How many of you are aware that in August 2003 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 108-72 declaring April “Jazz Appreciation Month” – a time when musicians, schools, colleges, libraries, concert halls, museums, radio and television stations, and other organizations should develop programs to explore, perpetuate and honour jazz as a national and world treasure? I can understand that the initiative for such a celebration would have originated in the States, but I can find no acknowledgement of it in Toronto jazz circles, or, for that matter, anywhere else in Canada. A pity, because it would seem to be an opportunity to get some media recognition for the music, and Lord knows, it could use it.

Perhaps we have an opportunity for Stephen Harper to do something which would cement even more strongly his ties with our neighbours to the South! He surely was exposed to jazz when he was growing up. After all, his father, Joe Harper, was a keen collector of jazz records and was a member of the Duke Ellington Society right here in Toronto.

To mark the occasion this year, on March 26, 2011, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Postal Service issued a Jazz commemorative stamp. In addition, The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will mark the tenth annual Jazz Appreciation Month in April with a month-long celebration of jazz. The main focus this year will be on the legacies of women in jazz and there will be a special ceremony related to the nation’s first integrated, female big band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, founded in 1937 at the Piney Woods School, in Mississippi. Another group which originated at the Piney Woods School in the same year was the Cotton Blossom Singers which later changed its name to the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

28aThe Piney Woods School was born in 1909, in a desperately poor section of Mississippi. The first school building was an abandoned sheep shed that had been cleaned up, repaired and whitewashed. The original International Sweethearts of Rhythm band members were students, 14 years and older, who paid for their education by performing as a jazz band to help promote and sustain the financially struggling school. The Sweethearts eventually travelled nationwide in a customized tour bus built by the school, named Big Bertha, performing at churches, state fairs, dance and civic halls and later at name entertainment venues such as the Apollo Theatre.

Some of their work was in the Deep South and they could never be sure of finding lodgings. Also, being a multi-racial group they did not want to run afoul of the “Jim Crow” laws, so the Sweethearts had their bus equipped with eating and sleeping facilities. One can only imagine the difficulties they must have had to overcome at that period in American history as a group of women of mixed race. And integrated they were – over the years the band members included a Chinese saxophonist, a Mexican clarinet player, an Indian saxophonist and a Hawaiian trumpet player. The first white musicians joined in 1943 and when they were in Jim Crow territory they had to paint their faces dark so the police wouldn’t come and take them off the bandstand or arrest them.

They were probably the best female aggregation of the Big Band era but personnel changes eventually led to the breakup of the band in 1949. Without doubt their dedication and the pluckiness of its members earned the International Sweethearts of Rhythm a very special place in the story of jazz. On a personal note, I can recall a Saturday afternoon in the 80s when I had my weekly live jazz radio show “Toronto Alive!” on CKFM (now better known as MixFM) and two attractive elderly ladies introduced themselves. They had actually been members of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an achievement of which they were justly proud.

But back to JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month). In my research I discovered that in the month of April there are 20 jazz festivals in the United States and seven more in Estonia, England, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Northern Ireland and Saint Lucia. Too late for this year, but I hope that in 2012, Canada, and specifically Toronto, can do something in April to celebrate and increase awareness of jazz.

I mean, we celebrate National Donut Month – so why not jazz?

In the meantime here are a few suggestions that you, as an individual, might consider for the month:

• Read a good book on jazz.

• Listen to a jazz CD that is new to you.

• Explore the music of a musician who is new to you.

• Go out and hear some live jazz.

• And, most important of all, when JAM is over keep doing all of the above!

On The Menu In Toronto

HERE ARE A FEW of the events in Toronto that are worth a mention:

29aOn Apr 14 at 7:30: Canadian vocal treasure, Jackie Richardson, will be at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor St. W. along with Trinity-St.Paul’s United Church Choir presenting “Homecookin’ with Jackie Richardson.” Proceeds will go to the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. For ticket information call 416-340-4055.

29_darrensigesmund_hires_photo_28_3_8bitsFor those of you who like your music contemporary and original, Galaxy Rising Star award-winner, Darren Sigesmund and the Strands II Septet will be at the Al Green Theatre in the Miles Nadal JCC, 750 Spadina Ave. on April 27 at 8:00pm. The band will feature a couple of interesting out-of-towners: one is violinist Mark Feldman who has played with such jazz notables as John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Lee Konitz and Chris Potter, and the other is Gary Versace, piano and accordion, who has been featured in the bands of Maria Schneider, John Scofield and Ingrid Jensen. For tickets phone: 416-924-6211 ext 0.

