Since the last issue of The WholeNote went to press, the jazz world suffered the deaths of three major and long-term contributors: producer George Avakian, innovative singer Jon Hendricks – both on November 22 – and on December 21, trombonist Roswell Rudd. Momentous losses indeed, but at least these blows were softened by the realization that each of them lived long, productive lives – Avakian was 98, Hendricks, 96, and Rudd, 83.

I had a mild heart attack on the morning of November 23 and the subsequent fallout took me out of my routines and away from the jazz grapevine, so I completely missed the passing of Avakian and Hendricks and it was some time before I heard the news. And Rudd’s death came amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, so I was late hearing about that too. Given all this and the significant contributions each made to jazz, I feel it’s only right to use this space to pay tribute to them.

George AvakianAvakian became an obsessive jazz fan listening to the radio as a teenager and while attending Yale University began to amass a huge record collection and to write a relentless series of letters to the Decca and ARC record labels, urging them to reissue the back catalogues of bankrupt imprints such as Brunswick and Okeh. In 1940 Jack Kapp of Decca responded to these letters and hired the young Avakian to produce his first record, Chicago Jazz, featuring Eddie Condon and musicians in his circle. Consisting of six 78s issued in a set with Avakian’s copiously detailed liner notes, this was considered the first jazz album long before the emergence of the LP. It was a success in every way and set the tone for future Avakian projects while also raising the bar for jazz releases in general.

George Avakian - photo by Ian CliffordThe rest, as they say, is history – jazz history. CBS acquired ARC in 1940 and decided to form a subsidiary called Columbia Records. Eventually they asked Avakian to supervise a reissue series and the young man leapt at the chance to comb through the company’s vaults. Using the format he established at Decca, he created box sets devoted to Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, among others. In the process he discovered many unreleased sides, including some priceless Armstrong Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, which he included in the reissues.

After war service he returned to Columbia, responsible for popular music at large, but always with an eye toward strengthening and promoting the label’s jazz roster. During this time Columbia perfected the LP format and Avakian was immediately alive to the possibilities of exploiting this new technology for both marketing and artistic purposes. He brought Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis to the label just as each was set to become a star, while continuing to produce albums by Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Art Blakey, Tony Bennett, Buck Clayton (he co-produced the trumpeter’s legendary Jam Session LPs with John Hammond), Eddie Condon, J.J. Johnson and many others including classical and folk performers.

He also became a pioneer in live jazz recording, issuing many performances from the Newport Jazz Festival and other venues. He supervised the first issue of Benny Goodman’s historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert and also Duke Ellington’s legendary 1956 Newport performance, which did so much to revive Ellington’s career. His tenure at Columbia was studded with too many masterpieces to mention, but highlights would include Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats; Erroll Garner’s Concert By the Sea; such Miles Davis classics as ’Round About Midnight and Miles Ahead; many by Brubeck such as Jazz Goes To College and Jazz Red Hot And Cool, as well as the aforementioned classics.

He elected to leave Columbia in 1958, but was hardly done. He created the record label at Warner Brothers and soon after moved on to RCA where he produced Sonny Rollins’ celebrated comeback album The Bridge, as well as his notable encounter with Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Meets Hawk. While there he also produced a superb series of Paul Desmond records with Jim Hall, which did a lot to cement Desmond’s identity apart from Brubeck.

Avakian also branched out into artist management at this point, overseeing the phenomenal mid-60s success of the Charles Lloyd Quartet at a time when many jazz artists were feeling the pinch of rock ‘n’ roll. This brought Avakian into contact with Keith Jarrett and he shepherded the pianist through the early part of his career as both his manager and record producer, helping to launch one of the most influential and successful careers jazz has witnessed in the last half century. There’s much more, but enough. Suffice it to say that it’s impossible to overstate the positive impact that George Avakian had on jazz, or to imagine it without him.

Jon HendricksEddie Jefferson and King Pleasure are generally credited with inventing modern, bebop vocalese – the practice of putting lyrics to an instrumental jazz solo and singing it, a kind of scat with words. But Jon Hendricks took the idea and ran with it, making it more popular while broadening its horizons and raising its vocal and literary (i.e. lyric writing) standards. And with the formation of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in 1957, for which he is best known, he translated it into a vocal group art. L, H & R remade the idea of the vocal group – they weren’t The Modernaires or The Four Freshmen or The Four Lads – they were funnier, rawer and swung more. They were hip, baby.

