jazznotes al-gallodoroFirst of all, just in case you read last month’s column and are wondering how my adventure in Vienna ended, I am out of the woods, so to speak, and back home safe and relatively sound. The last leg — no pun intended — was a direct flight from Vienna to Toronto bringing to a close a trip to remember.

I was allowed out of the infirmary a good deal less infirm than when I went in but had to wait a few days before I could get the flight home and so I spent the night before I left at Jazzland where I enjoyed a lovely evening listening to guitarist Mundell Lowe.

Lowe is not a household name in jazz but he is one of the truly important names in the world of jazz guitarists.

There are guitar players who have relatively high profiles throughout their careers — Barney Kessell, Bucky Pizzarelli, Charlie Christian, Ed Bickert, Eddie Lang, Herb Ellis, Jim Hall, Joe Pass, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino and Pat Metheny are a few of those who attained that recognition.

Read more: ‘Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer’

Long-time readers of The WholeNote might have noticed that I am usually in Vienna at least once every year. Well this year is no exception — here I am, but seeing this lovely city from a quite different perspective — from that of a hospital bed! To make a long story short, if this were the précis for a horror movie a working title might be “The Return Of The Dreaded Cellulitis,” or “Lost Limbo.” It’s the return of a condition for which I was first treated over three years ago and if not cured can result in the loss of a limb or even limbs, which would leave me legless and I don’t mean drunk!

The loss of limb thought opens up possibilities for dark humour. Please don’t be offended by my making jokes about something which is really no laughing matter, but keeping a sense of humour goes a long way in helping to cope with problems.

I decided to follow the advice of an Eric Idle song title and “look on the bright side of life,” so that if worst came to worst and I was minus a lower extremity, I could, for example, learn to play bass drum, cymbals, harmonica attached to some sort of neck-piece and become a one-man group called “Stump The Band” and go out not on one-night stands but one-leg stands performing such songs as “Knee Up Mother Brown,” “Peg Of My Heart,” “I Only Have Thighs For You.”

A suitable condition, too, if you want to be a “legend” in your own time.

I played a number of times with Benny Waters who, in his later years, lost the sight of one eye. He then included in his standard repertoire “Please Don’t Talk About Me One Eye’s Gone.”

Pianists Eddie Thompson, George Shearing and Joel Shulman all coped successfully with blindness and were known for their highly developed senses be considered blind.

I used to have musical competitions with Eddie to see who could play the most quotes during a song. I remember that on a few occasions there was actually a scorekeeper in the audience! But some of them were much too subtle for the average listener. If one of us played a really obscure quote the other would call out “Yellow Card!”

Shearing had a really funny version of The Lord’s Prayer. I can’t remember it word for word but it went something like this:

Our Farnham, who art in Hendon
Harrow be Thy name

Thy Kingston come; thy Wimbledon,
In Erith as it is in Hendon,

Give us this day our daily Brent
And forgive us our Westminster

As we forgive those who Westminster against us.
And lead us not into Thames Ditton

But deliver us from Ewell

For Thine is the Kingston, the Purley and the Crawley,
For Esher and Esher.

Crouch End.

Trumpeter “Wingy” Manone, so called because he lost an arm in an accident, played using one hand. Joe Venuti, the legendary violinist and prankster used to send Manone one cuff link every Christmas!

Red Norvo the renowned vibes player went almost totally deaf but was able to continue playing not hearing the notes but picking up the vibes — no pun intended.

1808-jazznotesThen there was Arnett Cobb. The big-toned tenor player from Texas was 30 years old when he had to have an operation on his spine. He recovered and resumed touring but eight years later in 1956 his legs were crushed in a car accident and for the rest of his life he had to use crutches when playing.

One of the world’s greatest violinists, Itzhak Perlman, contracted polio at the age of four but learned to walk using crutches and he plays violin while seated.

Django Reinhardt was one of the greatest guitar players of all time and after surviving an accident in a fire could only use the index and middle fingers of his left hand on solos. Ludwig van Beethoven remains one of the best-known and greatest composers of all time even though in his mid-20s he lost his hearing, while Evelyn Glennie, an amazing Scottish percussionist despite the fact that she is deaf, performs barefoot, which enables her to “hear” her music by feeling the vibrations.

Completing the circle back to Austria, the No Problem Orchestra, an Austrian band comprised of musicians with physical and mental disabilities (mostly Down syndrome) was formed in 1985. It has since given more than 5,000 concerts around the world.

Anyway, what I’m getting at in this article is that one can overcome all kinds of adversities with the power of music — and it helps to maintain a sense of humour.

So here I am in station 3A of the Dermatological Unit, Rudolfstiftung Hospital, Vienna, and the staff have been quite wonderful in the way they have looked after me, but also telling me in no uncertain terms that they won’t discharge me until they are good and ready.

