The More It Changes ...

Jazz Notes-2004This being the 15th or 16th December/January edition of these Jazz Notes for The WholeNote, I thought that rather than essaying something completely new, I’d dip back through my little stack of back issues for things that, still being appropriate, I might appropriate. Take this, for one example:

This month’s column is a departure from the familiar concert listings of previous issues, reason being that the above mentioned departure was mine - for a month-long trip to Europe! As a result this article is coming to you from the waltz capital of the world, Vienna.

First of all, for the record, the Danube is not blue, but an industrial brown which would not inspire Johann were he to see it today. Also the Viennese waltz does not make up 3/4 of the music heard in Vienna, even though it is in 3/4, and since being here I have not heard a single zither play the theme from The Third Man.

Is there jazz in this stronghold of Strauss? – this fatherland of Freud? – this Mecca of Mozart? – this city where you can have your Vienna Phil? Yes there is and quite a lot of it at that, although, as anywhere else it is music for a small minority – and a minority that is broken into at least two camps. There are the obvious ones traditional and modern, and it would seem that never – or very seldom – the twain shall meet. (No, not you, Mark!)

The stronghold for the traditional/swing/bebop audience – and I include bebop because in the overall picture of what is called jazz today, bebop is pretty traditional sounding – is a club called Jazzland, located in the heart of the old city, underneath what was the wall of the old city. It is, of course, a cellar club, full of atmosphere, with the original walls and vaulted ceiling still in place.

The walls are lined with photos of jazz artists who have played the club and it is quite a Who’s Who ranging from pioneers like Teddy Wilson and Wild Bill Davison to the recently deceased Art Farmer. Artists appearing in November, for example, included Red Holloway, Trevor Richards, Conte Candoli, Melissa Walker and Hal Singer along with some of the leading local players. It is the oldest club in Vienna currently in its 27th year as a jazz haunt and something like its 500th as a cellar. It was an escape route in times of siege but serves now as an escape for jazz fans who like to know where the bar is and prefer their music to swing.

Jazzland is run by a remarkable couple, Axel and Tillie Melhardt, assisted by a really friendly staff including Martin and Thomas, a pair of great bartenders. Alex and Tillie’s love of the music is genuine and the long succession of visiting artists thinks the world of them. If you can find better anywhere I’ll buy an oversized Tam O’Shanter and eat it. (It’s a hat Mabel). Incidentally Axel Melhardt comes by his love of music honestly. His mother was an opera singer and his great-grand-uncle was Antonín Dvořák!

There are several other clubs where mostly local musicians are featured. They don’t have jazz six nights a week so you have to check, but you can make some nice discoveries in venues such as Papa’s Tapas, Blues Man, Miles Smiles, tunel, and Vienna Unplugged. Worth noting is Reigen Live, a club which featured one-nighters last week by Archie Shepp, Les McCann, Jimmy Scott and Cubanismo. There is also a club called Porgy And Bess operating once a week just now. It presents the more avant-garde end of the spectrum so don’t expect much Gershwin, despite the name.

There are plans to build a new Porgy and Bess club heavily funded by the city, as the planned new Birdland club, being built by Joe Zawinul, will be. I heard a good singer called Barbara Pfluger who appeared last month in a spot called Celeste. The local talent pool is good. Some of the groups I am familiar with cover a wide range of styles. If you like it New Orleans style, there are The Red Hot Pods who have played the Toronto festival a couple of times A little more towards the Chicago style, in spite of their name, you have The Original Storyville Jazz Band and advancing chronologically in terms of style there are groups like the Stanton Big Band, Together, Koolinger, and The Vienna Art Orchestra. I can’t list everybody and I apologise if I leave out names that deserve to be included, but two of the most impressive musicians I heard were drummer Walter Grossrubatscher and pianist/clarinettist Herbert Swoboda who can easily hold their own in any company.

Jazz in Vienna is not confined to clubs, although it is interesting, in view of some earlier comments in this column, to note that performances in clubs are frequently referred to as “concerts.” The “real” concert hall scene is also quite active. Over the current four week period the line-up is Dave Brubeck Quartet, Manhattan Transfer, The Ron Carter Quintet, and Joe Zwainul in a “Homage to Johann Strauss” if you can believe that one!

So is there a jazz scene here? You can bet your Vienna Woods there is.

It seems to me that more has stayed the same in Vienna jazz life than has changed since mid-November 1999, which is when I wrote this little sketch – Axel Melhardt is still at the helm of a Jazzland, now in its 44th year. The Porgy and Bess and Birdland ventures I mentioned amounted to nothing; places announced in a blaze of glory only to fizzle are a part of the scene’s overall wonderful consistency. Audiences remain a consistent mix of grey and not yet grey, coming to actually listen to music, some of it because it is marvellously new, some precisely because it isn’t.

