Sunfest jazz and a hint at a new journalism

Ray Anderson
Ray Anderson performs "Lazy Afternoon" at Sunfest

Sunfest, the annual festival of international music in downtown London, Ont., is on again. Over the past decade, it has steadily grown to the point where it now eclipses what used to be the city’s headline summer music event — the Home County Folk Festival. Sunfest is more culturally eclectic and diverse than Home County, though both have their charms.

During the years I lived in Toronto, I became an ardent fan of the Toronto Jazz Festival. And so when I heard the sound of an amazing jazz ensemble emanating from the northwest corner of Victoria Park this afternoon, I wandered over to have a look.

It was quite a discovery. On stage were The Félix Stüssi Quintet and Ray Anderson, fresh from an appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival on Friday. Tomorrow, they’ll appear at the Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax.

Anderson was the most accomplished trombonist I’ve ever heard. His range was incredible and his improvisation exhausting just to watch. As an amateur hack on the trombone, I was mesmerized.

Anderson and the Stüssi Quintet were a delightful find on one of those warm, muggy Southwestern Ontario summer days — the kind that portends a thunderstorm from morning till night but never actually delivers. Just as well for the Sunfest crowd, which packed the park again.

On the way downtown to Sunfest in my car, I caught Shelagh Rogers’ interview with author John Ralston Saul on her show The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One — a repeat from last November. Saul focused on what it is to be Canadian, the reasons we should celebrate the nation’s complexity, Arctic sovereignty and the role of story in understanding our country. Because of aboriginal roots, Saul said, our national story is much more oral than that of, say, Europe.

The aboriginal way of thinking is actually the inspiration for our national identity, he said. The more quickly we embrace that notion — and the oral tradition that accompanies it — the more easily we’ll embrace the fact that “the aboriginal reality lies at the heart of what we are.”

It all got me thinking about the way we do journalism in this country, and the way a thousand “stories” (in the journalistic sense) contribute to the telling of our national story. What should we be doing differently, if we were really to embrace the aboriginal bias, which, according to Saul, lies at the heart of our identity? Are we too “European” in our storytelling? Do we employ the “orality” of our founding aboriginal civilizations to full effect? Can Canadian media and their news organizations leverage that rich heritage to become even better at the journalism they produce? Lots of food for thought.

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