Jon Hendricks on his 90th birthdayDave Lamberts and Annie Ross were both formidable vocal talents and ideal partners, but Hendricks was the driving force behind the group both organizationally and musically, doing most of the arranging and the lion’s share of the ingenious lyric writing. His skill at this was unsurpassed, earning him the title “The Poet Laureate of Jazz” as well as the “James Joyce of Jive”. He had an uncanny gift for shaping and infusing words which made sense into the jagged and acrobatic rhythms of jazz solos. His pithy lyrics always had something to do with the original soloist involved or with the title of the given tune; they told a story and were always delivered with swing and feeling. Hendricks went on to do much more after the eventual breakup of L, H & R and his witty performances, ever alive with both tradition and inventiveness, always fostered the idea that jazz could be both fun and high art.

Roswell RuddMuch of his career took place outside the jazz mainstream and was interrupted by several hiatuses, so Roswell Rudd may be less known than these other two except to hard-core jazz fans. A New Englander, Rudd began his career in the mid-50s playing trombone in a Dixieland band at Yale University called The Eli Chosen Six. The group recorded two albums, including one for Columbia, which show Rudd entirely at home in the gutbucket trombone tradition of men like Kid Ory and Jimmy Archey.

Roswell RuddBut like Steve Lacy, a frequent collaborator who also started his career in traditional jazz, Roswell was equally interested in the expressive abstraction of free jazz and spent his career in that astringent field. He performed around New York and on records with Lacy (sometimes offering highly personal takes on the music of Thelonious Monk), lifelong friend Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, John Tchicai, the New York Art Quartet, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and his own groups. His playing – always interesting, human and very alive – was both intelligent and emotional. He could definitely blast but had the kind of projecting sound that could be heard at the back of a room even while playing quietly. His musical oeuvre combined both adventurous and traditional elements and offered the paradox that jazz, even in its earliest forms, was always iconoclastic, always subversive.

I had the unexpected pleasure of getting to know Roswell Rudd in 2007, so his death is more personal for me. I took part in a week-long recording project led by Toronto percussionist Geordie MacDonald which yielded a suite over two CDs called Time, After Time, a collaboration of 18 Canadian musicians with Rudd aboard as a ringer/featured guest. He was a joy to be around both musically and personally, a mensch who radiated integrity and unpretentiousness. I remember his humour and energy and him entertaining us on breaks by sitting down at the studio’s (intentionally) beat-up old upright and playing some highly personal stride, boogie-woogie and Monk.

Here’s the kind of guy he was: he took down the names and addresses of every musician on the session and some weeks later each of us received in the mail a beautiful folio of Herbie Nichols compositions, signed with a nice note from Roswell. He was a long-standing expert on Nichols and had assembled and published the book himself. It was a gesture of extraordinary generosity and the book remains one of my most prized possessions.

“Jazz is dead” predictions have continuously been trotted out through the years but I have to ask: how is jazz going to die when it’s had the devoted and passionate commitment of brilliant men like these, among so many others? 

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Jazz musicians earn part of what is laughingly referred to as their “living” by doing what they call “jobbing gigs,” on which they provide all-purpose music for various functions. Guido Basso calls what is generally required on these gigs “jolly jazz”: a variety of familiar songs – standards, bossa novas, maybe even the odd jazz tune – well-played at tempos which are danceable, or at least listenable. Not that anyone at these dos actually listens – the music is generally intended as background to deafening chatter – but just in case. The time-honoured m.o. of these gigs is “faking” – that is, playing umpteen songs without using any written music. Even when all of the musicians involved know a lot of tunes, there is a certain amount of repertorial Russian roulette involved. Nobody knows every song – well, Reg Schwager maybe – but even if you know the given song, it may not come to you until after it’s over and it’s too late. Generally though, faking works and it cuts down on schlepping music and music stands.

But a couple of bullets are added to the faking Russian roulette pistol every December, when seasonal music is thrown into the jobbing mix. Both the risks and stakes suddenly go up as musicians are naturally expected to play Christmas standards – familiar and dear to all – but which they haven’t played for a whole year. (By “Christmas standards” I mean more modern seasonal songs with some kind of jazz element such as Walking in a Winter Wonderland or White Christmas, as opposed to traditional carols which are generally performed by roving choirs or brass ensembles.)

