1904 jazz notes 1I’m writing this in November and already I’m getting tired of Christmas songs being pumped out at me in shops and restaurants.

It can be said however that despite all the blatant commercialism the season does promote a spirit of goodwill, at least for a day or two. And that’s more than can be said for the origins of the celebration which are to be found in Roman bacchanalia steeped in drunken revelry and, unfortunately, racism, the dates of which were borrowed by the Roman Catholic Church and sanitized more than just a little. If you want clarification on this subject I invite you to check out the origins of Christmas.

In the spirit of the season I offer this abridged version of a parody on “The Night Before Christmas”:

’Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the store,

Each department was dripping with Yuletide decor.

The Muzak was blaring an out-of-tune carol,

And the fake snow was falling on “Ladies’ Apparel.”

It was all too much for my soul to condone,

And I let out a most unprofessional moan.

The crowd turned around, and I’ll say for their sake,

That they knew in an instant I wasn’t a fake.

“I’ve had it,” I told them, “with fast-buck promoting,

With gimmicks and come-ons and businessmen gloating.

This garish display of commercialized greed,

Is so very UN-Christmas, it makes my heart bleed!

And that’s my rant for today.

Elementary – what’s on: Starting with the concert halls there is in fact quite a lot of activity over the next couple of months. The listings section of the magazine has a complete rundown but I have singled out a few events giving an overview of the forthcoming events.

Regarded by many as the best big band in the business, Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, will offer a program called “Big Band Holidays” at Massey Hall on December 9. Formed in 1987 they have since taken their music around the world garnering enthusiastic devotees wherever they play. I’m pretty certain that one of the numbers they will play will be their version of “Oh Tannenbaum” and if you go on their website you’ll find the entire version, not just a clip. Worth checking out.

If you’re looking for something a little more contemporary and vigorous, December 14 at the Winter Garden Theatre will find The Bad Plus belting out their very personal brand of music. Drummer in the group, Dave King, has this to say, “This band contains some of the most punk energy I’ve ever seen or felt as a musician ...”

On the other hand If you’re looking for some nostalgia you’ll find it on December 19 at Roy Thomson Hall when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band presents “Creole Christmas.” The group was formed in 1961 — before some of the current members were born and while the band is no longer the original genuine article the evening will bring back memories of days and music gone by.

Not quite downtown but it’s worth the drive on December 5 to the Flato Markham Theatre where The Manhattan Transfer “Swings Christmas.” The group has been performing since 1974 although it hardly seems that long since I first became aware of them. They went from strength to strength and in 1981 won their first Grammy for their recording of “Until I Met You,” also known as the jazz standard “Corner Pocket,” composed by Freddie Green, longtime guitarist with Count Basie. Their Markham appearance comes hot on the heels of an extensive European tour and if you like vocal jazz, and in particular four-part harmony, Markham Theatre will be your destination.

Two nights later on December 7 John Pizzarelli and Daniela Nardi, vocals, will be “Celebrating Frank Sinatra and Paolo Conte”at Koerner Hall; and at the same venue on December 14, Regina Carter and Nnenna Freelon will present an evening of Jazz, funk, Motown, African and soul music.

So you can see that if you choose to, the festive concert season could put quite a strain on your wallet, but heh, better for your soul than a new smartphone.

At your service: I have commented on the number of jazz vespers which have become part of the fabric that makes up the musical coat of many colours to be found in our city. They first saw the light of day, or rather evening, 14 years ago at Christ Church Deer Park. At that time the minister was Tim Elliott and the musician who convinced him that jazz vespers was a fitting addition to the musical life of a church was Toronto musician Brian Barlow. Over the years there have been five ministers at Christ Church Deer Park, but Brian is still in charge of the jazz policy. Other churches have followed suit and something that 20 years ago would have been unheard of, literally, and still considered by a narrow-minded few to be the devil’s music, is now an accepted way of expressing joy and communicating with people through group improvisation.

