Greg Howard at the Jazz Cellar April 2, 2003
Smash and I went to the Jazz Cellar last Wednesday night. Chapman Stick maestro Greg Howard was in town for a one-off gig en route to a Stick workshop/retreat on Saltspring Island. A number of the workshoppers (from California, Chicago and elsewhere) were also there to see their guru in action. These kinds of freak scenes don’t happen every day, so Smash and I had to take full advantage. Dave, Hannah, Toshi, and Melissa braved it out, too.
The Cellar, whose colour scheme matches the Difficult Music template, was still filling up when Howard started his first set. As a Stick player he was impressive enough—I spent the first few minutes trying to work out where the backing tapes were coming from before deciding that, oh, it’s just one guy playing all those parts—but the drummer he was playing with took the show over the top.
The drummer’s name was Kyle. He was a big dozer in a slablike shortsleeved black shirt with a ninja motif. He looked like a drink-bubba-keg-then-paint-face-for-the-hockey game kind of kid. Well, maybe that’s what he gets up to when he’s not practicing, but he’s also the best drummer ever. From what we gathered, he was just some local guy the organizers floated in for the show, which made his playing even more impressive. A couple bare-bones charts, a few head cues and count-ins from Howard, and he was good to go.
The set list featured a handful of Latiny, fusiony originals, some jazz standards and some pop tunes. Howard covered a lot of ground. He devoted a fair bit of the first set to The Beatles: First, a nice arrangement of “Here There and Everywhere,” then a “Tomorrow Never Knows/Norwegian Wood” medley. I was liking it. The second set summoned Mingus (“Goodbye Porkpie Hat”), Herbie Hancock, and Dylan by way of Hendrix (“All Along the Watchtower”).
If it all sounds kinda lite and safe, at various points he switched on a digital delay and ventured into the world of loops and space rock. I definitely felt the room levitate a few times, which is a desirable effect. When you’re playing the high-tech musical instrument of The Future, there’s little point in using it to simply rehash old hippie shit. You should go nuts with the thing.
The Saltspring Stick workshop people were at a table behind me. I couldn’t spy on them or eavesdrop effectively, although I met one of them, Smash’s email buddy Winston from California, during the intermission. On our way out after the show, Smash wished him well for the rest of the weekend. We shook Mr. Howard’s hand and thanked him for the music, and had much to discuss on the way home.
Both Bruno and David noted separately that Stick players and D&D types have a lot in common. It’s an insular nerd culture—music for nerds played on a nerd instrument for other nerds. I guess we were honourary nerds by being there. That’s the kind of guilt by association I can happily accept.