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
.

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 jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

 


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