jazznotes_gershwinjazznotes_herbiehancockA legend is a person, extremely well known, whose fame and achievements make him a source of sometimes glamourized tales or exploits. Well, this article is about two musical legends, the late George Gershwin and, still with us and going strong, Herbie Hancock.

On October 22, at Massey Hall, Hancock will perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue with the Massey Hall Orchestra, led by Alain Trudel, Canadian musician, composer and conductor who began his career playing the trombone, but has more recently turned to conducting. He is currently artistic director and principal conductor of the National Broadcast Orchestra and Orchestre Symphonique de Laval. He is also conductor of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Rhapsody In Blue has an interesting history. In 1923 Paul Whiteman, leader of the most popular orchestra of the day, approached George Gershwin about composing an orchestral jazz work. Gershwin sketched out some themes but took it no further than that. He was, to say the least, somewhat surprised when the New York Tribune of January 4, 1928, contained an article announcing that a jazz concerto by George Gershwin would be premiered by Paul Whiteman at the Aeolian Hall on February 12.

The evening was billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music.” Although at the time he had Broadway commitments, and a jazz concerto was farthest from his thoughts, he rose to the occasion, once more demonstrating that very often the deadline is the ultimate inspiration. And so, on February 12, 1934, towards the end of the programme, George Gershwin’s first large-scale work was performed with the composer himself playing the piano solo. The audience included Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, Serge Rachmaninov and Igor Stravinsky.

It was a huge success; over the next ten years it earned Gershwin over $250,000, and this was during the Great Depression! Gershwin later said that the inspiration for Rhapsody’s title was James McNeill Whistler’s painting Nocturne in Black and Gold.

Fast forward to Massey Hall, Toronto, on January 19, 1934.

It was indeed a gala evening with Gershwin at the piano and Charles Previn, yes, the father of André, conducting the Reisman Symphonic Orchestra. The programme included Catfish Row, Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess and, of course, Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra.

Gershwin signed a programme that evening as a memento for a fortunate member of the audience. Through the Independent Online Booksellers Association, I found a programme for that evening boldly signed by the composer over his printed name. You can have it for a mere $2866.18.

Like many musicians, Gershwin was something of a wit, but probably no match for his good friend, fellow composer and pianist Oscar Levant. At a Manhattan party in the 30s Levant said, “George if you had to do it all over, would you fall in love with yourself again?” Gershwin’s barbed response was, “Oscar, why don’t you play us a medley of your hit?”

After Gershwin’s, death an admirer with musical aspirations wrote an elegy for him and took it to Oscar Levant. Levant reluctantly agreed to hear the piece. After the man had finished playing it, he turned to Levant, looking for his approval. “I think,” said Levant, “it would have been better if you had died and Gershwin had written the elegy.”

Herbie Hancock, the principal performer on October 22, hardly needs any introduction. He started with a classical music education and was regarded as something of a child prodigy. When he was 11 years old, at a young people’s concert with the Chicago Symphony, he played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5.

His early jazz work was with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins and later with Oliver Nelson and Phil Woods.

In 1963 he joined Miles Davis’ “second great quintet” with Ron Carter on bass, a 17-year-old drummer named Tony Williams and, eventually, Wayne Shorter on tenor. From this point on his career blossomed and is still flowering five decades later. His Empyrean Isles (1964) and Maiden Voyage (1965) were two of the most influential jazz LPs of the 60s and throughout the intervening years he has remained a creative force, being recognized as one of today’s major voices in contemporary jazz. More recently The Imagine Project, released in 2010, was recorded in many locations throughout the world, features collaborations from various artists, was complemented by a documentary and was released in CD, digital download and vinyl.

In a career spanning five decades there are few artists in the music industry who have had more influence on acoustic and electronic jazz than Herbie Hancock. In his autobiography Miles Davis said, “Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven’t heard anybody yet who has come after him.”

Given his classical background and his creative genius, he is an ideal choice for this very special evening of the music of George Gershwin.

It is worth remembering another Gershwin quotation: “Life is a lot like jazz … it’s best when you improvise.”