Happy listening and stay out of hospital beds. 

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

“Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring

The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.”

—Omar Khayyám

Omar didn’t know it, but the last line of the above probably influenced the following flight of fancy:

Spring is sprung

The grass is ris’

I wonder where the boidies is

The boid is on the wing

But thats absoid

I always thought the wing was on the boid!

Jazz NotesAnd speaking of “boid,” or more correctly bird, makes me think of the jazz bird, Charlie Parker, and from there it’s an easy step to “Bird and Diz.”

Which leads me to a concert worth checking out this month — the Dave Young-Terry Promane Octet and the Heavyweights Brass Band, with special guests percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo and trumpeter Claudio Roditi, will celebrate the music of Dizzy Gillespie on April 13 at Koerner Hall.

I hardly need to say anything about Dave Young and Terry Promane, both stalwarts of the Canadian scene, but maybe a line or two about the visiting firemen is in order.

Master percussionist Hidalgo was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, into a musical family and came to the United States via Cuba. While performing with Eddie Palmieri at the Village Gate in New York City, the legendary jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie walked in and was so impressed with Hidalgo that he later invited him to join Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra.

Roditi, born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, cites Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan as important influences and was also a member of Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra.

It should be one of the highlights of this month.

Early this month I’ll be winging my way over to Europe, not for April in Paris, but springtime in Vienna and London. Sad to say, the jazz scene in London has diminished over the years. Ronnie Scott’s still soldiers on, but be prepared to pay New York prices; the Pizza Express is still active, but that seems to be it for full-time jazz clubs in the heart of London. Likewise in Vienna you have two major clubs, Porgy and Bess and Jazzland, where I have played at least once a year for well over 30 years and that’s where I’ll be for part of this month.

“Tain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones."—1929 song by Walter Donaldson; lyrics by Edgar Leslie

As I looked over the listings for this month I was struck by the number of jazz performances there are in churches. I counted at least five — an interesting transition when you consider that it was once regarded by many as the Devil’s music and Toronto was a bastion of 19th-century Victorian morality known as “Toronto the good.”

But narrow-minded prejudice wasn’t confined to Victorian times. In the early years of the 20th century jazz music was one of the main targets. For example, in 1921 the Women’s Home Journal printed an article entitled, “Does Jazz Put The Sin In Syncopation?” To say that the writer disapproved of the music is an understatement. I quote:

“We have all been taught to believe that ‘music soothes the savage breast,’ ... Therefore, it is somewhat of a rude awakening for many of these parents to find that America is facing a most serious situation regarding its popular music. Welfare workers tell us that never in the history of our land have there been such immoral conditions among our young people, and in the surveys made by many organisations regarding these conditions, the blame is laid on jazz music and its evil influence on the young people of today ... That jazz is an influence for evil is also felt by a number of the biggest country clubs, which have forbidden the corset check room, the leaving of the hall between dances and the jazz orchestras — three evils which have also been eliminated from many municipal dance halls, particularly when these have been taken under the chaperonage of the Women’s Clubs.”

Sounds incredible doesn’t it? But back in 1921 there was an outcry from many segments of society, coming from both religious leaders and music educators, that jazz music had an evil influence on its listeners! Some felt that it led to immoral dancing and promiscuity while others went so far to say that jazz could cause permanent damage to the brain cells of those who played or listened to it!

But it doesn’t end there. If we fast forward in time to 2007, an extreme religious fundamentalist website contained the following words: “Like the blues, boogie-woogie, and ragtime, jazz was born in the unwholesome and sensual environment of sleazy bars, honkytonks, juke joints, and whorehouses. The very name “jazz” refers to immorality.”

What a collection of sinners we are!

Contrast the above with these words by Dizzy Gillespie: “The church had a deep significance for me musically ... I first learned there how music could transport people spiritually.”

And there is this from Dave Brubeck: “To me, if you get into that creative part of your mind when you’re playing jazz, it’s just as religious as when you’re writing a sacred service.”

When it comes to questions of morality I rather like the words of Ernest Hemingway: “I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

Before leaving the topic it is interesting to note that from medieval times improvisation was a highly valued skill and improvised counterpoint was a fundamental part of every musician’s education. Many famous composers and musicians were known especially for their improvisational skills.

I would hazard a guess that if Bach, Handel, Mozart, Chopin and Liszt were around today they might well have been jazzers.

By the way there are at least two significant birthdays on April 1: that wonderful singer Alberta Hunter and Harry Carney, long-time baritone sax player with Duke Ellington.

No April fools, they!

Happy listening and make sure you get out and hear some of that sinful music! 

