The Telegram called in some local experts to help us look at the three jazzy Junos: Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year and Traditional Jazz Album of the Year. Sharing their knowledge were: Liz Dunbar, marketing and operations manager with the Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues Festival; Brad Jefford, guitarist and head of the Brad Jefford Trio; Bill Brennan, St. John's-based jazz pianist and musical mentor and Chris Harnett, multi-instrumentalist and sideman for Chris Kirby, The Idlers and Funky Dory.
Let's start slowly. What is jazz exactly?
"It started as pop music. It was like top 10 (today)," said Jefford.
Jazz emerged in the United States. The exact beginnings are debated, but the creation of the sound is often attributed to African American slaves in the deep south. It developed in popularity through the work of greats like Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.
That's the textbook though.
"Jazz is creative music," said Dunbar, "but I guess all music is creative music - so how do you define it ... ?"
It is even more difficult when you're trying to explain it as a "category" of music, for say an award list, Harnett added. "It's very difficult to come up with a description of most genres, in my opinion."
He turned to world music as an example. Is world music music of the world? Then isn't all music world music? Or, if world music is music sourced from the traditions and sounds of other countries, how do you judge that?
Yet, Brennan said, there are a couple of traits by which you can identify jazz.
"Improvisation is a huge part of jazz as opposed to maybe some classical music," he said.
There is also something in the intention of jazz musicians.
"I think there's something in their music that goes to the spirit of jazz," Jefford said. "It has this spirit of freedom and improvisation.
"Imagine we were sitting here reading a script instead of just talking. It would be a little more bland."
There are also differences in the way jazz is recorded and edited.
"This is a generalization, but it's way more organic," said Brennan, who can be heard playing on over 85 albums, including his recent "Solo Piano 2."
For example, in pop, R&B, hip hop and other genres, there is sometimes a laying of a bass track before adding other instruments. Or, there is sampling and looping to form a base before adding in additional band instrumentals.
"There would be a very, very small percentage of what we call jazz music that would be done that way," said Brennan.
The group agreed. Jazz musicians often like to play together, to do it live, to feed off each other.
Speaking of instrumentals, the group agreed "big band" music and "swing" music also fit under the umbrella of jazz when it comes to the Juno Awards.
Big bands are expensive to run, said Brennan, making them less common than jazz quartets and trios.
As for swing, that is more a direction on how to play the jazz music - a beat or tilt, of sorts.
"I have a feeling you'll find elements of swing in all jazz," said Jefford.
Do any of the nominees in the 2010 Juno Awards jazz categories stand out to you?
"Well, Oliver Jones and Hank Jones have probably got a few nominations," said Harnett, pointing at the list of nominees in his hand, the table bursting into a knowing laugh.
In fact, Oliver Jones has no fewer than 10 Juno Award nominations to add to two earlier wins under his name.
His nomination this year is for "Pleased to Meet You," in the category for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year. He is joined on that album by Hank - celebrating his first nomination by name.
It is important to say "by name" with jazz music. That is because the band leaders are often listed, but side musicians may not always be recorded in the online archives (http://junoawards.ca).
If a saxophone player in a quartet is not the band leader, he may win a major award, but not be front-and-centre in the history books.
As the group explained, jazz musicians are also able to move from being sidemen to composers to band leaders. Sometimes, they are in more than one role at a time.
In addition, jazz bands tend to be short lived, said Jefford. The musicians are always moving and mixing - making their names that much more difficult to follow.
Even so, along with Jones, Kirk MacDonald is a name to remember, Brennan said.
"He's been a fixture in Toronto for quite a long time - going on 30 years or something," he said.
This year's nomination for the Kirk MacDonald Quartet - in the Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year category with "Songbook Vol. 1" - is the third under MacDonald's name.
He was previously nominated solo in 2001 with the album "New Beginnings" and, in 1999, won a Juno Award with "The Atlantic Sessions."
Aside from the individual names of nominees, Dunbar said the wide variety of musical styles jumped out at her in the category of Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year.