And the concert will, of course, be acoustic. Happy listening.

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

SOUND JUDGEMENT

With the Toronto International Film Festival coming up I thought it would be good timing to have a look at some aspects of jazz on film.

jazznotes_warrenvache2It would seem that even back in 1927 there was some confusion about what constitutes jazz. Why else would they have called the movie The Jazz Singer when its star, Al Jolson — certainly a great entertainer — was no more a jazz singer than W.C. Fields was a spokesman for the temperance movement.

But long before that, a less well-known fact is that the group known as The Original Dixieland Jazz Band showed up in a rare 1917 film titled The Good For Nothing. It was, of course, a silent movie so the ODJB could be seen but not heard; but pianist Eubie Blake and singer Noble Sissle made some experimental short sound films in the early 1920s.

jazznotes_thejazzsingerThe remarkable video collection At The Jazz Band Ball (Yazoo Video) has some of the best clips of the 1925–1933 period. The most famous so-called jazz film of the period is Paul Whiteman’s The King Of Jazz. There is a short sequence showing violinist Joe Venuti and guitarist Eddie Lang, but overall the movie is disappointing. Also worth looking for is the pioneering 1929 black movie Hallelujah which in one nightclub segment features Curtis Mosby’s Blue Blowers on had purchased a Panoram machine, a full 1,889 soundies were released. Add to this number the jukebox shorts made by the producers of other presentation systems and the number of shorts is well over 2,000. It is the most complete audiovisual picture available of popular music in the 1940s. Obviously a sound investment.

But the first merging of a motion picture projector within a jukebox device was developed in 1938 by Los Angeles dentist Gordon Keith Woodard and tested in several Los Angeles area taverns. In fact, over the next few years close to 30 projection systems and/or film products were on the market.

Along with television came Snader telescriptions in 1950, made specifically as fill-in programming — TV’s very first music videos. They were around for three or four years and all of the top jazz/pop/country stars made these three and four minute films in the thousands and almost all of them were filmed with multi-cameras and live mics. No playbacks or lip-syncing!

Moving into the 40s, Hollywood gave us Birth of the Blues (1941) which features the Jack Teagarden band; Cabin in the Sky (1943) with Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, Duke Ellington’s music and Louis Armstrong; and Stormy Weather (1943) with Lena Horne, Bojangles, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and the Nicholas Brothers.

In the 50s along came the bio-pic: Young Man with a Horn (1950), loosely based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke; The Glenn Miller Story (1953); The “Benny Goodman Story (1955); The Five Pennies (1959), about Loring “Red” Nichols; and The Gene Krupa Story (1959). They were all highly fictionalized but probably did introduce a lot of people to jazz.

Somewhat closer to reality were The Gig (1985) with Warren Vaché, Round Midnight (1986) and Bird (1987).

Limitations of space mean that I can only scratch the surface of this fascinating topic, but mention should be made of a few of the many significant documentaries: The Last of the Blue Devils, a feature-length portrait of Kansas City’s old-time jazzmen made by Bruce Ricker, who died in May of this year; and a couple by Toronto filmmaker Brigitte Berman, BIX (1981) and Time Is All You’ve Got (1986), about Artie Shaw, which received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Nowadays, there is a vast amount of jazz available on the internet. All you need is time.

Mention of The Gig and Warren Vaché gives me a natural lead-in to the fact that Vaché and an all-star line-up of Canadian and US musicians will be in Toronto for The Ken Page Memorial Trust Gala on September 15. The KPMT supports Canadian jazz and jazz musicians with an emphasis on education. It will be held again at The Old Mill and you can find all the details in the ad in this issue of The WholeNote. Please check it out and I’ll hope to see you there for this worthy cause.

