bookshelf glenngould book coverRemembering Glenn Gould:
Twenty Interviews with People Who
Knew Him, by Colin Eatock.
Penumbra Press, 2012. 189 pages. $19.95.

The glenn gould booster club seldom sleeps. Toronto music journalist Colin Eatock has gathered together many of the familiar names who were part of the Gould constellation at one time or another — Andrew Kazdin, Verne Edquist, Walter Homburger, Margaret Pacsu, Ray Roberts, Robert Fulford, etc. — asked them each a few intelligent questions, then just hit the record button to let them speak at length. Et voilà, a conversational-flavoured biography of the famous Canadian pianist.

One may well ask, why do this? Eatock asks it himself in an introductory essay — his opening sentence is “Why another book about Glenn Gould?”— yet he seems unable to answer his own question. I’ll venture an answer for him. Because there are still plenty of Gouldites out there, like me, who for silly if obsessive reasons devour a book like this, in our bid to further mythologize an oddball deceased Toronto classical musician who for a time captivated the world through his concerts and records. So yes, this book has a market, especially in English Canada. Penumbra is an Ontario publisher that celebrates Canadian culture, and this paperback is handsomely produced, on beautiful paper, well bound, with a gracious type font. (Stan Bevington designed the book, and deserves an ovation for the old-fashioned art of bookmanship.)

Though Gould fans have encountered most of these reminiscences before from the same cast, Eatock poses gentle questions to 20 articulate people and adds his own short preludes and postludes.  Here and there, insightful sentences tap a reader on the shoulder. Vincent Tovell, the CBC TV producer, muses: “[Gould] was ahead of his time. But he was also before his time, reaching back to a simpler world, before the modern age, in a search for serenity.” William Littler, distinguished Canadian music critic, observes of Gould the would-be philosopher: “He didn’t want a dialogue — he wanted an audience.” American violinist Jaime Laredo states: “I’ve never, ever, in my life worked with anyone who played the piano better than he did.”

Eatock snared an interview with Cornelia Foss, an American visual artist who first came out of the shadows back in 2007 to speak of her four years living in Toronto as Gould’s semi-secret lover/companion. She tells us that she found his much-admired Bach playing entirely wrongheaded, and explains why.

The longest interview is accorded to CBC Radio’s John Roberts, an abiding friend of Gould’s and major keeper of the Gould flame. “I always found Glenn to be very kind, very thoughtful, extremely loyal — and he was the best friend I ever had,” Roberts says fondly.

Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti and Canadian composer John Beckwith express serious reservations in their interviews, both about Glenn Gould the stylistically mannered musician and the posthumous fan industry he spawned. They probably won’t be buying copies of this book to give as gifts.

But I will. Newcomers to the Gould saga will enjoy it, at $20 it’s a bargain, and its keyboard hero remains a cipher. 

Toronto’s cultural and architectural landmark turns 30 this year, and is celebrating its birthday with the launch of William Littler and John Terauds’ new book Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait. The authors use the iconic building, once known as the “New Massey Hall,” as a backdrop for the stories of the myriad people who have contributed to its development through the years. From Arthur Erickson’s initial architectural plans, to the 2002 acoustical renovations, to the countless outreach and community programs that the hall hosts today, Littler and Terauds have provided readers with a comprehensive story of the building’s first three decades while maintaining interest amidst the telling of administrative anecdotes – a testament both to the writers’ skill and to the colourful history of the hall itself. Well-researched and beautifully illustrated, the book supplies the community with a refreshing perspective of a much-loved musical landmark.

65-arrivalsdepartures---new-horizons-in-jazz001Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz
Stuart Broomer, Brain Morton & Bill Shoemaker
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
€ 34.50 (includes international shipping)
ISBN: 978-972-31-1493-5 UPC: 9789723114935

Distinguished as much for its scholarship as for the artful, mostly colour photos and illustrations which make it an attractive souvenir, this 240-page volume was published by Lisbon’s annual Jazz em Agosto (JeA) Festival to mark its 30th anniversary of innovative programming. It says a lot about the individuals who program JeA that rather than commissioning a vainglorious rundown of the festival’s greatest hits, they turned to three respected jazz critics to profile 50 of the most important musicians, living or dead, who have performed at the festival.

The three writers are Brian Morton from the United Kingdom, American Bill Shoemaker and Canadian Stuart Broomer, who also writes for The WholeNote. The profiles reflect how universal jazz — or more properly improvised music — has become in the three decades JeA has been in existence. Once exclusively thought of as the United States’ contribution to the music world, only slightly more than half of the profiles are of American improvisers. Additionally the majority of the Yanks are not only better known in Europe than North America, but earn the greater part of their income overseas at festivals like JeA.

Well-written and insightful, the profiles include those of acknowledged trailblazers such as saxophonists Evan Parker and Steve Lacy, drummer Max Roach and pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Cecil Taylor, plus those just establishing a reputation like pianist Craig Taborn, trumpeter Peter Evans and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Offering a wealth of information and craftily outlining the performers’ contributions to jazz history as well as a list of essential recordings, the essays could be a primer for those interested in more exposure to excellent music and musicians not promoted by celebrity-obsessed mass media. Broomer’s essay on American saxophonist John Zorn and Shoemaker’s on French bassist Joëlle Léandre are particularly instructive since they pinpoint the many and varied non-jazz influences that helped create these musicians’ exceptional improvised sounds.

For Canadians however the biggest disappointment is that none of the musicians profiled come from this country, although even Japan and Australia are represented. But of course the omission reflects JeA’s booking policies rather than editorial decisions. Considering that Canadians in greater numbers, including expatriates like New York-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt and pianist Kris Davis as well as homebodies like Vancouver clarinetist François Houle and Montreal reedist François Carrier are making a profound impact on the sort of evolving music JeA supports, that situation could soon be reflected by JeA and perhaps a future volume. 

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