On the face of it, faking seasonal standards doesn’t seem like such a challenge, because we all know how these chestnuts (no pun intended) go, right? But you’d be surprised. Not all Christmas standards are as simple as they seem, some are quite complicated and after a year in mothballs they can prove a little elusive. Even the easier ones – such as Santa Claus Is Coming to Town or Let It Snow – present challenges because they don’t behave like other songs. Often their middle sections – or bridges – go into the key of the dominant, which very few other songs do. And because the bridges often occur only a quarter of the time, they’re harder to remember. I’ve been on many a seasonal gig where a faked Christmas tune is going along swimmingly until the middle is approaching and everyone gets a panicky look on their face which says, “Where the hell does the bridge go?” It’s ironic, but the seeming simplicity of the easier seasonal songs confound jazz musicians who spend the rest of the year negotiating the fiendish complexities of songs such as Lush Life or Round Midnight without a hitch, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Being accustomed to complex harmony, jazz musicians playing simple Christmas tunes are a bit like cryptic crossword experts who have difficulty solving regular crosswords.

There are two harmonically complex seasonal standards though: The Christmas Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, each of them a must-play. Both are ballads and their slow tempos exacerbate the chord change clashes which lurk around every corner. Taken in the key of E-flat, The Christmas Song has two quick and tricky modulations in its first eight bars alone: to the key of G-Major then immediately to G-flat Major. These key changes come as something of a surprise if you haven’t played it in 12 months, but even if you do remember them there are all sorts of chord-change options to trip over before the modulations. Altogether this makes faking Mel Torme’s classic for the first time in a year a sweaty experience.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas may be the best of the lot and is somewhat easier, but still has its scary moments. It’s smooth sailing up until the beginning of the bridge, which can start on one of two chords fraught with conflict for a bassist and a pianist. Again in E-flat, the first chord of the bridge could be A-flat Major 7, or the “hipper” option – an A Minor 7 flat-five chord which has all the same notes save for the all-important root. Notice the roots are a semitone apart, and there’s the rub. As the bridge arrives, a bassist has to make a split-second decision about which root to play, with a 50/50 chance of being dead wrong and sounding like an idiot. If he or she chooses the A and the pianist plays the A-flat chord it sounds awful and vice versa; it’s a game of chord-change chicken. If I had a dollar for every time I zigged when I should have zagged in this situation, I’d be a rich man. The smart solution would be for the pianist to omit the root altogether and leave the choice up to the bassist. But no, that would be too easy, and not many pianists think this way. This may seem like a small detail and it is, but the trouble with these clashes is that they leave you frazzled and jar your concentration, which can lead to further clunkers along the way.

The big problem is that these seasonal faking mishaps occur in a context riddled with expectation, memory and the potential to spoil the seasonal mood. It’s an important time of year and the people at a seasonal gig know all these tunes intimately from years of hearing them on records and in movies, usually in more deluxe versions with strings, choirs, Bing Crosby, etc. Messing up a Christmas tune leaves the band with eggnog on its face and is like messing up a national anthem – everybody hears it right away and sometimes offence is taken. As in, “Who hired these bums and how much are they being paid? They can’t even play White Christmas, for crying out loud!”

Ted Quinlan - Photo by Sanja AnticBut not all the disasters of seasonal gigs come from faking tunes; some of them have to do with the merrymaking of the audience. Here are a couple of Christmas party stories to illustrate this. About 15 years ago guitarist Ted Quinlan hired saxophonist Mike Murley, drummer Ted Warren and me to play a Christmas party, held on the third floor of The Senator, for a small company. Ted is prized for his musical versatility and his whacky sense of humour, both of which came in handy on this gig. After no time at all it became clear that the people weren’t going to pay any attention to the music, all was din. We were playing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman when, thinking of the lyrics, I glanced over at Ted, who had a typically maniacal grin on his face. Somehow I knew this meant that he was going to yell out “Satan!” from the carol’s fifth line and when the time came we both bellowed “Satan!” at the top of our lungs. Nobody noticed except the other two guys in the band, who proceeded to join us with “Satan!” in the next choruses. I still don’t know how we managed to get through the tune with all the laughing, but we had to take a break afterwards from sheer exhaustion.

