If you were singing the end-of-summer blues on the weekend of Aug. 25 and 26, then you most certainly were not at the JK Jazz Festival at Jõekääru, where top-flight artists from Estonia, Canada and around the world burned down the house before a crowd of 600 people. This fundraising event for Jõekääru Suvekodu was, beyond any doubt, an unprecedented success.
JK Jazz was the brainchild of Allan and Linda Liik. Allan is a musical mainstay of partying Toronto Estonians from the 70s and 80s. Linda and Allan had for years been catching jazz acts in Estonia. They began toying with the idea of bringing Estonian jazz musicians to Jõekääru about two years ago. They believed that a jazz festival might strike a chord with Estonians here in Canada. And it did, on a scale Linda and Allan could only have dreamed of.
Planning for the festival began to take form conceptually in December. Allan got Toomas and Rita Kütti involved sometime in the spring. Eesti Sihtkapital Kanadas, which offers support to Estonian charitable organizations, gave its funding approval in early June. That was when Allan and Linda, at the time in Eesti, started booking entertainers. And so began, for these four people, an epic journey that would take up countless hours of their lives as they worked through a long hot summer toward making JK Jazz a reality. And they did it. Still, you could imagine people were pinching themselves at 10:30 Saturday night, wondering if the crowded dance floor, that was grooving to a live Latin jazz beat in front the Jõekääru köök, was just a dream.
Thursday, a tent that would seat more than 200 people, plus a performance stage, was installed on the camp kitchen’s front lawn. As well, a perimeter fence was setup by Raimo Heyduck and his companion Christine Adcock. Raimo has been the enthusiastic Jõekääru summer camp director for the past four years. Installing the fence was no small feat.
Friday afternoon the first batch of young and old volunteers, some musicians and organizers began to arrive. The day was overcast and threatened rain. When the sun occasionally did peek through, its heat was intense.
Juuri Kiimsto and Toivo Heyduck prepared Friday night’s meal for the volunteers and musicians. Juuri, 27, has become somewhat of a fixture at Jõekääru. He’s been the camp kitchen boss for the last seven years. He is also known by the young ones as “Kuri Jüri” (Kuri means stern in Estonian, and it rhymes nicely with Jüri). He’s not kuri though, unless you make him so. It’s true he can be a fearfully large overbearing character when he chooses to be, but his affection for the camp is no secret and the kids love him for it. At the camp’s last supper this summer, the kids were asked to give a round of applause for Jüri’s hard work. They instantly leaped out of their seats and gave him an exuberant standing ovation filled with cheers and whistles that made plain their feelings for this big-hearted man.
Also on hand Friday was Toomas Kald, Jõekääru Suvekodu Selts (JSS) vice-president and treasurer. Many people say Toomas is the best thing that has happened to Jõekääru in a long while. Linda Liik says Toomas is a person that “always delivers beyond the call of duty.” He helped get the grounds ready; making sure the place was presentable before the arrival of the tent Thursday. Furthermore, his support for JK Jazz, according to organizers, was unequivocal. Certain individuals in the JSS executive feared there would be problems if “outsiders” were allowed into Jõekääru. Ironically, it was only “insiders” or Estonians that caused trouble before the weekend was done, with some drunken nonsense in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
The Friday setup went well. After dinner musicians could be heard everywhere practicing or tuning their instruments. One magical moment happened when Andre Maaker (from Eesti) began playing his acoustic guitar in the inky darkness of the dance hall at the rear of the kitchen. Another fine moment occurred a little later that evening when Brazilian Sergio Bastos, a guitarist and singer popular in Eesti, asked Raivo Tafenau, fresh from Estonia, who was meandering about outdoors practicing his accordion, to play 'Tico-Tico No Fuba’. The piece requires super finger dexterity. Raivo’s impromptu performance was breathtaking. He played another tune — ‘La vie en rose’, and then ventured off into the dark, with his squeeze box still making music. JK Jazz hadn’t yet started, but it was already hitting the high notes.
