jazz notesIn concert halls this month therctoe doesn’t seem to be much jazz, but one stand-out is October 19. Joe Sealy will be in concert with Jackie Richardson, Arlene Duncan and Ranee Lee at Koerner Hall, with Joe leading an all-star band including Don Thompson (vibes), Reg Schwager (guitar), Kelly Jefferson (sax), Paul Novotny (bass) and Mark McLean (drums), in an evening featuring songs associated with Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.

Richardson, as noted by fellow columnist Ori Dagan, will just have received the Ken Page Memorial Trust lifetime achievement award two evenings earlier, on October 17, at the annual KPMT fundraising gala at the Old Mill. As a long-time organizer of and participant in the event, modesty and journalistic protocol prevent me from describing it as your best opportunity of the year to enjoy a star-studded evening of jazz that swings. (So the heck with modesty.) There’s an ad somewhere in the issue if you want to see the line-up. Included is clarinetist Ken Peplowski, perhaps the best you’ll hear anywhere these days.

This got me to thinking about the rise and decline of that instrument in jazz. After all, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman were household names from the 30s into the 40s. There were other great players too, who, although lesser known, made significant contributions to the music — individualists such as Jimmie Noone, Ed Hall (the hottest clarinet player I ever heard) and Pee Wee Russell (the most eccentric clarinet player I ever knew), just a few of the great players who didn’t get the same accolades as the big three. With the passing of the big band era, the clarinet faded into relative obscurity; the arrival of bebop established the saxophone as the predominant reed instrument. There were a few exceptions, notably Buddy DeFranco, and in more recent years there has been something of a small revival of interest in the clarinet, thanks to players like Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber and of course Ken Peplowski. Come and hear why.

Shaw – Man and Superman: But back to Artie Shaw, without doubt one of the greatest clarinet players ever. In August of 1998 he gave an address to the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors. Here are some of his comments (edited down or this piece would be several thousand words long) still relevant today:

“Some of the stuff that goes on under the word ‘jazz’ has become too broad. It’s very much like what’s happened to modern painting. Once you open up the medium to a totally disorganized kind of work that you see in paintings, a lot of modern paintings, you’re opening the door for all kinds of charlatans; the same thing has happened to the music business ...”

“Usually it would be a very good idea with a complicated piece to play it more than once. Let the audience get used to it ... We don’t give enough time to it. When we listen to a piece of music it can be pretty bewildering the first time, especially if it’s complicated and written by someone who knows what they’re doing ... You hear it for the first time and it goes by in a total flash and you don’t know what it’s about ... The same thing applies to modern jazz. The best players are doing things that require an enormous amount of attention. Somebody asked me, ‘What would you tell an audience ... if you had the right to influence this business, what would you say?’ I would say two words: ‘Pay attention.’ We don’t pay attention, we just let things go by.”

Shaw also spoke about the difference between the performance and the perception and the vast difference between them: “The performer is trying to do something out of the depths of his own awareness, his own experience and his own ability. And if he happens to be very gifted, very able, he’s going to do things that you can’t possibly forget. He’s going to come up with things that might surprise the hell out of him! So you can imagine what that does to you. You’re not him. You don’t know where he wants to go. He doesn’t sometimes. If he’s a fine jazz player, he jumps off a cliff and looks for a handhold and getting that handhold can change the entire course of what he’s doing and sometimes he comes up with stuff that he himself would never have thought of. Basically, it’s taking chances. You take risks.”

And a favourite of mine — he told about an occasion when somebody asked him to listen to a band, possibly either Glenn Miller or Jimmy Dorsey. He didn’t seem to be enthusiastic and was asked if he didn’t like it, to which he replied, “Yeah, they’re okay, but they never make a mistake!” going on to explain that if you never make mistakes you are playing it safe and that’s not what jazz is about — jazz is about being on thin ice and sometimes you break through — and what you do as a result becomes the essence of your performance. He then went on to say it was his strong belief that as far as a performance of jazz is concerned it’s not how many notes one can play in a bar, that sometimes more is worse, more is less. Less sometimes is more.

This in turn reminds me of a Benny Goodman story: when in the middle of a performance he turned to the piano player and said, “Play less, play less.” So the pianist did as he was told and Goodman turned to him and complained, “Play more.” Whereupon the pianist said, “But you just told me to play less!” “Yes,” said Benny, “Play less, but play more!”

There’s a mountain of music in the magazine’s club listings starting on page 51. So make some of your listening live! It’s where the music truly lives. 