Brian’s programming over the next couple of months includes Christmas Vespers with “Barlow Brass and Drums” on December 15 and on January 12, Jazz Vespers “Tribute to Louis Armstrong” with Chase Sanborn, trumpet, and a tribute talk by Barlow. Then on January 26, Jazz Vespers will feature the Russ Little Quintet with Russ Little, trombone, Michael Stuart, saxophone, Brian Barlow, drums, Tom Szczesniak, piano, and Scott Alexander, bass. 4:30pm is the start time and attendance is free, donations welcome.

Time for a little religious humour? Try this one. A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?”

Clubbing around: In addition to the concert schedule there is the usual club scene which is well documented in the listings section, but I would like to make mention of some of the bookings at the Jazz Bistro on Victoria Street which is going some way to picking up the slack which has existed since we lost the Montreal Bistro and Top o’ The Senator. The Jazz Bistro is in fact at the same address as the Top o’ The Senator but there the resemblance ends. It is an elegant room with decent sight lines, reasonably priced food and a really fine piano. There is also an interesting booking policy thanks to the creative efforts of Sybil Walker who brings years of experience coupled with a keen knowledge of the music. Some of the artists who will be appearing over the next few weeks include a quintet on December 6 and 7 led by drummer Mark McLean featuring Kelly Jefferson, saxophone, Robi Botos, piano, Ted Quinlan, guitar, and Marc Rogers, bass. On December 19 to 21 Duncan Hopkins will share the bandstand with Mike Murley and Rob Piltch while the New Year gets off to a swinging start with Bernie Senensky on January 2 to 4, Neil Swainson and Don Thompson, January 9 to 11 and Dave Young, who will be there with his Tribute to Horace Silver Band for three nights, January 16 to 18. With Dave will be Kevin Turcotte, Perry WhIte, Gary Williamson and Terry Clarke. A week later, January 23 to 25, Bernie Senensky will take the bandstand with sax player Grant Stewart, his brother Phil Stewart on drums and Neil Swainson, bass. A strong line-up of home grown talent and if you haven’t yet visited this relatively new space then I would strongly recommend that you put it on your things-to-do, places-to-see list.

Meanwhile over at the Rex, one of the highlights has to be the appearance of John Tank on December 3. With him will be Bernie Senensky on B3 Hammond organ and Ted Warren, drums. Kitchener-born, John Tank moved to Toronto in 1970 but has made New York his home base since 1974, He has built a strong presence both there and internationally and this is a rare Toronto appearance.

All in all if you are a jazz fan “Yule” be able to have a good time.

Just a closing reference to the Christmas commercial madness —I leave you with this thought:

As Chico Marx said in A Night At The Opera, “There ain’t no Sanity Clause!”

I wish you merry listening and a jazzy new year. 

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

jazz notes - fall is inNovember may bring the colder weather but things are heating up in the clubs and concert halls this month and there are a couple of appearances I’d like to single out.

The Jazz Bistro will feature pianist Renee Rosnes for three nights, November 14 to 16; with her will be Peter Washington bass, Lewis Nash drums and Jimmy Greene saxophone.

Renee is Canadian-born but moved to New York in 1986 where she quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with and at various times was the pianist of choice for such as Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, J.J. Johnson and James Moody.

She has four JUNOs to her name and her compositions have been recorded by Phil Woods, J.J. Johnson, the Danish Radio Big Band and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. She is a very welcome addition to the Jazz Bistro’s line-up and the band, I’m sure, will be a tight unit given that their appearance here follows on a tour of India, the only change being the substitution of Jimmy Greene for Steve Wilson. If you enjoy contemporary jazz you should definitely mark your calendar.

Massey: On November 22 at Massey Hall it’s a pretty special evening with the Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration, (he turned 80 on August 25), with Wayne accompanied by pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and Brian Blade on drums. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times has described Shorter as “probably jazz’s greatest living small-group composer and a contender for greatest living improviser.” And if that isn’t enough there is also the trio of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding playing music from Shorter’s days with Weather Report.