"I think if (audiences) are looking for a very broad category, they should look at contemporary jazz," she said.
Harnett agreed, pointing to nominee Charles Spearin as an example. Spearin's nomination comes from his work on an album titled "The Happiness Project."
"He took dialogue and played melodies to match the intonation - the way people speak in the dialogue," said Harnett.
"He interviewed his neighbours and children and stuff," Dunbar added. "There's one with a little kid and he's saying the same thing over and over - but the melody is beautiful and it's just the way this kid talks."
Finally, Brennan also said not to ignore the nominated jazz vocalists.
"I think people should take notice of Emilie-Claire Barlow," he said. "She's maybe not quite as well known as Diana Krall or Michael Kaeshammer, but I think she's got a lot of integrity."
One of the nominees in the traditional jazz category, Darren Sigesmund, is going to be playing live in St. John's during JunoFest. The show will be at Dusk (20 George St.) Saturday at 9 p.m.
Are there any musicians not nominated this year you would recommend people have a listen to?
The question prompts plenty of names. Saxophonist Kelly Jefferson is one. Jefferson has toured extensively with several bands, as a sideman and on his own. He is now also an instructor, teaching at universities including McGill and York. The Kelly Jefferson Quartet is who you'll likely hear him with nowadays.
Then there's Jim Vivian.
"I think of Jim Vivian because he's a bass player and it's not often a bass player is at the head of his own band," said Brennan.
St. John's-born Vivian has worked with artists throughout this province, including Mary Barry and Brennan.
Dunbar suggests David Virelles, playing with the David Virelles Quintet, or not.
"He's in like everybody's group. He plays with everybody," said Dunbar.
Virelles was born in Cuba, but came to Canada when he was 16 years old - to study as a musical protÉgÉ.
And how about Kevin Breit?
Breit may be best known for his work with Norah Jones, said Dunbar.
"He was her guitar player on her first big album. But that's not the kind of music he plays," she said.
A dozen other names are soon noted in quick succession.
The bottom line, said Harnett, is there is a world of music out there to discover. That discovery does not require you to go to a club or buy an album download.
"You can hear a lot of this stuff. People should know that," he said, pointing out that MySpace and home pages provide samplers for the majority of artists.
As for the panel members, Brennan will be performing as part of Ruckus on the Edge during the Jazz and Blues Night on Thursday, April 15. The show, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include the Bill Brennan Band with guests Jeff Dyer and Katie Hopkins, the Duane Andrews Quartet, and Denis Parker and the Rowdy Blues.
Also, since speaking with The Telegram in early April, Jefford has arranged "Jazzing Up the Junos," a show for Friday, April 16 at the Rose and Thistle (208 Water St.).
The show will include Jefford on guitar, Josh Ward on bass, Brendan Melchin on drums and Terry Campbell on trumpet, as well as possibly some "guest jammers."
The show starts at 9 p.m., with a second set at 10:30 p.m.
2010 Juno Awards Jazz Categories
Vocal Jazz Album of the Year
Carol Welsman "I Like Men"
Diana Krall "Quiet Nights"
Emilie-Claire Barlow "Haven't We Met"
Michael Kaeshammer "Lovelight"
Ranee Lee "Ranee Lee Lives Upstairs"
Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year
Charles Spearin "The Happiness Project"
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society "Infernal Machines"
Hilario Duran "Motion"
John Roney "Silverbirch"
Kirk MacDonald Quartet "Songbook Vol.1"
Traditional Jazz Album of the Year
Al Henderson "Regeneration"
Alain Bedard "Bluesy Lunedi"
Darren Sigesmund "Strands II"
Oliver Jones and Hank Jones "Pleased to Meet You"
Terry Clarke "It's About Time"
- Source: http://junoawards.ca
For more on what our panel members are working on
Bill Brennan: www.billbrennan.ca
Brad Jefford: www.myspace.com/ bradjeffordtrio
Liz Dunbar: www.wreckhousejazz-andblues.com
Chris Harnett: www.myspace.com/chrisharnett