Incidentally, I rang in that millennial new year at The Montreal Bistro, Sherbourne and Adelaide… performing from the 28th to Jan 1, starting at 9pm each night. “The music will swing,” I wrote, “and so will my kilt on New Year’s Eve.”

So some things do change: the Montreal Bistro and the five-day gig both seem a long time ago.

 

Here are another couple of excerpts to ponder (both from the following year, the first December of the brave new millennium):

Looking back over the past year I realize just how much good jazz is available in this city. On any given week in Toronto you can hear a wide range of music. the performers are sometimes visiting “names” but the majority are our own artists – and the standards are high. the concentration of good musicians in our own community is astonishing. The number of playing opportunities regrettably small, for it is an unfortunate fact that there is a lot less work for musicians than there used to be.

… And this:

The somewhat unusual contradiction in all of this is the problem that we live in an age where there is not enough work for muscians, while at the same time there is too much music around us!

It’s a personal opinion, but I hold it very firmly, and I know I’m not alone. Music has been devalued or at least the contribution of the people who make the music. Because of its omnipresence – in elevators, in shops, in restaurants, in waiting rooms, in washrooms – incessantly – it is rammed down our throats, well our ears, to be more accurate, day and night, to the extent that it is simply noise in the background and of absolutely no aesthetic value. And silence becomes increasingly golden.

And so I come to the end of another column and another year, with a final quote from that December 2000 column.

“Have an excellent holiday season, and if you need a resolution for the new year, how about making a point of getting out to see more live music. Those of us who toil on stages and in clubs will be grateful.”

Or in the words of what has become my standard Jazz Notes sign-off over the years: Happy listening, and why not make some of it live!

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at jazznotes@thewholenote.com. 


The Sound Of Music

beat - jazz notesNo, this really isn’t about my favourite things. It’s about the relationship between music and war and it’s triggered by the fact that Remembrance Day falls on the 11th of this month and that got me thinking about songs that in all probability would not have been written had there not been the background of violence. So much for music being the food of love – it can also be the food of sorrow, anger, regret and the whole range of human emotions.

Patriotic songs have been around for centuries. One of the first Canadian examples dates from the war of 1812: ”Come all you brave Canadians I’d have you lend an ear / Unto a simple ditty / That will your spirits cheer.” Fast forward to the First World War, “the war to end all wars,” which gave us “Keep the Home Fires Burning” (1914), “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” “The Hearse Song,” “Over There” (later featured in the film This Is the Army) and “Roses of Picardy.”

“Bless ’Em All” (also known as “The Long and the Short and the Tall” and “F*** ’Em All”) is a war song credited as having been written by Fred Godfrey in 1917 but not really popular until WWII.

“Lili Marleen” became one of the most popular songs of the Second World War among both German and British troops, the most notable version sung being by Marlene Dietrich.

Irving Berlin wrote “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” (1942) for the revue This is the Army that was remade as a 1943 American wartime musical comedy film of the same name. It mocks the attitudes of middle class soldiers forced to undergo the rigours of life in the barracks.

“Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major,” (1939) is a British soldier’s song, mocking their officers.

Popular concert songs in Britain during the war included “Run Rabbit Run,” sung by Flanagan and Allen (1939) and “There’ll Always Be An England” (1939–40,) sung by Vera Lynn who also had a huge hit with “We’ll Meet Again.”

And the point of all this? It’s worth noting that the solemn music that gets trotted out at times of significant remembrance like this is generally written after the fact. What lifted the spirits of those who were then and there was music more like this.

From chalumeau to licorice stick: The chalumeau was the forerunner of the present day clarinet and the clarinet has maintained its strong presence in classical music throughout the centuries. In jazz however it has had its ups and downs.

In the review section I covered a CD by clarinetist John MacMurchy. Well, a few decades ago clarinet was king with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and less famous names. But right up there were instrumentalists such as Barney Bigard, known for his long association with Duke Ellington, Edmond Hall, for my taste the most exciting clarinet sound of them all, Jimmie Noone with one of the most liquid sounds of anybody on the instrument and Irving Fazola, born Henry Prestopnik. He got the nickname Fazola from his childhood skill at Solfege (“Fa-Sol-La”). And of course the somewhat eccentric – in sound as well as his approach to the music – Pee Wee Russell, whom you either love or hate. All I can say is that if Pee Wee’s music escapes you then you are truly missing out.