Sergio performs weekly in Eesti with Raivo and others. He lives in Brussels and is married to a Finnish woman. He speaks glowingly of Estonia and its people. He readily admits to a special dynamic between himself as a performer and the Estonian people. He says he’s played in many countries, but for reason he can’t explain, he is most warmly received in Estonia, for which he says he is grateful. As an outsider he offers interesting insights into the Estonian psyche. He says they are a people “eager to find what they have missed” as a result of the Soviet occupation. This state of mind, he says, fuels a powerful work ethic, which is good, but it also manifests itself in an all-to-quick embrace of Western ideals at the cost of long-time cultural values. Sergio believes this is one of Estonia’s biggest challenges, maintaining its unique identity without falling too deeply into that sinkhole of the soul, Western materialism.
Sergio also lamented the European Union’s slow response to Russian inspired rioting in Tallinn and the assault on Estonia’s internet infrastructure earlier this year. No doubt, many Estonians in Canada wondered the same thing about their government, which officially spoke out against the Russian inspired belligerence a day after the EU did.
As Friday’s midnight hour approached, the festival had not even started, but the world began to rock (and roll) with thunder and lightning. Staring into the storm, everyone wondered what the next day would bring.
Saturday began with a mix of cloud and sun. A few moments past 1 pm Jüri Kimsto, who traded in his chef’s apron for a black suit and tie, stood at attention outside the kook and sang the Estonian national anthem as the Jõekääru flag was raised. JK Jazz had officially begun.
As the crowd started to slowly grow, Raivo Tafenau on accordion, and Ain Agan on guitar, were the first performers on stage. They took the audience on a musical ride through Europe.
The second performance featured Andre Maaker on guitar, Eric Soostar, an Estonian born in Canada, on bass and Canadian Terry Clark on drums. They played a number of standard jazz tunes. The crowd continued to grow.
At three o’clock jazz pianist Armas Maiste came on stage with Raivo Tafenau on saxophone, Terry Clarke on drums, Eric Soostar on bass and Ain Agan on guitar. Armas Maiste, the granddaddy of the JK Jazz performers, was the leader of this newly formed quintet. He had performed in the 70s with Terry Clarke at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, according to Allan Liik. Sitting on stage at the grand piano, in a suit and tie, he looked proud and dignified. Maiste put on a fiery performance, perhaps the hottest of the day. Catching Maiste’s heat, Raivo, first time on stage with his saxophone, blasted the audience out of their seats. I t was standing room only, and the place was swinging. Armas Maiste knows how to rock!
Each musical set was a new mix of performers, but Terry Clarke and Eric Soostar always played drum and bass, respectively. You could often hear people exclaim, “Hey, I know Terry Clarke. Isn’t he famous?” Indeed, Clarke is part of the Canadian, if not world, jazz establishment.
The day saw Lisa Käärid and Liivi Hess each perform vocally. Gracing the keyboards during the day and night were Charles Kipper, Michael Liik and Adrean Farrugia. Enn Kuuskne played the sax for a set. And Allan Liik sang a few rip-roaring tunes. His ten-year-old niece Morgan Liik fearlessly joined him on stage, while her father Michael Liik (Allan’s brother) nicely tickled the piano keys. Young Morgan Liik impressed everyone with her singing abilities.
At 5 o’clock vocalist Hedvig Hanson and Andre Maaker put on a moody and, at times a haunting performance. The audience was made awestruck by a kind of eeriness she created when a sudden gust of wind rushed through the tent lifting napkins and tablecloths. Hedvig looked skyward and raised her arms, as if welcoming this unexpected intrusion, allowing her clothing to flutter in the wind. For a brief moment, it was as if Mother Nature had arrived to play along with Hedvig. It was a rare and fine moment indeed.
This was followed by a quartet that included singer Sergio Bastos on guitar, with Raivo Tafenau, Ain Agan, Terry Clarke and percussionist Joakin Nunez, who everyone referred to as the “Cuban guy.” Originally from Cuba, Joakin Nunez lives and performs in Toronto. He had arrived at Jõekääru only minutes ahead of his appearance on stage. In fact, none of the performers had ever met him before. But he caught the vibe instantly and was part of the musical action as if he been there from the start.
The place was packed. The lineups for food and drinks were long. Too bad for Peter Van Loan, the area’s Conservative Member of Parliament, who was stuck in a long line for BBQ burgers and corn when some folks (okay, full disclosure, it was me and Jüri Kimsto) started ribbing him about his government’s inaction earlier in the year when Russia was picking on Estonia.
