A Name to Know

1909 JazzNotesOnce a year WholeNote puts out an issue that covers more than one month and this edition is the lucky or unlucky one depending on your point of view. On this occasion I thought I would take the opportunity to write a few words about a musician with whom I recently spent time in Vienna, Austria.

At a time when the dream of most young guitar players was to become proficient at playing three chords enabling them to play the blues and so call themselves musicians, there were a few who set their sights a little higher. One of them was a young man in Huntington Beach, Southern California. His name? Howard Alden, destined to become one of the finest jazz guitarists of his or any other generation.

The beginnings are familiar – a piano at home on which by age five he was picking out tunes and an old banjo gathering dust – a four-string model which set him on his destined path.

Those of you who are not dyed-in-the-wool fans may not recognize his name, but if Woody Allen is one of your favourites, you would have certainly heard him on one of his soundtracks. An early influence was Roy Clark on Hee Haw and his playing certainly took a change in direction when he was exposed to the music of Goodman and Basie.

A phone call from Allen in the late 90s opened yet another door for Howard when the director asked him if he would be willing to coach the principal actor for his upcoming movie Sweet and Lowdown, whose role required him to play the guitar.

The actor was Sean Penn and what Howard assumed would take a few weeks turned into six months of intensive work during which time he and Sean developed a warm relationship.

If you would like to hear the real thing in person, Howard will be in town for one night, Thursday, October 30, at the Old Mill Toronto.

Have a happy summer and spend some of it listening to live jazz. 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


For The Benefit Of The Band

jazznotes friedlander jazz coverLast month Yale University Press released a book by the American photographer and artist Lee Friedlander. Friedlander, born in 1934, has spent years photographing the American social landscape, producing a vast amount of visual information. More than 20 books of his work have been published and this latest is called Playing for the Benefit of the Band. The title is from a 1958 interview with Warren “Baby” Dodds, one of the great drummers in jazz, now largely forgotten, conducted by the New Orleans historian, William Russell. An edited version this interview acts as an introduction to the book. In it Dodds says: “And that’s the way I play. I play for the benefit of the band.” (There’s a lesson there for more than a few drummers today.)

The subtitle of this book is New Orleans Music Culture and it is a collection of black and white photographs taken in New Orleans between 1957 and 1973. Many of the pictures are informal shots taken in the homes of the musicians,  mostly players who did not join the exodus but remained part of the local scene, names such as Blind Freddie Small, “Show Boy” Thomas, Wooden Joe Nicholas, Ann “Mama Cookie” Cook; the exceptions being photos of Louis Armstrong, Edmond Hall, Wellman Braud, Roosevelt Sykes and George Lewis. There is also a charming outdoor crowd scene in the midst of which Duke Ellington is kissing Mahalia Jackson.

From the late 1800s there was music regularly in the Vieux Quartier … parades, street musicians, jazz bands on the backs of trucks and wagons. The tradition has survived and New Orleans, of course, is unique among cities in North America. Certainly in Toronto there is music of a kind, usually percussion every day at Dundas Square, but it can’t compare to the street music heard in the Crescent City. There used to be a healthy number of concerts in Toronto, co-sponsored by the city and the Toronto Musicians’ Association Trust Fund, but the fund ran short of money and our world-class city could not come up with the relatively small amount of support which in the past had given us concerts in parks and other city locations. So access to free concerts, be it jazz or a string quartet remains something to be desired.

There is another way of bringing jazz to a wide audience that has been lost and that is exposure in the mass media. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star used to have regular articles on jazz by respected writers like Geoff Chapman and authors Mark Miller and Jack Batten. Now? Apart from the occasional obit it is easier to find a needle in a haystack than a jazz article in one of our dailies.

It’s a situation which underscores the need for and importance of publications like The WholeNote which every month provides a wealth of of information – articles on, and listings of, what is going on in the local world of jazz and classical music. Yes, there is the internet with lots of blogs, some of them excellent, and promotional info, but the fact remains that jazz is poorer than the proverbial church mouse when it comes to recognition by the mass media.

Some years ago when jazz in Toronto was on a high I heard us described as the New Orleans of the North. I’m afraid that we have gone West.

Closing food for thought: The music critic Henry Pleasants wrote: “Jazz may be thought of as a current that bubbled forth from a spring in the slums of New Orleans to become the mainstream of the 20th century.”

Enjoy the music you hear and try to hear some of it live.