Less well known is that he was also an abstract painter. The story goes that one day his wife Mary came home with a bunch of painting supplies and told Pee Wee to try them out. The cover of one of his LPs features a painting by him. I used to have it but somebody borrowed it and I never saw it again!

I didn’t meet him until late in his life. I was playing on a jazz gig at the King Edward Hotel and we finished at 1am, but on weekends at George’s where Pee Wee was fighting a really inappropriate back-up trio, the music went until 2am. So off I went and as I reached the club he was ending a set with a lovely old song called “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain.” When he came off I told him how much I enjoyed that song and he told me it was one of Bix’s favourites. Anyway when he went on for the next set he played it again and I was innocent and vain enough to think it was perhaps for me.

Speaking of eccentrics there was a New Orleans clarinet player called Joseph “Cornbread” Thomas who took his false teeth out before playing!

Groups of clarinets playing together, or clarinet choirs, are not uncommon, although some cynics refer to them as sounding like a fire in a pet shop!

Back to Pee Wee – he had a long sort of sad face – a bit like a mournful bloodhound, but without the bark. We spent an afternoon together in his hotel room but he did not seem like a happy man. The death of his wife really affected him and I believe that a large part of him died with her. I remember he sat there in his underwear drinking straight gin – a sad figure, especially when I think of the pleasure his music gave to so many people. There will never be another like him.

Happy listening and try to make some of it live.

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at
jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

Jazz Is My Life (Unless It Kills Me)

BBB-JazzNotesA survey in the 60s claimed that the average lifespan of jazz musicians was 44 and certainly there are facts to support this. Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke only made it to 28; Clifford Brown died at the age of 25 in a car accident; Guitarist Charlie Christian died of tuberculosis at age 25; John Coltrane had liver cancer and died at age 40. Albert Ayler drowned at age 34; Guitarist Lenny Breau died a violent death at age 43. Another violent death was that of Lee Morgan, shot by his common-law wife at age 33. Jaki Byard, a pianist, saxophonist and teacher who recorded with some of jazz’s most important figures, was shot dead February 11 in his house in Queens. (Mind you, he was 76 by then!)

On a slightly less morbid note Sidney Bechet, born in New Orleans in 1897 moved permanently to France in 1950 and had an international hit with “Petite Fleur” at the age of 53, becoming something of a national hero in his adopted country.

Some years ago I was playing at La Huchette in Paris and on the way back to my hotel one night what did I hear coming from a late-night bar? Bechet’s version of “Petite Fleur,” more than 20 years after his death in Paris (from lung cancer on May 14, 1959 on his 62nd birthday). Sigh.

Continuing the litany: Leon “Chu” Berry, hardly even remembered today, was a big, fat-toned tenor player, killed in a car accident at 33. And some of you might remember guitarist Emily Remler from her appearances here. She died of a heart attack at 32. Jimmy Blanton, pioneering bass player died of tuberculosis at 23, Frank Teschemacher whose reed playing influenced many of his successors was killed in a car crash. He was only 25. And these are only a few of the many fine musicians who left us too soon.

The flip side? If the lifestyle doesn’t kill you, the joy of the music will keep you going to a ripe old age!

One more for the road: In the days of prohibition in the U.S. there was plenty of “bathtub gin around but good alcohol was hard to find.” I remember Wild Bill Davison telling me that they always liked playing Detroit because there was a late-night bar where you could get good whisky which was hauled from Canada on a skiff under the surface of the Detroit River. Sometimes the delivery was a bit late, but it was worth the wait! And quite often the labels were washed off, not that it mattered too much, because the booze was good.

But don’t get the idea that prohibition didn’t ever exist in Canada. It was present in various stages, from 19th-century local municipal bans to provincial bans in the early 20th century, and national prohibition from 1918 to 1920. Alcohol was illegal in Prince Edward Island until 1948. Parts of west Toronto did not permit liquor sales until 2000. But by and large the enforcement of prohibition laws is a little bit like King Canute trying to turn back the tide, and, in its various forms, it has spawned drinking songs throughout the centuries: “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me,” “ One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” “What’s The Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again),” “The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert (Sunday Morning Coming Down),” and “Gimme That Wine,” to name only a few.

Meanwhile, getting back to the business of longevity, the mean life span for a survey of 33 male symphony conductors was 75.6 years.

Moral? Spend a lot of time waving your arms about.

I wish you all happy listening – and try to make some of it live.

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

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 jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

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
jazznotes@thewholenote.com
.


Back to top