“Tommy Ambrose & Friends” will be at Lula Lounge on May 1. Tommy’s friends include pianist Norman Amadio, bassist Rosemary Galloway, saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, drummer Don Vickery and John MacLeod on flugelhorn. The evening is the brainchild of Ron Manfield who runs MPC Music, a small indie label. As Ron says, an evening like this is “nourishment for the soul.” The music kicks off at 7pm and for tickets you should call MPC Music at 416-788-2699.

In closing, April provided the names of some pretty good songs. Here are some of them: April In Paris, April In Portugal, April Showers, I’ll Remember April and April In My Heart.

Happy listening and don’t forget that list of things to do.

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

For more on the month in Jazz, see In the Clubs.

26_victor_recordsOn March 7 1917, two sides “The Dixie Jass Band One Step,” and “Livery Stable Blues” by Nick LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jass Band were released. It was the first jazz recording issued for sale in the U.S. That honour might well have gone to a group called The Original Creole Orchestra, the first New Orleans Jazz band to tour outside of the South, but in 1915 trumpeter Freddie Keppard turned down an offer from the Victor Talking Machine Company. The story goes that he didn’t want other musicians to be able to steal his music by listening to records.

Another version claims that the Victor Company wanted the band to make a test recording without pay. Yet another story is that Keppard was offered $25.00 to make a recording – much less than he was making on the vaudeville circuit at that time, although pretty well the going rate for a recording. He refused saying, “I drink that much in gin every day!”

But what was the earliest Canadian jazz recording?

Well, there isn’t much information available about the early Canadian bands or, for that matter, musicians. But in the mid 20s a piano player called Gilbert Watson formed a band which included an American trumpet player called Curtis Little. In 1925 they recorded a couple of numbers in Montreal for Starr Records, probably the first records by a Canadian band.

In these days when a little piece of electronic wizardry no bigger than a square of chocolate can store upwards of 2,000 tunes as MP3s, it is fascinating to look back in time to the early days of phonograph recordings. Before discs, recordings were made on cylinders, a process invented by Edison in 1877. By the early 1900s cylinders were selling by the millions. Then the gramophone disc took over the market. It also had been around since the late 1800s, invented by a German-born American called Emile Berliner. He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, and in 1899 the Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada in Montreal. The original discs were only five inches in diameter and intended for toy phonographs.( He also created Deutsche Grammophon in 1898.)

I remember “Wild” Bill Davison, one of the hottest jazz cornet players in the history of the music (and who was already playing in the 1920s telling me about his memories of the early days of discs when it was an acoustic process, before the days of electric recording.

A large metal horn protruded from one wall in the studio. On the other side of the wall was the recording equipment consisting of a needle, connected to the narrow end of the horn, which vibrated to the music and cut grooves in the form of wavy lines into a revolving slab of wax thus creating the sound track. It was, in fact, direct to disc recording. (An interesting aside: in 1977 Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass recorded a limited edition 2-LP set, direct to disc, but they didn’t use wax slabs!).

“Wild” Bill then went on to explain that if the band had to stop for whatever reason during the take, a ring of gas burners would be lowered to the wax in order to melt the surface making it smooth again. You could have a maximum of three attempts before the wax had to be replaced. An added complication was that the band could not set up as it normally would on stage because the louder the instrument, the farther it had to be from the horn in the wall!

A typical example of the difficulties that had to be overcome was described by American writer Rudi Blesh, writing about a recording session with the King Oliver band in the early 20s. The band had two cornet players, Oliver and the young Louis Armstrong and when the band set up around the horn in the wall, Oliver and Armstrong drowned out the rest of the band and had to back off while clarinet player Johnny Dodds had to play right into the horn. Drummer Baby Dodds couldn’t use his bass drum at all, and had to limit himself to a greatly reduced kit.

But that wasn’t the end of it; on the next try they could hear Louis Armstrong, but not King Oliver, so Louis had to move back even more before they could achieve some semblance of balance! Far from ideal conditions you might say.

But let’s go back to that first recording by The Original Dixieland Jass Band.  Note that they used the word jass. The transformation of the word jass to jazz is shrouded in conjecture and legend. There is correspondence dated April 19, 1917 from Victor addressed to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and certainly by 1918 the ODJB was using jazz in the band’s name. One of many stories about the change from jass to jazz is that mischief makers would obliterate the letter ‘j’ from posters advertising the music! But there is no real proof as to who first used the word.