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

More and more I am convinced that, with very few exceptions, the place to enjoy the jazz experience is in a small performance space. There are the few exceptions — Dave Brubeck, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, to name three — who can fill a large concert hall and play jazz. But when they are gone, what then?

p24_colonial_tavern_photopage_24_town_tavern_photoForget the days of touring bands — the glory days of places like the Colonial Tavern and The Town Tavern. I can remember when I first arrived in Toronto I could shuttle between The Colonial and The Town in the sure knowledge that whoever was appearing, the music would be good — and sometimes unforgettable. In any case, that all but ended years ago, when rising costs made touring bands pretty well a thing of the past and bringing in a guest artist to perform with a local group was the solution. At least for a while. Now we are left with fond memories of clubs like Bourbon Street, The Montreal Bistro and The Top Of The Senator.

Festivals are committed, if they want to survive, to presenting less jazz and more widely based music, much of it by groups often past their “best before” date who have no more than a passing reference to jazz.

So, more and more it seems to me that friendly watering holes and relatively small concert venues will be the future of jazz.

The Not So Merry Month Of June

p25_jazznotes_davemcmurdoSummer came in with a cold blast of bad news. We lost Dave McMurdo, who had been ill for some time with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but it was a heart attack that eventually felled him at age 67. It is a sad loss to the jazz community. McMurdo, originally from Vancouver, where he studied music at the University of British Columbia, was a dedicated man and took life very seriously as a musician and as a devoted teacher. He moved to Toronto in 1969, was for some years a member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, and the lead trombone player in Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six. The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra was formed in 1988, giving McMurdo the opportunity of having his own compositions and arrangements performed. He also invited contributions from such other prominent musicians as Mike Malone, Reg Schwager, Don Thompson and Phil Nimmons.

His death leaves a hole in the fabric of the Canadian jazz world. I shall miss his sartorial elegance and dry wit.

We also lost one of my favourite piano players and a friend when Philadelphian Ray Bryant died on June 2, at the age of 79, after a long illness. Bryant was part of a very musical family. His mother played piano in the local church, his brother, Tommy, was an accomplished bass player while his younger brother, Len, is a singer/drummer. Not only that, his sister, Vera Eubanks, is the mother of three sons who have each made their mark in music — trombonist Robin, guitarist Kevin and trumpeter Duane.

After a few years with local bandleader Mickey Collins, Bryant joined Tiny Grimes and His Rocking Highlanders, an African-American rhythm and blues group which sported the full kilt and tam o’shanter!

His break came in the 50s when, as house pianist at Philadelphia’s Blue Note club, he had the opportunity to play with artists such as Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis. From there on his career was soon established.

Bryant had an extremely personal sound on piano, making him instantly recognisable after only a few bars of music — a rare talent, but then Ray Bryant was just that — a rare talent.

Kate Weich

This next part of my column is about a well-loved member of the jazz community who was not a musician, but for a number of years was behind the bar of the Montreal Bistro. Kathleen Weich was her name, but everybody knew her simply as Kate and I don’t know anybody among the regulars at what was for a long time, our favourite watering hole in town, who didn’t like Kate.

Kate was born in Victoria, British Columbia. She completed the Visual Arts Program, with Honours, at Grant McEwen College in Edmonton and did her BFA at York University in Toronto where she made her home.

She was efficient, hard working and ran a tight ship, but was a warm and caring person with a dry sense of humour. But at the same time, like so many workers in the restaurant business, Kate’s job running the bar at the Bistro was a means to an end. I don’t mean that she didn’t enjoy her work at the Montreal Bistro, but her real love was painting.

She wanted to be able to support herself from her painting — and that’s even tougher than being a jazz musician — but eventually she did, becoming in the process a highly respected member of Canada’s art community. I’m happy to have one of Kate’s paintings hanging in my house. That painting which I see every day, is even more meaningful now. Kate fell prey to cancer and passed away on June 16. She will be missed.

Speaking of her own work she said, “My aim is not to present a finalized view of a given subject. I hope to offer a place where you can contemplate and bring your own visions.”

And that is not so different from the goals which jazz musicians set for themselves.

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

Jazz Festival season is well underway and it doesn’t get any easier to fill a concert hall with real jazz acts. Of course that begs the question as to what constitutes jazz. The parameters have changed drastically and the word jazz has been embraced by everything from airlines to deodorants. But for the sake of this discussion let’s use the term classic jazz which will range from Buddy Bolden and King Oliver to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. And if you question such diversity of styles, bear in mind that this year’s JUNO for best traditional jazz went to John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra.

