It’s been a swinging five days at the Nice Jazz Festival concluding last night with a ravishing set by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Despite Marsalis’ somewhat catty comment on Facebook that he played “the jazz night” and ” it’s good to see some actual jazz musicians at a jazz festival” (meaning preceding artists Ahmad Jamal and Roy Hargrove), there were other bona fide jazz musicians on other nights. Monday night’s program featured Avishai Cohen and “Trombone”” Shorty; Sunday night boasted Martial Solal, Stefano Bollani and Michel Portal; Saturday had bluesman Joe-Louis Walker. I suspect that Marsalis does not accept the jazz fusion style of Mike Stern and Didier Lockwood or John McLaughlin on the opening night. I don’t much care for it either but I think it does deserve the jazz label.
If it’s any consolation to Marsalis and other jazz purists, “jazz night” was absolutely jam-packed. It was, by far, the best attended night of the festival. Clearly having funkster Maceo Parker on the bill helped boost attendance but I suspect that it was Marsalis, Ahmad Jamal and Roy Hargrove who really put the buns in the seats–and on the ground and squeezed into every available corner of the Theatre de Verdure. In fact the milling crowds with the kids, cellphones, beer runs and chatter made it difficult to concentrate on the music.
Marsalis’ other complaint that ” loud non- jazz blaring from the main stage . . . is now bleeding into every song we play.” refers to a serious problem with the festival’s two stage format. The Theatre de Verdure presents musicians who, by and large, eschew heavy amplification while the main stage, Theatre Masséna, lets bands like Seal and Maceo Parker crank up the amps. Actually, the problem was less severe with Marsalis’ big band sound. He should have been there for Avishai Cohen’s trio which was totally squashed by Seal.
To the problem of overcrowding, I say raise the ticket price. In festivals past, nights with big names simply cost more. It’s a wonderful gift to have Ahmad Jamal, Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Maceo Parker for only €35 but last year you would have paid €50 and had some physical and mental space to appreciate the music.
Resolving the Battle of the Bands is trickier. You could turn down the amplification on the main stage but that would diminish the pleasure of people who come for a throbbing beat. And, the bands were not over-amped to begin with. A better solution might lie in the programming. Try not to pit a trio in the Theatre de Verdure against dueling electric guitars in the Theatre Masséna.
Come to think of it, if the Nice Jazz Festival only programmed the classic jazz that Marsalis prefers both problems would be solved! The crowds would be thinner as the number of true jazz afficionados is fewer and jazz lovers in both venues could more fully enter into the music without “music bleed”. Maybe the legendary jazzman has a point.Follow me!