INTERVIEW: Judith Humenick (#IWD2017)

Judith Humenick.
Photo credit: Marjan Tropper


JUDITH HUMENICK is a Canadian artist manager and consultant, and is also involved in jazz education as founder and Executive Director of JazzWorks Canada, an Ottawa-based jazz education organization. Her promotion, the Langston Hughes Project, won the 2016 JazzFM Award for Live Experience of the Year. Interview by Sandra Marcy:

Sandra Marcy: You presented the Langston Hughes Project (LHP) Ask Your Mama -12 Moods for Jazz at London Jazz Festival which won Jazz FM's Live Experience of the Year 2016.  How did it come about?

Judith Humenick: The Project, a multimedia concert performance of Hughes' kaleidoscopic jazz poem suite, is Hughes's homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom in the United States and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. The twelve-part epic poem, which Hughes himself scored with a wide variety of musical cues drawn from as many as 12 different jazz and blues related styles plus German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming, remained unperformed at his death.

It’s a multi-media work that involves narration by a spoken word artist and originally composed music with jazz quartet (based on Hughes’ cues) set to a visual background of images from the Harlem Renaissance, and it all occurs simultaneously. The show originated as a Black History Month project/event over 15 years ago, and it was so well received that performances of the work have continued for college audiences across the US ever since. While Ron McCurdy has been performing and perfecting the LHP presentation over a number of years, the original collaboration with spoken word artist rapper/actor Ice T took place in 2008, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

In discussions with John Cumming and Amy Pearce, the Artistic Directors of the EDG London Jazz Festival, about an engaging way to premier the LHP internationally at the Festival last November, the idea of co-narration by Ron McCurdy and Ice T, with the quartet as the musical base, really seemed to resonate. I approached Ice T… he was very excited about participating in the project, and the rest is history. With a capacity audience at our host theatre, The Barbican, the audience responded with incredible warmth, cheers and a roaring standing ovation. The show received several 4-star reviews from the major UK press… and then came the Live Experience Jazz FM Award. We were absolutely thrilled… and we’d love to tour this great show for jazz and theatre/poetry audiences throughout the UK!

Judith Humenick accepting the Live Experience Award at the
2016 JazzFM Awards.
 Photo courtesy of Ina Dittke


SM: You work with a number of different artists, including established saxophonist Kirk MacDonald.  How do you choose who to work with and why?

JH: Interestingly enough, all of the artists with whom I currently work approached me, including Kirk MacDonald. I started my artist management company, Judith Humenick Productions (www.jhumenickproductions.com) working with a single artist, Toronto, Canada-based vocalist Julie Michels. Over the first year, several others approached me, and the business has grown from there. I’m so very fortunate to be working with artists of the calibre of Kirk MacDonald. His international profile is growing and it’s wonderful to be sharing his original music with new audiences.

SM: And what about the decision whether to take on a new artist? 

JH: When I’m considering whether to “jump into the deep end” with a new artist, which is what you have to do in this work, there are four main factors that come into the mix. I’m a classically trained musician - flutist and vocalist - so first I must really love the music. Their work has to be something very special for me, something that I really connect with on a personal level.

Secondly, I look for a good track record, strong evidence of commitment and a solid work ethic. It’s such a highly competitive industry with so many talented artists working in a highly challenging and constantly changing technological environment.

Thirdly, I aim for a “sense of balance” across all the artists on my roster, doing my best to make sure that there is no direct competition, while at the same time trying to find opportunities for collaboration and potential for cross pollination.

A good example of the collaboration is two of my artists, vocalist Julie Michels and pianist David Restivo who frequently work together in duo and trio settings. When we created the “Braden/Michels Project” CD, where we paired Julie with New York based saxophonist/flutist Don Braden, David wrote all of the vocal arrangements and also performed on the album. That project has had considerable staying power, and we’ll be taking it to a new jazz festival audience in the Middle East, the Jazz Tales Festival in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, later this month from March 22nd to 25th. https://www.facebook.com/JazzTalesFestival/

And finally, I have to feel comfortable advising and promoting them as artists... so I have to have a good personal connection with them. It’s always very much a team effort.

SM: Are you finding more women becoming involved in jazz in Canada?