But classic jazz and major concert halls?

Yes, you can successfully present the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Orchestra and All-Star packages like Return To Forever, but more and more festivals have to turn to performers with only a passing acquaintance with jazz. This year, Tom Jones headlined at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and one of the headliners at the Vienna Jazz festival is – wait for it – Liza Minnelli! With all due respect, she has as much to do with jazz as I do with ballet dancing.

I remember a disastrous attempt in 1991 by Kiri Te Kanawa to make a jazz album with Andre Previn on piano, Mundell Lowe on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. It’s just not that simple. You can’t just decide to be a jazz performer overnight.

In Toronto, one of the major attractions is Jessye Norman and I’m sure she will be more successful than Kiri Te Kanawa, but it is still something of an anomaly to find her topping the bill at a jazz festival.

But it will sell tickets.

There was the occasion when Louis Armstrong and Lotte Lenya were recording “Mack The Knife.” Between takes tape was running. I have a copy on cassette of Armstrong trying to help Ms. Lenya syncopate the phrase, “Mack The Knife,” and try as she might, she just could not get it right. The jazz interpretation of those three little words which came so naturally to Louis Armstrong, one of the great jazz singers, was completely foreign to Lotte.

p22_option_yehudi_menuhin_and_stephane_grappelliMore successful were the collaborations between Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin, but there is little doubt as to which of them is the jazzer.

More and more, the real jazz content of festivals is to be found in smaller venues. Maybe that’s how it should be and has to be. The intimacy of a smaller venue lends itself to the spirit of the music and when jazz moved into large concert halls it lost something. I am not trying to take away from the success of presenting jazz in a more formal setting. The Modern Jazz Quartet, among the first to meet with acclaim in making their music successful in the concert hall environment, made some wonderful music, but hearing Milt Jackson in a club setting was a far more satisfying jazz experience than listening to him within the confines of the M.J.Q.

Which takes me back to the observation that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to enjoying jazz. In fact, largely because he liked a freer flowing style of playing, Jackson left in 1974, causing the group to disband, although they re-formed in 1981.

It’s that time of year when I often find myself in Europe. Not that I’ve been lost or missing, you understand. As I write this I am in Vienna enjoying one of the few remaining jazz clubs that operates on a six nights a week policy. Jazzland is the name of this friendly cellar club and next year it will celebrate 40 years of presenting jazz. It is unpretentious, but has a history going back 500 years when it was an escape route in times of siege. The walls are lined with photographs of famous jazz musicians who have played in the club.

Long time readers of the column might remember earlier references to this jazz oasis, but it bears repeating that Axel and Tilly Melhardt, owners of the club, must be the best in their field.

By the time you read this, my 13 weeks of being on Jazz.FM91, Sundays from 4pm to 5pm will have begun. I hope you will give it a whirl and those of you who know me won’t be surprised to hear that each week I will feature a recording which demonstrates humour in jazz, such as Lester Young singing “It Takes Two To Tango,” and Bill Harris and Ben Webster asking for “Just One More Chance.”

Happy listening.

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

“Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast,” was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697. Some music, yes. But the other day I was in a large store owned by a grocery chain. And there it was, seeping unbidden and unwanted into my sensitive ears – perhaps too sensitive for this day and age – disagreeable and intrusive “music” flooding the store through tinny, ceiling-mounted speakers, just loud enough to disturb and certainly loud enough to annoy me.

People listen to music for a variety of reasons. It can help you to relax. It can make you happy. It can give solace. It can trigger memories. But nowadays it is everywhere – all the time – and somehow it has lost value and too often is a form of noise pollution.

I will walk out of a restaurant or bar if there is a pounding, repetitive noise coming through the sound system, forcing everybody to raise their voices just to be heard across a small table. And, it seems to me, almost nobody is actually listening to it; the noise seems to act like some sort of security blanket. Heaven forbid that they would have to cope with silence. Familiarity and all that.