In addition there is the usual vigorous local club and concert activity which is splendidly covered in the club listings section of this magazine. (See page 53).

Shaw wordfest: Last month I wrote a piece about an address given by Artie Shaw at the 1998 IAJRC Convention. This month I would like to follow it up with his answers to some of the questions put to him by members of the audience.

In one of responses he riffed on the theme that you can’t train human beings to listen to music intelligently. Any publisher of books will tell you the same thing Shaw said: most people would rather read Danielle Steel than Thomas Mann. Even although there is no comparison they would rather have Liberace than Beethoven. What sells is what’s dominating the marketplace — we’re in a greed-driven world. If we want something good to go on we have to support it. If we were at a concert by Kenny G there would be a very large audience. That doesn’t mean he’s better, it’s simply that more people like what he does and that’s the way it works.

By the way, do you know that Artie Shaw recorded with Jelly Roll Morton? He was asked how that came about and explained that he was on a record date with Wingy Manone, so named because he lost his right arm in a streetcar accident when he was ten years old. Jelly Roll happened to be the piano player on the date and that’s how he came to play with him. Shaw found him to be “a nice guy” but a real hustler and always talking about how he invented jazz!

Asked if there were any big bands that he listened to — bear in mind that this is 1998 — he said that he liked Bill Holman and Bob Florence although he felt that Bob sometimes took too many liberties with songs and that there is a limit to how much you should distort the music without losing your audience. The more liberty you take the less audience you’re going to have and the less money you’ll make. He wasn’t suggesting that money is the main goal, but you do have to face the reality of making enough of it to pay the bills.

He also had some interesting observations about Buddy Rich whom he described as an athletic phenomenon; when he played he did incredible things with his feet and hands and had exuberance and tremendous energy. When Shaw hired him in 1938 he could not read music so he set him in front of the band for three or four nights to listen, after which he said he could do it — and did!

And speaking of drummers ... Over the years in jazz there have been as many musicians’ jokes about drummers as there are in classical music about viola players; such as “We have a quintet — four musicians and a drummer”; or “A guitar player and a drummer were walking through a park one day. The guitar player said, ‘Hey look at that dog with one eye!’ The drummer covers one eye and says, ‘Where?’”; “Why are drummers always losing their watches? Everyone knows they have trouble keeping time”; “Why put drumsticks on the dash of your car? So you can park in the handicapped spot” ... and so on.

Well, according to Artie Shaw Buddy Rich was not a musician, he was a drummer — a different thing — the difference being that musicians play in terms of what the band is doing. So he and Buddy came to a parting of the ways. Shaw took him aside and asked him who he was playing for, the band or himself and Rich answered that he played for himself upon which Artie said, “I think you’ll be happier somewhere else, you’re not going to be happy here and I’m going to lean on you pretty hard. So Buddy Rich left and joined Tommy Dorsey, although from what I’ve heard about Dorsey I’m surprised it didn’t turn out to be going from the frying pan into the fire.

I’ve just realized that as I write this there might be a number of younger readers who may be familiar with the name Artie Shaw but don’t really know much about him. He was a clarinetist, composer, bandleader and author. Acknowledged as one of the finest clarinetists in jazz, he had one of the most successful big bands of the late 30s into the early 40s. He also was the first white band leader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated Southern U.S. but after recording “Any Old Time” she left the band due to hostility from audiences in the South, as well as from music company executives. He was also actively involved in third stream music blending jazz and classical music.

In 1954 he walked away from a successful career and spent the rest of the 50s living in Europe.

His personal life was, to say the least, stormy; he was married eight times and his wives included Lana Turner, Betty Kern, the daughter of songwriter Jerome Kern, and Ava Gardner.

He died on December 30, 2004 at age 94. I leave you with two of his quotes:

“You have no idea of the people I didn’t marry.”

“Shoot for the moon — if you miss you’ll end up in the stars.”

Artie Shaw, a very different and talented human being.

Happy listening and please make some of it live jazz. 

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

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’
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