment of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. I only had one set on tap for the evening and I had little idea what I would be hearing.
I was on my way to see Jerry Granelli, a jazz drummer I had seen a few times before. Why then would I be so in the dark as to what to expect? Because despite a long and varied career Jerry Granelli is most famous for being the drummer on that greatest of all holiday records, the Charlie Brown Christmas. This was all I knew him for, though I know every single brush stroke on that album intimately. Indeed, every time I had seen him before (was it twice or thrice?) it was a Christmas concert featuring solely material from that album.
And while those shows had been great, magical, and unendingly nostalgic I was eager to hear what the nimble octogenarian sounded like when he was free from his holiday chains.
Another thing that intrigued me was the fact that Granelli would be joined onstage by Robben Ford (and Bob Lanzetti). It was such a double-take that I initially assumed it couldn’t be that Robben Ford. Why would a ’90’s guitar-mag hero be playing with an aging jazz dude known mostly as an asterisk? A little research would have told me that they had recorded and toured together going way back; shows what I know.
A final little treat was walking into the First Baptist Church for the first time in just about thirty years. The jazz festival must have recently started to use the medium-sized church as a venue – otherwise I’m sure I would have seen a concert there before, which I hadn’t – but I did sing in the church as part of the Carleton University choir. Back in my first year joining the choir (under the direction of our beautiful, young, slave-driving and much-maligned choir director Lisette Canton) was mandatory for all Bachelor of Music students, and oh my goodness, did I hate it! The rehearsals were long and brutal, and Lisette never, ever let up on anybody.
Gosh I hated it. I wasn’t too crazy about Lisette either.
And then came the Christmas concert. We had spent months practising Vivaldi’s Gloria until it felt like any sliver of joy I could find in the music had long been squished beyond any possible pleasure. But I remember looking down at Lisette as we were about to start and seeing her look up at us with rosy cheeks and real excitement in her eyes as she raised her baton. When she dropped it to start us off we all came in bang-on like we had a thousand times before, and under that vaulted ceiling we sounded like bloody angels.
It was almost terrifying.
Looking down at our conductor for guidance, I could see she was completely, utterly lost in the magic that was enveloping the room, sweeping back and forth with her eyes shut tight in ecstasy. All of our practise came together in gorgeous harmony, our voices rising to meet the glory of Vivaldi’s majestic work of worship, and it was making Lisette pretty much explode in orgiastic, blissful joy. I had never before felt like I was a part of something so important, so real, yet so unimaginable. I had been turned into a cherub under the disciplined guidance of a musical goddess.
I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to our first choir practise after the Christmas break. But lo, Lisette was back to her whip-cracking (not in a good way) and I was soon back to hating it.
So like I say, I hadn’t been there in a while.
Anyway, the show was fantastic top-to-bottom. I was not only surprised just how great, versatile, and downright youthful Jerry Granelli’s playing was, but how well he blended with his young hotshot side musicians.
Afterwards I found myself at the very front of the merch line, gleefully getting Jerry Granelli to autograph his latest album for me, which featured not only Robben Ford but also one of my favourite guitar players ever, Bill Frisell. I raced home and threw it on the turntable and guess what? It’s a fantastic record.
I guess in some ways it’s almost a shame that such a wonderful drummer’s career should be defined (maligned?) by the popularity of a single, idiosyncratic record, but on the other hand, at least it gets him the gigs.