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

1806 jazz notesFiddling around (not literally) on the internet I found some interesting jazz birthday items for March. For instance, saxophonists James Moody, Brew Moore, Flip Phillips and Lew Tabackin all share March 26 as their birth dates and the very next day is shared by Harold Ashby, Pee Wee Russell and Ben Webster. Different years of course, but the same date.

Likewise, pianists Frankie Carle, Pete Johnson, Cecil Taylor share the 25th.

(Speaking of Cecil Taylor, the avant-garde pianist is one of the pioneers of free jazz and his playing uses a very physical approach, at times attacking the piano with his fists and forearms. There is a story which may be apocryphal but makes for a good yarn. A truck was transporting a Bösendorfer grand piano, Taylor’s piano of choice, through city streets when the following small disaster occurred — the Bösendorfer fell off the truck and was smashed to pieces. Someone told the story to Taylor who paused for a few seconds before saying, “I wish I’d heard that!” Now you know what his playing can sound like.)

Jimmy McPartland, jazz trumpeter and husband of Marian, who incidentally was born on March 20, was born on March 15, 1907, and died on March 13, 1991.

Drummer Barrett Deems was born on March 1. So, for that matter, was Glenn Miller, but I’m not in the mood to write about Miller, although he shows up on quite a number of early jazz recordings long before he became James Stewart.

(By the way, did you know that one of Miller’s early compositions, for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, was a ditty called Cousin Annie’s Fanny and was reportedly banned by a number of radio stations because of double entendres in the lyrics?!)

But I digress. It’s Barrett Deems who is the focal point of this little story.

Deems is probably best remembered for years spent as a member of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. He had a formidable driving technique and was sometimes referred to as “the world’s fastest drummer.”

Armstrong, who used to refer to him as “The Kid” was quoted as having said about Deems’ playing that “he makes coffee nervous.”

Deems  always was a bit of a character but the older he got the more eccentric he became; by this time he had grown a beard and, truth to tell, had a pretty wild appearance. He was never at a loss for words and described himself as the oldest teenager in the business. The words weren’t always, shall we say, acceptable in polite circles and he ruined more than one recorded interview. He certainly was justification for the practice of broadcast delay. It was around this time that Mr. Deems entered my life.

We were both appearing at the Bern International Jazz Festival which in those days used the five-star Hotel Schweizerhof as its headquarters. The festival musicians stayed at the hotel and each evening we ate like kings in its very elegant restaurant. Enter, literally, Barrett Deems who in a typically loud voice asked why they wouldn’t serve him a hamburger!

But the straw that broke the camel’s back requires a little explanation. Deems was in the habit of carrying a duck call in his pocket — a very piercing duck call — and yes, came the evening when he paraded through the restaurant blowing the duck call to the obvious dismay of all and sundry. The very next day we were all advised that in future we would be served dinner at a nearby restaurant.

It was a very nice restaurant, but it wasn’t the Schweizerhof.

For the last few years of his life in Chicago, Deems  had a successful big band and could still drive it along with energy and enthusiasm.

In September of 1998 the oldest teenager in the business died of pneumonia, leaving many of us with a trail of memories of an era when jazz had more than its share of real characters.

Speaking of characters, March 24 is a date that has been set aside from 4pm to 8pm as a celebration of the life of Geoff Chapman, longtime writer for the Toronto Star and later a contributor to The WholeNote, reviewing CDs of Canadian jazz artists.

After Chapman’s death last September, former Star editor Vian Ewart suggested having a celebration of Geoff’s life. Chapman’s wife Bilgi supported the idea and David Stimpson, founder of University Press Group, avid reader and jazz enthusiast, suggested The Pilot as a suitable venue.We met with Michelle Elliott, The Pilot’s events co-ordinator, who helped to organize the event.

There will be nibbles available and a cash bar. Geoff’s interests were wide-ranging and we are hoping that not only his jazz fans will come out and join in the party.

There will, of course, be music, provided by Don Thompson, piano, Neil Swainson, bass, and Terry Clarke, drums, with other musicians invited to sit in (and don’t be surprised if they do).

I like to imagine that Geoff will be looking down on us quaffing his drink of choice, a good English beer.

Marchons, marchons!

Happy listening and please 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.

I know i’ve written on a number of occasions about the falling off of the jazz scene in Toronto and I still feel that the glory days have come and gone — but not all is lost.

jazz notes  del dakoJazz has, of course, died several times over the course of its history, but one way or another seems to survive. Writing this brought to mind an occasion when I was in high school: we were in the change room of the gymnasium and the teacher came to the door and announced “The King is dead. Long live the King.” In this case the new “king” was Queen Elizabeth, but the phrase means that the heir immediately succeeds to the throne upon the death of the preceding monarch.

Similarly one might have pronounced on sundry occasions “Jazz is dead, long live jazz.”

