“Universality of music” informs Fraser’s tunes
The Georgia Straight, June 14-21, 2001
The Vancouver International Jazz Festival has been criticized for booking country stars like Emmylou Harris and rockers like Wide Mouth Mason, but no one has any cause to complain about the Legends of the Bandstand show at the Vogue next Friday (June 22).
“It’s definitely one of the most jazz-oriented shows, I guess,” Hugh Fraser says, on the line from his home in Victoria.
The Juno Award-winning pianist and trombonist’s quintet opens the Legends show and then plays a longer gig at the Cellar on Saturday (June 23). In the meantime, Fraser is happy to weigh in on the controversy about what kind of acts the festival should be booking.
“It’s kind of a misnomer that they are called jazz festivals,” he offers. “I think they’d be better served to call them music festivals. But we’re talking about a week a year. It is disappointing the treatment a lot of the festivals give Canadian artists, but that’s not just a festival thing, it’s a Canadian thing in general. When I lived in New York, and people had to phone my Manhattan number, I could instantly negotiate twice the fee that I do now that I live out here. It’s just bullshit.”
Having lived in New York, then in London for four years, where he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, Fraser recently returned to his hometown of Victoria. There he oversees his record label, publishing company, and educational commitments. (He is starting up a two-year, diploma-granting jazz program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.)
Besides being an educator and musician, Fraser is most comfortable identifying himself as a composer. He has written close to 200 compositions. And unlike those of many of his contemporaries, his tunes are at once modern, challenging, accessible, and swinging in a hard-bop context. That’s not surprising, given his philosophy of composition.
“I think a lot of jazz musicians, especially nowadays with so much jazz education around – and I’m guilty of helping contribute to that with all the teaching I do – sometimes have almost too much information,” he says.
He composes with what he terms the “universality of music” always in mind. “It means that someone 200 years from now on a bunch of electronic instruments can play ‘Take the A Train’ or ‘Perdido’ or something and it’ll still have enough of the essentials of solid organization that it’ll be really appealing. And that’s basically melody, harmony, and rhythm.
“Like, who remembers any UZEB tunes or Jeff Lorber fusion tunes?” he continues. “I remember hearing them live and being really impressed, but it’s like fast food or sugar. After the initial impact, it burns away, because there isn’t enough substance where it can be played by other people.”
And for Fraser, composing is not a matter of rehashing the same old stuff, either. “Everyone thinks that evolution is this progressive thing but I view it as keeping good energy alive,” he says. “Water and air are ancient and they’re the most important things to us. It’s the same with certain melodic and harmonic and rhythmic patterns. Instead of trying to throw them out to find something new, you have to build on them.”