 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at
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Duke, Bill Clifton Not Forgotten

1906 jazznotes

It’s time to celebrate The Duke and I don’t mean John Wayne. I do mean Duke Ellington and the annual Duke Ellington Society fund raising concert at 8pm on Saturday April 26 at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building, Queen’s Park Crescent, featuring Martin Loomer’s Orange Devils, a 14-piece band specializing in Ellington’s early period. This is an important event in the jazz calendar celebrasting the music of perhaps the greatest all-round musical figure of the 20th century. I know that I’m getting ahead of myself since the concert doesn’t take place this month, but over the years this has been a sold-out event and if you are interested in attending the concert – and you should be – it is better to buy your tickets now. Ticket price is $35 available by contacting Alan Shiels at 416-239-2683

Net proceeds go to the Duke Ellington Society Scholarship Fund.

Gone But Not Quite Forgotten: I have a CD review of Bill Clifton in this month’s issue but would like to make some additional comments on this highly talented pianist. He was born in Toronto in 1916 and began his musical training at the Royal Conservatory. He was a real talent and he knew both fame and fortune throughout the 1940s and 50s. He earned the respect of jazz legends including pianists Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson

He eventually moved to the States where he worked with a number of the “name” bands including Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, Woody Herman and Paul Whiteman. Able to play in any key he was active in the studios including CBS where he accompanied all kinds of performers.

Read more: Duke, Bill Clifton Not Forgotten

Winter Of Our Jazz Content

In October of 2011 I wrote a piece about the debut performance on February 12, 1924 at Aeolian Hall in New York of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the composer playing the piano solo. The audience included Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, Serge Rachmaninov and Igor Stravinsky. The evening, led by conductor Paul Whiteman, was billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music” and the focal point, Gershwin’s Rhapsody, was a huge success.

Well, on February 12 of this year, Maurice Peress, a conductor who has made a specialty of leading works in which the influences of jazz and classical music intermingle, plans to re-create Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on its 90th anniversary. Peress will conduct Vince Giordano, an authority on recreating the sounds of 1920s and 30s jazz and popular music, and the Nighthawks with pianist Ted Rosenthal; the concert will be at Town Hall, only a block away from Aeolian Hall which is now part of the State University of New York.


The Toronto Scene:
On Thursday February 27, 2014 at Massey Hall at 8pm The Spring Quartet, four jazz stars covering a wide range of age – three generations – and experience come together under the leadership of veteran drummer, Jack DeJohnette, with tenor sax virtuoso Joe Lovano, bass player, vocalist and Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding and pianist Leonardo Genovese. All are familiar faces to Toronto audiences with the possible exception of pianist Genovese.

Pianist Leo Genovese was born in Venado Tuerto, Argentina in 1979 and moved to Boston in 2001 where he studied at Berklee with, among others, Danilo Perez and Joanne Brackeen.

I am so accustomed to seeing Jack DeJohnette with Keith Jarrett – he has been with him for some 30 years – that it will be interesting, not to mention refreshing, to hear him in such a totally different musical space. Will we perhaps see more of that in the future?

Some other highlights of jazz in Toronto:

JPEC Series at the Paintbox Bistro continues with BrubeckBraid – David Braid (piano), Matt Brubeck (cello) Saturday February 8 and Luis Mario Ochoa Quintet – Hilario Durán (piano), Roberto Riveron (bass), Amhed Mitchel (drums), Luis Orbegoso (percussion), Saturday February 15.

If you head out to Old Mill and piano players are your thing, the Home Smith Bar is a happy hunting ground. Mark Eisenman has a couple of dates on February 1 and 28, as do John Sherwood (February 7 and 22) and Mark Kieswetter (February 8 and 21). Richard Whiteman, February 14, and Adrean Farrugia, February 15, round out the month making it a veritable feast of fingers on the keyboard.

I’ve written previously about the amount of jazz in churches without tooting my own horn, so this time I wish to report that I’ll be at Deer Park United Church on February 9 at 4:30 as part of their jazz vespers series with Mark Eisenman on piano and Rosemary Galloway, bass.

bbb - jazz notesPrimers: I’ve also written in the past about the large number of students taking jazz courses in colleges and universities. I sometimes feel, when a little cynicism rises to the surface, that their numbers have increased in direct proportion to the diminishing number of gigs. Students are taught by some of the most talented jazz musicians in the country who teach to  supplement their incomes as the number of gigs declines; their students then compete for the declining number of gigs.

One result of these changes in the business is that there are fewer opportunities to work one’s way up through the ranks and get the invaluable experience of rubbing shoulders with a variety of experienced players, since the newcomers are more likely to form a group of their own and play original music. So with my tongue firmly pressed into my cheek, and culled from various disreputable sources, I offer to those of you who previously would have learned these lessons along the way, the following two primers:

Hints on playing for jazz musicians:

Everyone should play the same tune.