A few years later, singer John Alcorn hired guitarist Reg Schwager and me – his regular band – to play a Christmas party for a small law firm, held in a private banquet facility in a downtown restaurant. It was a fairly intimate party with the people close at hand, some of them even listening to the music. All was going well until we came back from our second break and noticed that suddenly everybody was drunk. Particularly a large East Indian gentleman who really had the lamp shade on, like Peter Sellers in The Party, only louder. Alcorn called Route 66 – not a seasonal song, but a good party tune. As he began singing it, the Indian guy bellowed out “Oh goody, it’s Route 67!” and began dancing a ridiculous teetering boogie only he understood. Reg and I both doubled over laughing, but still somehow managed to keep playing. Alcorn didn’t bat an eye though; his face was a mask of composure and he kept singing as if nothing had happened. That, ladies and gentleman, is professionalism.

So these are a couple of examples of musicians getting their own back amid the minefield of Christmas gigs. A few years ago some of us found a new way of having fun with seasonal music: a mashup game in which we combined the names of Christmas carols/songs with jazz tunes and standards to form wacky new titles. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing Sing Sing,” “Joy Spring to the World,” “Sippin’ at Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night in Tunisia,” “What Child Is This Thing Called Love?” and “O Little Rootie Tootie Town of Bethlehem” were among the first of these; later I expanded the game to include readers and wrote a piece about it. If you’re interested, google wallacebass.com and look for the title “Birth of the Yule” (or use the direct link:
wallacebass.com/?p–4462).

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a joyous and safe holiday season and a Happy New Year. The latter usually comes with resolutions, some of which are easier to stick to than others. A few years back I resolved to stop taking New Year’s Eve gigs, only to discover they’d disappeared. All New Year’s resolutions should be so easy to keep.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Clubs have traditionally been the lifeblood of a city’s jazz scene. It was certainly that way for this “old dog” in the early part of my career, during the heyday when Toronto boasted numerous longstanding clubs such as George’s Spaghetti House, Bourbon Street and Basin Street, the Montreal Bistro and Top O’ the Senator, which presented both international and local jazz six nights a week.

If measured by this yardstick alone the health of jazz in Toronto now, with just three major clubs presenting the music on a multi-night-per-week basis – The Rex, Jazz Bistro, and the Home Smith Bar – can be called into question. However, it’s not as bad as all that, because in recent years new ways of hearing live jazz have arrived, thanks to the persistence and ingenuity of the jazz community at large – those who play the music, those who are trying to learn to play it, those who enjoy listening to it, and those who present it. These new models include:

Student Jazz Concerts at The Rex

For the past several years, Monday nights at The Rex have been given over to sets by student ensembles from the jazz programs at U of T and Humber College. These generally begin with three different U of T ensembles starting at 6:30pm and playing for 40 minutes each, followed by the Humber groups at about 9:30pm. I began teaching (and, unusually, also playing in) a jazz ensemble at U of T last year, which brought me into direct contact with this scene, and I liked what I saw and heard right away. Playing in a real club setting, one where their teachers often perform, brings out the best in the students, and I wish this opportunity had been on offer when I was a jazz student. Mondays are not a prime night out but I urge local jazz fans to attend, not just to support the students – which is worthy in itself – but because you will hear some interesting and sincere music. Both schools are brimming with young talent; in essence you will hear the future of the music in Toronto, a future I feel confident is in good hands after hearing some of these young people play.

Big Bands Are Back

Well, sort of. Phil Nimmons retired his big band years ago and following the deaths of Rob McConnell and Dave McMurdo, it seemed the future of big-band jazz in Toronto was in peril. Starting and running a big band in these times is perhaps the ultimate jazz labour of love, but John MacLeod has persisted in doing so with his Rex Hotel Orchestra, which has performed at its namesake club on the last Monday of every month for years now. The lion’s share of the arrangements are written by MacLeod in an eclectic style reflecting both modern and traditional elements, featuring stellar ensemble work and plenty of solo room for some of Toronto’s best players carrying on in the tradition established by those mentioned above. The band has produced several recordings and its latest, The Toronto Sound, will be released at a gala concert at the Old Mill on November 6, which I will be attending. Kudos to John MacLeod for his perseverance and talent in guaranteeing that high-quality big-band jazz can still be heard around these parts.

John MacLeodBut there’s more. Three days after the Old Mill event, November 9, the Wee Big Band will be heard in concert in the Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street, starting at 7:30pm. The band has been a Toronto fixture for years and has survived the death of its founder-leader Jim Galloway and several of its key players, such as lead-alto stalwart Gordie Evans. But it continues in the capable hands of Martin Loomer, its longtime rhythm guitarist and principle arranger, or perhaps I should say transcriptionist. The band’s repertoire consists mostly of early big-band classics from masters like Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Duke Ellington, Benny Moten, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and many others, all lovingly transcribed by Loomer and played with authenticity and spirit by the musicians. It’s not possible to hear this kind of music performed live very often anymore and I for one look forward to the November 9 concert.