Since, with the exception of The Rex, jazz clubs operating six nights per week are, it would seem, a thing of the past, the focus has moved to concert halls and clubs presenting jazz one to three nights a week, and to special “one-off” or annual events.

JPEC: One such event is coming up this month. Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) will have their fourth annual Jazz Gala on Saturday February 23 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St. Joe Sealy will present “Africville Stories” — from his JUNO award-winning Africville Suite which was composed in memory of his father and is a homage to the history, people and activities of Africville in Nova Scotia. Canadian treasure Jackie Richardson will be featured along with bassist Paul Novotny, Mark Kelso, drums, and Nova Scotian born Mike Murley on saxophone. The second part of the concert will be “A Salute to Motown” with Roberto Occhipinti as musical director.

Ellington Society:It may seem a little early to mention an event which doesn’t take place until late April, but this is an annual concert presented by the Toronto Duke Ellington Society and it consistently sells out, so I figured it wasn’t too soon to bring it to your attention. The date is April 27 at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building at U of T and this year the music will be performed by JUNO winner John MacLeod and The Rex Hotel Orchestra.

These concerts began on October 24, 1991, at Holy Trinity Church and audiences have been entertained over the years by a cross-section of Toronto’s leading jazz talents including Mark Eisenman, Barry Elmes, Al Henderson, Mike Murley, Kevin Turcotte, Ron Collier, Don Thompson, Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards, Brian Barlow’s Orchestra, Martin Loomer’s Orange Devils and my own Wee Big Band.

Proceeds will go to the Society’s Scholarship Fund and ticket prices are $35 if you purchase before March 1 after which they are $40.

Paintbox: One of the successes of downtown development, and Lord knows, there aren’t many of them in condominium-dominated Toronto, is the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre, a multi-tenant arts hub located on Dundas St. E. between Sumach and Sackville streets. Situated in this complex, but a separate entity, is the Paintbox Bistro, the brain child of owner Chris Klugman. Trained as a chef, he has recruited his kitchen staff from George Brown College where he teaches. A regular at the restaurant is Mitchell Cohen, president of the Daniels Corporation, builders of this Regent Park complex. He and bassist Henry Heillig are old friends and out of that friendship came the idea of a jazz series at the Paintbox. Result? A series of six concerts in a people-friendly space which can comfortably accommodate an audience of 150 and deliver good food, good wine and good jazz.

The series begins on February 1 with the Heillig Manoeuvre CD launch followed at intervals by the Elizabeth Shepherd Trio, Phil Dwyer with Don Thompson, Thompson Egbo-Egbo Trio, Jane Bunnett with Hilario Duran and the Joe Sealy Trio with Paul Novotny and Daniel Barnes. Tickets are $15. For more detailed information please call 647-748-0555 or go to paintboxbistro.ca.

Phoenix rising: The legendary phoenix bird obtains new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor. Seven years ago the Toronto jazz venue Top o’ The Senator closed its doors but this year in phoenix-like fashion it will reopen with a new owner — and a new name.

The new owner is Colin Hunter, founder and chairman of Sunwing Airlines. Passionately fond of music and in the business himself as a crooner, his efforts and a considerable input of financial support mean that 251 Victoria St. will once more be home to live music with the opening of the Jazz Bistro.

The general manager is Sybil Walker, carrying on the role she had at Top o’ The Senator, booking artists and managing the operation.

The club will feature live performances Tuesday through Sunday with Thursday through Saturday being jazz, Wednesday for Latin, and “Take the Stage Tuesday” which will be a community outreach program with members of the jazz community, touring artists and students programming their own evenings in conjunction with Sybil’s input.

The jazz programming will be a mix of top local musicians and visiting stars. In the works are an Oscar Peterson tribute and welcome return bookings of Kenny Barron and Lew Tabackin.

I can’t resist saying it — “The Senator is dead. Long live the Jazz Bistro.”

Final note: With deep regret I have to make mention of the untimely death of Del Dako. He had impressive playing credentials as a jazz saxophonist, accomplished on both baritone and alto saxes, before a serious accident while riding his mountain bike in the autumn of 2001 rendered him unable to play the saxophone. Undaunted, he set about learning to play vibraphone on which instrument he was able to continue expressing himself through music. As a saxophone player he played with several name players including Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Big Nick Nicholas, Nick Brignola and Slim Gaillard, and held the baritone sax chair in my Wee Big Band for the years preceding his accident. He was dogged by ill health after the biking accident and more recently he was diagnosed with cancer. He was with fellow musicians on Friday January 18 and found at his home by a friend the next day, having taken his own life. But for those of us who knew him, he too will live on in our memories.

As usual I ask you to keep listening to jazz and do your best to make some of your listening live. 

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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