If you play a wrong note, give a nasty look to one of the other musicians.

Carefully tune your instrument before playing. That way you can play out of tune all night with a clear conscience.

A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note.

A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.

Markings for slurs, dynamics and ornaments need not be observed. They are only there to embellish the printed score.

When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play any notes you have left.

Happy are those who have not perfect pitch, for the kingdom of music is theirs.

How to Sing the Blues: A Primer for Beginners:

Most blues begin with “Woke up this mornin’.” It is usually bad to start the blues with “I got a good woman” unless you stick something mean in the next line.

 Example: “I got a good woman with the meanest dog in town.”

Blues cars are Chevys, Cadillacs, and broken-down trucks circa 1957. Other acceptable blues transportations are a Greyhound bus or a “southbound train.” Note: A BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, mini-van, or sport utility vehicle is NOT a blues car.

Do you have the right to sing the blues? Yes, if your first name is a southern state (e.g. Georgia), you’re blind or you shot a man in Memphis.

No, if you’re deaf, anyone in your family drives a Lotus or you have a trust fund.

Julio Iglesias, Kiri Te Kanawa and Barbra Streisand may not sing the blues. Ever.

Blues beverages are: malt liquor; Irish whisky; muddy water; white lightning; one bourbon; one scotch; and one beer. At the same time.

Blues beverages are NOT a mai-tai, a glass of Chardonnay, a Pink Lady.

Need a Blues Name? Try this mix and match starter kit:

Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Asthmatic, etc.) or character flaw (Dishonest, Low Down, etc.) or substitute the name of a fruit – Lemon – or use first and fruit names. Finish with the last name of an American President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

Examples: Low Down Lemon Johnson; One-Legged Fig Lincoln, Lame Apple Jackson.

Need a Blues instrument? Play one or more of the following and sing with husky gravelly voice:

Harmonica, gih-tar, fiddle, sax, pie-anner (in need of tuning).

Now, you’re ready to sing the blues ... unless you own a computer.

Just kidding, folks!

Not kidding department: From the New York Times of January 14, 2014: “Springsteen and Clapton to Headline New Orleans Jazz Festival.” Need I say more!

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Ain’t No Sanity Clause

1904 jazz notes 1I’m writing this in November and already I’m getting tired of Christmas songs being pumped out at me in shops and restaurants.

It can be said however that despite all the blatant commercialism the season does promote a spirit of goodwill, at least for a day or two. And that’s more than can be said for the origins of the celebration which are to be found in Roman bacchanalia steeped in drunken revelry and, unfortunately, racism, the dates of which were borrowed by the Roman Catholic Church and sanitized more than just a little. If you want clarification on this subject I invite you to check out the origins of Christmas.

In the spirit of the season I offer this abridged version of a parody on “The Night Before Christmas”:

’Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the store,

Each department was dripping with Yuletide decor.

The Muzak was blaring an out-of-tune carol,

And the fake snow was falling on “Ladies’ Apparel.”

It was all too much for my soul to condone,

And I let out a most unprofessional moan.

The crowd turned around, and I’ll say for their sake,

That they knew in an instant I wasn’t a fake.

“I’ve had it,” I told them, “with fast-buck promoting,

With gimmicks and come-ons and businessmen gloating.

This garish display of commercialized greed,

Is so very UN-Christmas, it makes my heart bleed!

And that’s my rant for today.

Elementary – what’s on: Starting with the concert halls there is in fact quite a lot of activity over the next couple of months. The listings section of the magazine has a complete rundown but I have singled out a few events giving an overview of the forthcoming events.

Regarded by many as the best big band in the business, Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, will offer a program called “Big Band Holidays” at Massey Hall on December 9. Formed in 1987 they have since taken their music around the world garnering enthusiastic devotees wherever they play. I’m pretty certain that one of the numbers they will play will be their version of “Oh Tannenbaum” and if you go on their website you’ll find the entire version, not just a clip. Worth checking out.

If you’re looking for something a little more contemporary and vigorous, December 14 at the Winter Garden Theatre will find The Bad Plus belting out their very personal brand of music. Drummer in the group, Dave King, has this to say, “This band contains some of the most punk energy I’ve ever seen or felt as a musician ...”