Van Loan explained that the Estonian Central Council in Canada had asked the Harper government to lay low on the matter. Speaking with Avo Kittask, ECC president, the following Tuesday, he told me that the ECC was “not a dictatorship,” so a member could have said anything unofficially. Downplaying EU and Canadian foot-dragging, Kittask further explained that Estonia is now “grownup” and, as such, its fellow EU members, and presumably Canada, expect it to be able to handle its agitators on its own. He said Estonia is “the least important thing” for the Canadian government. “There is no such thing as a Baltic person in the (Canadian) government.” He said it was the job of Estonians to bring the world’s attention to its difficulties with Russia.
At eight o’clock Hedvig Hanson returned to the stage with an ensemble and performed lyrically for about an hour. This was followed by Saturday’s final act, the Raivo Tafenau Band. Raivo played saxophone, Terry Clarke was on drums, Adrean Farrugia played piano, Eric Soostar was on bass and vocalist Sergio Bastos played his guitar. The dance floor was packed to overflowing during this high-energy performance. It marked a fitting and satisfying end to the day, at least for the grownups. A kid’s dance started at 11 pm in the dancehall and it lasted until 1 am. Kalev Nisbet was the disc jockey.
Everything seemed to run smoothly, except for the food, which was in short supply early Saturday evening. Kitchen savior Jüri Kimsto righted matters by digging into the camp’s freezers and hauling out more food. No one went hungry. JSS president Linda Karuks was seen slaving over the stove to help keep up with demand.
Beer and wine was never in short supply, thanks to the efforts of Jaan Schaer (one of Jõekääru’s original campers) and his “Saku Blue team.” The quantities drunk were vast.
The sound system was superb and the credit there goes to Erik Agur and his assistant Allan Eistrat. No matter where you were on the grounds of the festival the music came through loud, crisp and clear.
At about 11:30 the party was still happening, but winding down. Some people drove back to Toronto, others had places to stay within Jõekääru. The camp provided its barracks and a tent area in the eastern parking lot. It was a perfect night to be in the country. The air was cool and the waning moon, still nearly full, was bright. Clouds, like fluffy misshapen cotton balls, floated silently across a starry sky. At about 1:30 Sunday morning, while walking the gravel roads of Jõekääru one could hear voices quietly emanating from the dark, probably people still high from the day, discussing the festival or catching up with old friends.
Shortly after ten in the morning Sunday, the festival began again, but the crowd was quieter and more relaxed than the day before. First on stage was a guitar duo of Andre Maaker and Ain Agan. This was followed by a quintet, featuring Raivo Tafenau on accordion, piano Adrean Farrugia, drums Terry Clarke and bass Eric Soostar. The event came to a conclusion at 1 pm.
An older Estonian gentleman, nursing a beer early Sunday morning by the remnants of the main fire in the parking lot, was heard to blurt out, “They should have done this 30 years ago!” And perhaps they, whoever they were, should have, but it likely was not possible. In 1977 Estonians in Canada were still in the throes of preserving Estonian culture in the amber of pre-Soviet occupation. The only “real” Estonian culture for many outside of its borders was what had been taken from there, like folk dancing, the language, theatre, songs and art. The real Estonia of 1977 was a bust for those that had escaped the occupation. Even today, many Estonians in Canada refuse to let go of the past. They fear the “outsider.” It is when Estonians chose to be fearless and embrace each other completely that the community in Canada thrives. JK Jazz did just that; its organizers courageously tried something new. They invited Estonians and so-called outsiders to an event that was musically international in scope and anything but pure (what does pure mean anyway?) Estonian. And people, encompassing all ages, responded by coming out in droves.
The volunteers, about 40, were Estonian and non-Estonian, as was the audience. The performers, though mostly Estonian, were a mixed bag of nationalities. There was nothing pure Estonian about the festival. Yet its success can only be good for Estonians here and at home. The money raised is good for the camp. The re-establishment of old friendships, the making of new ones is also good. Terry Clarke and Adrean Farrugia, since the JK Jazz Festival ended, have agreed to play with Raivo Tafenau in Estonia. York Region Mayor Rob Grossi was so impressed by the festival he’s tentatively offering financial support for next year’s festival. Mr. Grossi even wants to help find and create an official European sister city for Jõekääru. All this is good, none of it is 100% Estonian, but still we are only stronger because of it.
We be jammin’ in JK (46)