On Friday December 10, 2010 a tongue-in cheek letter from the New York copylaw firm of Lloyd J. Jassin was issued. Here is a partial transcript of the letter. “In a ceremony on Friday, which exuded warmth and openness, the the Jazz world and Jassins came together and reconciled a 95-year dispute over the derivation of the term Jazz.” If you would like to read the very witty transcript you can find it in my expanded column on the WholeNote web site.

The letter closes with this quotation from Martin Luther King: “Everyone has the blues. Everyone longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved.  Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for Faith. In music, especially that broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

A sad note. Last month we lost George Shearing and I miss his sense of humour almost as much as his music. One of my favourite examples was the following; “When people ask me how is it I was a musician, I facetiously say that I’m a firm believer in reincarnation and in a previous life I was Johann Sebastian Bach’s guide dog.”

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.

Acouple of issues ago I wrote about the less than thriving club scene which is, by the way, not confined to Toronto. For those of you who did not read the article in question it bemoaned the sad state of affairs in the jazz job market and the difficulties of finding enough employment to sustain a career in music.It has never been an easy career choice. It’s tougher now. The article elicited a larger than usual response, favourable, with one exception and mostly from musicians who could empathise with the challenges faced by the musical community.

This is not to suggest that there is no scene at all in town. A fair number of venues do present jazz on a regular basis, albeit sometimes only once a week – a partial list includes Quotes, featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet on a Friday evening at 5pm, (I’m happy to say that I’ll be playing there on February 11), The Old Mill with its three nights a week policy in the Home Smith Bar, Grossman’s New Orleans inspired sessions on a Saturday afternoon, The Reservoir with its nightly entertainment and, of course, The Rex which rolls on its merry way.

They deserve your support.

Looking at all of the above you might say not a bad little crop. But it’s still a far cry from the days when you had a choice of three or four clubs six nights a week. Today it is the concert events which are just about the only way to hear some of the “big names” in jazz. The Wayne Shorter Quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade will be at Massey Hall on Saturday Feb.12; JAZZ.FM91’s Sound of Jazz Concert Series at The Old Mill on February 14 will present a Valentine’s Day special with The Steve Koven Trio, special guests Christopher Plock on reeds and vocals, and singer Lori Cullen; and as part of the same series, on Monday February 28 Brian Browne, who for years was a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene, will team up with Robi Botos to play a tribute to Bill Evans.

A relative newcomer on the scene is the Jazz Performance and Education Centre, created to support and nurture the jazz scene here in Toronto and, whenever possible, across Canada. Created in 2007, it is dedicated to the preservation and continued development of jazz in Canada. A committee of jazz lovers, musicians and business people was assembled to make plans which would enrich Toronto’s jazz scene and complement existing successful local establishments

The driving forces behind the venture are longtime jazz supporters Ray and Rochelle Koskie and the ultimate goal is to create a full time multi purpose facility which would feature performances by top local, national and international jazz talent plus educational programming through which fans of all ages can learn about the music.

The centre would incorporate recording facilities; and a Hall of Fame which would preserve our jazz heritage and tradition. In other words a Canadian version of the Jazz at Lincoln Centre

25_lee_konitz1_Their 2010-2011 concert season began with an evening with Fred Hersch and Norma Winstone and will continue on Friday February 11 with Lee Konitz and the Brian Dickinson Trio. A word about Mr. Konitz. He has been a significant force in jazz for more than sixty years, was heavily influenced by Lennie Tristano, played on the Miles Davis compilation, “Birth of the Cool” and on the Bill Evans “Crosscurrents” album, and has well over a hundred albums as leader. Konitz has become more experimental as his playing evolves and has released a number of avant-garde jazz albums, working with many of today’s younger players. Composer/teacher/pianist Brian Dickinson and his trio (Jim Vivian on bass and Barry Romberg on drums) will be accompanying Konitz and it promises to be a very special occasion.

Looking ahead, on Friday, March 18, JPEC will be presenting the Robert Glasper Experiment, an electric, hip-hop influenced quartet, one of the best of the groups taking jazz in new directions. TASA, a world music ensemble inspired by the traditions of India will share the stage with Hugh Marsh on Friday April 29 and on Sunday June 5, the New York based tenor axophonist/composer Seamus Blake and his Quartet. “Extraordinary, a total saxophonist” is how he was described by John Scofield.

In addition to the above, JPEC is also planning special workshops at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and will establish the JPEC Jazz Hall of Fame with Phil Nimmons as its first inductee.

Certainly JPEC has lofty ambitions and I wish them well.