26_george_squierIt all began with Muzak which, believe it or not, was created in 1922! It was the brainchild of General George Squier and initially was called Wired Radio. He devised a system to deliver music from phonograph records to subscribers – mainly workplaces – via electrical wires, in the belief that people would be more productive listening to certain types of music. He decided later to change the service’s name to “Muzak.” Influenced by the system, the BBC began to broadcast music in factories during World War II in order to encourage workers.

So who was this General Squier?

He was an officer in the U.S. Signal Corps and was Chief Signal Officer during World War I. He had a distinguished career, died in 1934 and in 1943 was honoured by having a U.S. troopship named after him.

Don’t get me wrong. The concept, and value, of music in the work place goes back a long way. The human voice was an instrument which everybody possessed. People could sing either individually or in groups. When in groups, singing was always a collective act. The rhythm of songs was key to work, coordinating workers’ muscles for the repetitive tasks of the day. Songs commented on the work process, everyday life or religious themes, thereby establishing a shared bond between co-workers even in the most difficult of situations. Songs sung together at the workplace, at home, and in worship established solid bonds – work songs and sea shanties come immediately to mind – by providing shared experiences. Music was both a communal activity and, in memorializing events, it was a form of history writing. And it was performed live.

Until recorded music, no two performances were exactly the same, just as today, for example, no two performances of a play are exactly the same.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, everything changed and machines became the prevailing producers of sound. General background noises were inescapable. Not only that, singing in the workplace was difficult and sometimes frowned upon by factory management. If you worked for Henry Ford, for example, you were expected to work in silence, although he did organize concerts for his workers several times a year.

Then along came General Squier and music was taken out of the hands, or rather the voices, of the general public. It was replaced by sounds which in too many instances today seem to me to be leading the charge in the dumbing-down process in evidence all around us, in a society which is afraid of having to deal with even a few minutes of silence.

Muzak’s claims were questioned in some quarters and among those expressing some doubts was Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer who feared that it would lead to a dulling of aesthetic sensitivity. I wonder what he thinks about today’s assaults on our ears.

Perhaps it is time to form the National Organization for the Prevention of Aural Pollution or NOPAP.

Of course, the only antidote to muzak is live music! WholeNote colleague Ori Dagan lists the jazz happening in the clubs; here is some other live jazz taken from our concert listings:

• May 5 at 7:30: Jazz.FM91. Jazz Lives 2011. Local and international artists including Al Jarreau, vocals; Karrin Allyson, vocals and piano; Randy Brecker, trumpet and flugelhorn; Joey DeFrancesco,  jazz organ, and others. Convocation Hall.

• May 14 at 8:00: Emilie-Claire Barlow. In Concert. Jazz vocalist covers songs from the 1960s. Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

• May 14 at 8:00: MCC Toronto. Leading Ladies: Jackie Richardson. Jazz, blues and R&B vocalist performs with David Warrack, piano.       Metropolitan Community Church.

• May 31 at 8:00: Gallery 345. Mark Kieswetter & Ross MacIntyre CD Release. Piano-bass duo release jazz recording “Green Edge Sky, Green Edge Sun.”

• June 5 at 8:00: Jazz Performance Education Centre. Seamus Blake Quartet. Featuring New York-based tenor saxophonist and                                composer Seamus Blake, joined by trio of Toronto-based musicians. Glenn Gould Studio.

Giving Me the Air

I hope you will forgive me for taking this opportunity for a little self-promotion, but starting June 5, for 13 Sundays, I will be on Jazz.FM at 91.1 from 4pm to 5pm with a programme called “Journeys In Jazz with Jim Galloway,” playing music from my own collection. Much of the music will be played by musicians I know or knew personally on and off the bandstand and I’ll have some little anecdotes about some of them.

Please give it a listen. It won’t be boring and you’ll hear some music that you might not have heard before, played by some of the great but sometimes under-appreciated talents who helped to shape jazz. Oh, and yes, it will be melodic and it will swing.

Happy listening to music that you choose to hear.

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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