JH: Historically, on the performer side, the jazz industry definitely has been male dominated. However, that is changing. The maturing of Canada's jazz education programmes over the past 30 plus years, at the high school, college and university levels has certainly provided the opportunity for more women to access training and experience necessary to work in jazz as playing musicians and also on the business side. We have great programmes in the East and across Canada, where women like Cathy Mitro, Director of the Community Program at Toronto’s Humber College, are leading by example. So the number of women performers is increasing largely because of these great school programmes. In terms of the business side, such as management and administration, agency work and public relations, it has been my experience that there are certainly more women working those areas.

SM:  Do you think it's easier or more difficult working in jazz if you're a woman?

JH: I don’t think it’s any more or less difficult working in jazz as a woman. I say that because being successful in the business side of jazz is very much about building and maintaining relationships and connections. So it’s less about being male or female and more about personality type and how you connect with people. I would say that when it comes to networking and supporting others, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great women in the business, such as highly skilled artist managers Ina Dittke, Gail Boyd and Janet Castiel, and also with label owner Jana Herzen of Motema Records as well as with some very supportive male colleagues.

SM: What's next for JH Productions?

JH: Goodness... there is a lot happening! All of my artists are extremely active. These are just a couple of examples:

I’ll be traveling with the Braden/Michels Project to Egypt for the Jazz Tales Festival at the end of the month. There’s a good example of the need for patience and the maintaining of positive working relationships. It took close to five years and many conversations to make this event happen, for this particular group. Julie's and Don’s experience as skilled jazz educators will also play a key role in this event, as they will be leading a 2-day workshop at the America University in Cairo, where they’ll work with two local groups, one of which is a blues band.

Following that, in late April, I’ll be attending the annual jazzahead! conference in Bremen, Germany, where I’ll be representing my artists at the CIMA Canada Booth (Canadian Independent Music Association) and working in partnership with Berlin-based entertainment lawyer, music publisher and jazz pianist Steven Reich, of 1630 Music Publishing.

Steven is a Canadian citizen who has offices in Berlin and New York, and Kirk MacDonald is the first Canadian jazz composer being signed to 1630 Music Publishing (www.1630music.com) which has an impressive roster of artists, including the music of Thelonious Monk, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette and Fred Hersch. A prolific composer, Kirk has written over seven hours of original big band charts and more than 50 original songs or tunes, as we call them. And we’ll soon be announcing a new saxophone and piano duo CD, a recording made in Berlin last November at the prestigious BlackBird Music Studio, with Kirk on saxophone and Steven Reich on piano.

I’m also really excited about the Royal Bopsters, an amazing vocal quartet, known for their “stunning Multi-Generational Vocal Summit-Vocalese Project” which earned 4½ stars in DownBeat Magazine, hitting many Top CD lists of 2015 and earning international acclaim. They are definitely making some waves. The group, which includes singers Holli Ross, Amy London, Dylan Pramuk and Pete McGuinness. will be touring Europe in late June early July, culminating in a show at the Poysdorf Jazz Festival in Poysdorf, Austria on July 8th.

SM:  Having been active in jazz education what made you become an artist manager?

JH: Before starting Judith Humenick Productions, I had been in involved in music and jazz education for over 25 years, including artist coordination and presentation and the volunteer board of directors’ side of jazz festival world. That experience basically set the stage for what I do now. It provided an excellent vantage point for developing a broad understanding of the jazz business. So, in 2011 when vocalist Julie Michels, who had been a long time Vocal Faculty member of the JazzWorks Jazz Camp (for Adults) which I had created in 1994, asked me to be her manager, it felt very much like a natural evolution.

JazzWorks Faculty members guitarist Lorne Lofsky and bassist Neil Sealy.
Photo credit: Betty Ann Bryanton


SM: Can you tell us about JazzWorks Canada?

JH: JazzWorks Canada is an Ottawa-based Canadian not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of jazz musicianship in players of all ages, which I founded in 1994 with the goal of creating a focussed weekend environment where adults could share in an intensive jazz education experience. JazzWorks has evolved to become a thriving, active community of several hundred highly motivated amateur and semi-professional jazz musicians who embrace new learning opportunities and perform regularly across the Ottawa region and beyond. The organization carries out a wide range of activities including an Annual Composers’ Symposium and Summer Jazz Camp, monthly jam sessions, a weekly jazz newsletter, workshops and concerts throughout the year.

Sandra Marcy is a member of the Music Managers Forum, and represents IndoJazzFunk bass guitarist Shez Raja new singer/songwriter Terry Logan.

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