To finish off on a light-hearted note, I give you the following:

In 2009 The World Entertainment News Network ran an article about Dustin Hoffman and his unfulfilled life ambition. He claimed that he would give up Hollywood in an instant to be an accomplished piano player! He was quoted as saying, “If God tapped me on the shoulder and offered me an ultimatum – acting or jazz piano – I’d make the decision in a New York minute.”

All I can say is this. Don’t give up your day gig, Dustin.

Meanwhile, happy live listening.

All the club action worth taking in (yes, including a bunch of jazz) is in the Club Listings starting on page 45.

 

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

This being the issue that sees out the old year and welcomes the new, it has something of a “hail and farewell” feel to it – so before all hail breaks out let me offer season’s greetings to you in the hope that you will fare well in the new year.

Some Local Festivities

Throughout the year there is a fair sprinkling of jazz vespers, and much of it takes place at Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge Street. December 19 at 4:30 I’ll be there with a quartet for Christmas Vespers. On January 9 the Colleen Allen Quartet will be there at 4:30. There’s no admission charge but donations are welcomed.

Beach United Church at 140 Wineva Avenue will have Jazz Vespers: “Music for the Soul,” featuring Cadence on December 4. The time is 4:30, and again there is no admission charge. On December 12 at 4:00pm St. Philip’s Anglican Church at 25 St. Phillips Road will also have Jazz Vespers with Diana Panton, Reg Schwager and Don Thompson.

So, there you are – some opportunities to hear jazz that’s good for the soul.

In the New Year

The popular afternoon jazz series presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts continues on January 11 with “Winter Heat,” when the Humber Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by Don Thompson, will perform a programme of music written by Thompson. The next day at 5:30 the programme is called “The Fifth Season,” featuring chamber jazz performed by Duologue (David Occhipinti, bass; Mike Murley, saxophone).

Looking ahead, on February 5 the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra presents a “Tribute to Henry Mancini,” with special guests Canadian Jazz Quartet. Norman Reintamm conducts the concert at the P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

p26Big guns coming into town include pianists McCoy Tyner and Alfredo Rodriguez in a presentation called “Aspects of Oscar: Oscar Solo” – a tribute to Oscar Peterson’s solo piano music. They will be at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory, 273 Bloor St. W., on December 11 at 8 pm.

Tyner hardly needs any introduction: over the years he’s been a frequent visitor to Toronto. Born in Philadelphia, he came to the attention of the jazz public when he joined the John Coltrane Quartet. He was a mere 17 years old! He joined Coltrane for the classic album My Favorite Things (1960). The band also included drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, and was one of the landmark groups in jazz history. Tyner is also on such classic recordings as Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions, and A Love Supreme.

Havana-born Rodriguez, like many pianists from Cuba, has a prodigious technique. Classically schooled, his music is influenced not only by jazz and his Cuban roots but also by the great classical composers. Hearing these two great talents should surely make for an evening to remember.

Bill Mays’ Chamber Jazz Septet will be at The Old Mill on December 16, combining jazz improvisation and classical themes. It’s impossible to find a category for Mays, so diverse are his talents. He has deep roots in jazz, but can take a pop theme and turn it into a rich experience and then sound equally at home with a classical theme. He could make a scale in C sound interesting! Then on February 1 at Massey Hall, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will be playing music of jazz greats, including Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane.

Time for the annual visit of this exceptional group of musicians. Marsalis may have his detractors, but there’s no denying that he is at the helm of a unique orchestra which can at times reach the heights. A programme that includes the music of Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane demonstrates just how versatile this orchestra is. I also like the fact that the concert is being presented in venerable old Massey Hall.

Finally, this little variation on a seasonal theme is for those musicians out there who do not have any gigs at Christmas.

God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
In spite of having no gigs and not a place to play.
“Tis the season to be merry and fill our hearts with joy,
At least we will not have to play The Little Drummer Boy.
Ring out the bells, greet all the Kris Kringles,
Forget the fact that there are no jingles.
But let’s not be downhearted and all to no avail,
We could try our hand at fishing – at least we would get scale!

Have a happy holiday season, and make sure you hear some live jazz.

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

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin in a letter to French historian Jean-Baptiste Leroy, on November 13, 1789. Well, Ben, add another one: change. As a veteran of the Toronto jazz scene I’ve seen a lot of changes. I wish I could say they’ve been for the better, but the sad fact is that looking back is more enjoyable than looking ahead.