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

In a recent program on CBC I heard that in some societies the word for music is the same as the word for dance and it got me thinking about the close relationship that used to exist between those two words and jazz. Here was a music that made you feel better when you felt good and could lift you when you were down; music that made it difficult to keep still, even if only to tap one’s feet. It was primarily entertainment and it continued that way until the music — now in some circles regarded as an “art form” — became introverted, more serious and (with some exceptions) more serious minded. Not that the early greats weren’t serious musicians, but they also considered themselves to be entertainers. As Louis Armstrong once said: “My life has always been my music, it’s always come first, but the music ain’t worth nothing if you can’t lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience, ’cause what you’re there for is to please the people.”

jazz notes 1But nothing is forever, everything evolves and jazz is no exception. The idea of jazz being a music to dance to and aimed at communicating directly with the audience changed — a transformation that reflected the changes in society, but also changed the relationship with the audience. In the ’40s the music became more introverted and musicians began playing more for themselves instead of trying to entertain, making it even more a music for a minority audience. In addition the music became much more vertical rather than linear. By that I mean that players ran the scales and the emphasis was less melodic.

Now, the word jazz and the term “mass appeal” are seldom used in the same sentence. Occasionally, a well-marketed jazz artist will connect with popular culture — Armstrong and Dave Brubeck for example — but label execs usually assume that jazz won’t sell as well as rock, R&B, rap, country, adult contemporary or Latin music. However, there was a time when jazz did, in fact, enjoy mass appeal. It was called the swing era; but probably at no time were there more than a few hundred musicians making a living from jazz, and with few exceptions that’s all it was — a living with little prospect of much financial gain. Agents, management and the recording industry were all quite happy to take advantage of musicians. I remember Milt Hinton telling me that when he was active in the recording industry, recording sessions paid a flat $40, and if recordings were re-issued the musicians got nothing in residuals. He told me an interesting story about the hit recording of Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin. They arrived at the studio to find that there was no arrangement for the number so it was the musicians who came up with the arrangement right there in the studio with the song going up a step each chorus. The song was a bestseller, making huge profits. And the musicians? $40 each!

jazz notes 2In the early days most jazzers learned perhaps by one-on-one lessons from an established player, by listening to recordings and by going to sessions in the hope that they could sit in and that eventually someone would give them a gig. Organized courses were rare. Now of course you can go to university or college and study jazz — unheard of at one time although there is an interesting timeline to jazz as an academic subject. A little digging and I learned, for example, that the Industrial High School in Birmingham, Alabama, had a group called the Jazz Demons as early as 1922.

And in 1927, while he was an athletic instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the teachers organized a student band. They were called the Chickasaw Syncopators, but later adopted the teacher’s name. And the teacher’s name? Jimmie Lunceford, leader of one of the greatest big bands in the history of jazz, a band that evolved from the same Chickasaw Syncopators!

Meanwhile, in 1928 the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, launched the world’s first curricular jazz program. There was a great deal of criticism throughout the country and the Nazis, not surprisingly, stopped the program in 1933. It was restarted in 1976 under the direction of trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff.

In the United States Stan Kenton was instrumental in the start of the first long-running summer jazz camp in 1959 which later became the Stan Kenton Summer Clinics. It continued until his death in 1979.

Then in 1968 the National Association of Jazz Educators was formed and renamed the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) in 1989. It went bankrupt in 2008. In 1981 McGill University in Montreal was the first in Canada to offer a BMus degree in jazz performance. Today in Toronto alone we have Humber College, University of Toronto and York all offering specialized jazz courses with faculties made up of some of the county’s best players.

One of the downsides of all of this is that the surge in educational opportunities comes at a time when the market for jazz has declined drastically to the point where it is impossible for most musicians to make a living playing jazz.

Perhaps it is worth noting that in the early days of jazz, musicians had day jobs and their jazz was for most of them not the sole source of income. Well, guess what? The wheel has gone full circle; making a living playing jazz is, for most, a pipe dream. Why do you think so many players turn to teaching?

Will The Big Bands Ever Come Back?

To introduce a little levity, here is a story from Lampang in Thailand, which I read in a publication called The Week, about a big band and I really mean big! Literally the biggest band in the world, the players are all elephants who have been taught by David Sulzer, a neuro-scientist at Columbia University, to be percussion-playing pachyderms, playing super-sized instruments using their trunks. They have made three albums and convinced at least one critic that he was listening to professional players. Next thing you know they will be adding a singer — perhaps Elephants Gerald. And if they ever go on the road perhaps they could revive the Grand Trunk Railroad. 

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

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.

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