On the other hand If you’re looking for some nostalgia you’ll find it on December 19 at Roy Thomson Hall when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band presents “Creole Christmas.” The group was formed in 1961 — before some of the current members were born and while the band is no longer the original genuine article the evening will bring back memories of days and music gone by.

Not quite downtown but it’s worth the drive on December 5 to the Flato Markham Theatre where The Manhattan Transfer “Swings Christmas.” The group has been performing since 1974 although it hardly seems that long since I first became aware of them. They went from strength to strength and in 1981 won their first Grammy for their recording of “Until I Met You,” also known as the jazz standard “Corner Pocket,” composed by Freddie Green, longtime guitarist with Count Basie. Their Markham appearance comes hot on the heels of an extensive European tour and if you like vocal jazz, and in particular four-part harmony, Markham Theatre will be your destination.

Two nights later on December 7 John Pizzarelli and Daniela Nardi, vocals, will be “Celebrating Frank Sinatra and Paolo Conte”at Koerner Hall; and at the same venue on December 14, Regina Carter and Nnenna Freelon will present an evening of Jazz, funk, Motown, African and soul music.

So you can see that if you choose to, the festive concert season could put quite a strain on your wallet, but heh, better for your soul than a new smartphone.

At your service: I have commented on the number of jazz vespers which have become part of the fabric that makes up the musical coat of many colours to be found in our city. They first saw the light of day, or rather evening, 14 years ago at Christ Church Deer Park. At that time the minister was Tim Elliott and the musician who convinced him that jazz vespers was a fitting addition to the musical life of a church was Toronto musician Brian Barlow. Over the years there have been five ministers at Christ Church Deer Park, but Brian is still in charge of the jazz policy. Other churches have followed suit and something that 20 years ago would have been unheard of, literally, and still considered by a narrow-minded few to be the devil’s music, is now an accepted way of expressing joy and communicating with people through group improvisation.

Brian’s programming over the next couple of months includes Christmas Vespers with “Barlow Brass and Drums” on December 15 and on January 12, Jazz Vespers “Tribute to Louis Armstrong” with Chase Sanborn, trumpet, and a tribute talk by Barlow. Then on January 26, Jazz Vespers will feature the Russ Little Quintet with Russ Little, trombone, Michael Stuart, saxophone, Brian Barlow, drums, Tom Szczesniak, piano, and Scott Alexander, bass. 4:30pm is the start time and attendance is free, donations welcome.

Time for a little religious humour? Try this one. A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?”

Clubbing around: In addition to the concert schedule there is the usual club scene which is well documented in the listings section, but I would like to make mention of some of the bookings at the Jazz Bistro on Victoria Street which is going some way to picking up the slack which has existed since we lost the Montreal Bistro and Top o’ The Senator. The Jazz Bistro is in fact at the same address as the Top o’ The Senator but there the resemblance ends. It is an elegant room with decent sight lines, reasonably priced food and a really fine piano. There is also an interesting booking policy thanks to the creative efforts of Sybil Walker who brings years of experience coupled with a keen knowledge of the music. Some of the artists who will be appearing over the next few weeks include a quintet on December 6 and 7 led by drummer Mark McLean featuring Kelly Jefferson, saxophone, Robi Botos, piano, Ted Quinlan, guitar, and Marc Rogers, bass. On December 19 to 21 Duncan Hopkins will share the bandstand with Mike Murley and Rob Piltch while the New Year gets off to a swinging start with Bernie Senensky on January 2 to 4, Neil Swainson and Don Thompson, January 9 to 11 and Dave Young, who will be there with his Tribute to Horace Silver Band for three nights, January 16 to 18. With Dave will be Kevin Turcotte, Perry WhIte, Gary Williamson and Terry Clarke. A week later, January 23 to 25, Bernie Senensky will take the bandstand with sax player Grant Stewart, his brother Phil Stewart on drums and Neil Swainson, bass. A strong line-up of home grown talent and if you haven’t yet visited this relatively new space then I would strongly recommend that you put it on your things-to-do, places-to-see list.

Meanwhile over at the Rex, one of the highlights has to be the appearance of John Tank on December 3. With him will be Bernie Senensky on B3 Hammond organ and Ted Warren, drums. Kitchener-born, John Tank moved to Toronto in 1970 but has made New York his home base since 1974, He has built a strong presence both there and internationally and this is a rare Toronto appearance.

All in all if you are a jazz fan “Yule” be able to have a good time.

Just a closing reference to the Christmas commercial madness —I leave you with this thought:

As Chico Marx said in A Night At The Opera, “There ain’t no Sanity Clause!”

I wish you merry listening and a jazzy new year. 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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