What has changed Toronto from being a leading city on the jazz club circuit to the sad state of today? For a start, there is no club circuit any more. Rising costs and declining, aging audiences put paid to that. Touring groups, except for the few that can fill a concert hall, have become a thing of the past. With the demise of the great jazz clubs in this city – the Colonial, Town Tavern, Bourbon Street, Cafe des Copains, Montreal Bistro, Top O’ The Senator, to name only some of them – I feel a sense of loss. The club circuit has its equivalent now in the festival roundabout, relying more and more on ticket sales, often at the expense of the music. And festivals come around once a year; clubs entertained us year round.p26b

Jazz has undergone huge changes since the 1930s when Louis Armstrong was not only a musical genius, he was a pop star. His music was accessible and entertaining. Even into the 1950s jazz was relatively popular, based on a melodic foundation. But it evolved into a complex musical form much of which was no longer easily accepted by the public at large. Audiences started to decline. It was becoming a sophisticated art form rather than an entertainment.

Last month I wrote about nicknames of some of the musicians who played with Duke Ellington. Why did they have nicknames? Because they were colourful characters and it was reflected in their music. In Canada, in his early years Oscar Peterson was “The brown bomber of boogie-woogie.” Trumpeter Jimmy Davidson was “Trump.” But today where are the characters, players who have a personal trademark sound, making them immediately recognizable?

As a profession, jazz is perhaps at its lowest ebb. Making a decent living in jazz has never been easy. Now it is just about impossible. The irony is that jazz has now become something that can be “taught.” In Toronto alone scores of graduates from jazz courses enter a market that hardly exists any more. They have been taught by some of the finest players in Canada – who teach to supplement their income because there isn’t enough work out there to pay the bills. (I know that I’m going to ruffle some feathers by saying such things, but I am echoing what I hear in a lot of opinions expressed when veteran players and aficionados get together.)

Certainly, students can learn to master the techniques and mechanics of playing in all the scales, coming out at the end of it all as superb musicians. But the thing that can’t be taught is the soul of the music. “The teaching of jazz is a very touchy point. It ends up where the jazz player, ultimately, if he’s going to be a serious jazz player, teaches himself.” Whose quotation is that? Pianist Bill Evans. A technically great musician doesn’t necessarily know how to make music.

Some musicians with relatively limited technique made great music: Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, Kid Ory. And – not that I recommend it – greats like Errol Garner and Buddy Rich didn’t even read music. I also believe that a well rounded musician should have a vocabulary which includes songs by the great songsmiths; as well, the great ballad players have also known what the lyric, if there is one, is about.

A well-known Toronto musician once told a story about being on an engagement which was a surprise birthday party. There were a couple of horn players on the gig who were recent graduates of one of the jazz courses. When the guest of honour (a well-known horn player) walked in he asked the band to play “Happy Birthday.” The horn players didn’t know it!

Now, it wasn’t the responsibility of their teachers on the course of studies to teach them that song – it was their job to have it in their musical vocabulary. Not that they would ever choose to play it on a jazz gig, but not all of their gigs are going to be opportunities to play their original compositions. Some gigs are “bread and butter” ones, no matter how well you play.

Here’s a suggestion. If you are a young player about to make your first CD, which nowadays is your calling card, don’t make every number an original composition. Swallow your pride and play at least one number by one of the great songwriters. It gives your listeners a point of reference and demonstrates how well you can interpret one of the numbers which, as I pointed out, should be in any well-rounded musical vocabulary.

p27Change is inevitable in any art form, and in many ways reflects the society of its time. And given that we live in a world full of doubt, insecurity and danger to a degree unequalled in this declining civilization, it’s no surprise that much of the joy has gone from the music. So I accept the fact that change is inescapable and indeed necessary. But maybe it’s time to find a word to replace “jazz” – Duke Ellington stopped using the term in 1940 – because much of today’s music simply does not meet the criteria of some of the music’s great players.

Here are a few things to consider. Miles Davis: “I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath as long as he can swing.” Stan Getz: “The saxophone is actually a translation of the human voice, in my conception. All you can do is play melody. No matter how complicated it gets, it’s still a melody.” John Coltrane: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

Swing, melodic content and a knowledge of the roots –
I rest my case.

 

Postscript

I wrote this month’s piece just before leaving for an engagement at Jazzland in Vienna, one of the few remaining jazz venues which presents jazz six nights a week. I’m sitting looking at the photo collection on the walls of musicians who have played the club, among them many of the players who used to appear in Toronto clubs. I can’t stifle a certain feeling of nostalgia and, again, a sense of loss. But then, years from now I’m sure there will be another generation looking back at 2010 as “the good old days.” However, in my present mood, to paraphrase playwright John Osborne, it’s “Look Back In Sorrow.”

 

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

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