The House Concert

The old model of the salon concert has been revived in recent years, as an alternative to bigger clubs which can be crowded, noisy and expensive. Increasingly, dedicated fans are staging intimate concerts in their own homes, offering a unique up-close jazz experience. By necessity the audience size is small and the concerts are sporadic, which only makes them more special. Perhaps the greatest success story of these is the Jazz in the Kitchen series presented by John and Patti Loach in their spacious Beaches home, which is uniquely equipped for musical presentation. Opposite their large open kitchen is a music room sporting a wonderful Steinway grand and perfect natural sound that encourages the non-amplified jazz on offer. The audience is generally limited to 35 or 40 paying guests who sit very close to the band – Mark Eisenman’s trio plus shifting guests including John Loach on trumpet – and simply listen, enjoying both a real jazz experience and the verbal byplay between the musicians. The series started about four years ago and is always sold out. October 22 will be the 40th concert in what looked at first to be a risky proposition. I’m sure there are others run along the same lines, such as JazzNHouse in the Ottawa area, which I’ll experience for the first time when Mike Murley’s trio plays there on October 28 (also sold out).

A New Jazz Festival

The Kensington Market Jazz Festival made its debut in September of 2016, the brainchild of star singer Molly Johnson – long a neighbourhood resident – ably abetted by her organizational partners in crime, performers Ori Dagan and Genevieve (Gigi) Marenette, plus an army of volunteers. This year’s festival, a weekend affair held September 15 to 17, significantly built on the promise and success of the first one. Well over 300 local musicians performed in various small venues in the tight streets of Kensington in a dizzying array of one-hour concerts running from solo piano and guitar to trios and larger groups in various styles, all well- and enthusiastically attended. The recipe is simple, inclusive and refreshingly non-corporate – keep it small, because small is good, present “all jazz as we know it” played by local musicians of many generations, and use the vibe of the ’hood, its unique food, local businesses and “streetness” as a feel-good backdrop. As to the finances, I have no idea how they make it work, but there are ticketed events and free events; it’s cash only and all of it goes to the musicians save for a small percentage to cover costs. I played one concert in the first festival and two this year, enjoying each immensely while being paid very fairly. It was a pleasure to walk the streets and see so many musical friends all packed together so happily; this is an event which puts “festive” back into the jazz festival. Congratulations to Molly and company for their leap-of-faith vision in bringing this unique festival to Toronto at a time when the city desperately needed it.

CDs Galore

PJPerryThe self-financed CD is another way jazz artists can continue to reach and expand their audience, and good locally produced jazz records have spread like wildfire in recent years. One can barely keep up. These involve a leap of faith in that the outlay involved cannot often be recouped, but musicians keep making them anyway as a means of documenting their art. Even ones who have nothing left to prove, like PJ Perry. Now 75, a JUNO-winner and recent recipient of the Order of Canada, PJ has long been one of the best alto saxophonists in the world, although he doesn’t have that profile because he plies his trade in the relative isolation of Edmonton. His latest release, just out, is Alto Gusto, recorded live during two nights at Edmonton’s venerable Yardbird Suite. But here’s the real leap of faith on his part: while he had played with each member of the rhythm section – veteran Los Angeles pianist Jon Mayer; drummer Quincy Davis, originally from Michigan and until recently based out of Winnipeg, and yours truly on bass – the three of us had never even met before this gig. PJ just knew the chemistry would somehow work and it did, about two bars into our hasty rehearsal. The result is a very hard-swinging, inventive record, an honest portrait of musicians creating music in the moment.

As long as jazz has enough people – musicians, fans and presenters – who believe in it enough to make these leaps of faith, it will continue to evolve and flourish. Perhaps not as in the “good old days,” which are past, but by creating some good new days. 

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace –
jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Jim Galloway was The WholeNote's longest standing columnist, tenacious to the last. We greet the news of his passing, yesterday, December 30 2014, with sadness. We have lost a blithe spirit, a true champion of live music. Here are the last words he wrote for us, just four weeks ago.
David Perlman, publisher

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!)

Read more: The More It Changes...

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.

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