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.

Last month I gave a talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society, a group of enthusiasts that gets together on the second Tuesday of every month, except for July and August.

p27The Society was founded in 1959 as the Duke Ellington Jazz Society through the efforts of one Bill Ross, a Canadian working in Hollywood who placed an ad in Downbeat magazine in late 1958, announcing that a Duke Ellington Jazz Society had been formed in Hollywood. Simply put, it consists of people who are interested in Duke Ellington: fans, musicians, researchers, scholars and writers, the common bond being a love of the music of Ellington – and, of course, his alter ego Billy Strayhorn. (It’s interesting to note that in 1968, at the Duke’s request, the word jazz was dropped from the name and all the Chapters became known as the Duke Ellington Society.)

The Toronto chapter’s origins make an interesting story, thanks to the Anger family. Rhea Anger, a champion of the music of Ellington, in response to a letter of January 29 from Ross, organized the first meeting of the Toronto Chapter, which was held on May 4, 1959. Anger was elected as the first president, and the Toronto Chapter has been meeting regularly ever since. There’s no doubt that she was a suitable choice. She was the widow of Justice Harry Anger of the Ontario Supreme Court, who had established a warm friendship with the Duke many years before. After his death, Rhea and her son, Ron, also a lawyer, maintained the relationship. Over a period of time, whenever the Ellington band came to Toronto they would be invited to the Anger home after the engagement to enjoy some home comfort. And Duke Ellington played this town many times from 1931 on. I came up with a list of 16 different venues where they performed.

Robert Fulford, in the Toronto Star, January of 1987, wrote the following: “In the early 1970s, when the Duke Ellington band was playing the O’Keefe Centre, tenor saxophone soloist Paul Gonsalves came down from the stage and stood before a middle-aged woman in the audience, affectionately serenading her as the band accompanied him. While Gonsalves played and the woman shyly smiled, Ellington dedicated the number ‘for Mrs. Anger, our dear friend.’” For years Rhea and her son Ron were familiar faces at jazz events in Toronto and their love and enthusiasm for the music never diminished.

In his book, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington wrote: “Mrs. Anger and her son, Ron, are also among our most loyal friends and supporters. They never miss our appearances in Toronto, and the city’s chapter of the Duke Ellington Society has always owed a great deal of its health to them. Canada has a character and a spirit of its own, which we should recognize and never take for granted.”

In 1987 Toronto hosted the fifth annual Ellington conference at The Inn on the Park. It was a three day event, and the musicians included two Ellington alumni: trombonist Booty Wood and bassist Aaron Bell, along with Doc Cheatham, George Kelly, Ray Bryant, Gus Johnson and from Canada, Oliver Jones, Neil Swainson, Fraser MacPherson and myself. In addition, there was a rare performance of Ellington’s extended work, The Tatooed Bride by my big band. Alice Babs, who had a long collaboration with the Duke, was present. She’s perhaps best remembered for her singing in the second and third Sacred Concerts, which Ellington wrote for her voice. It had a range of more than three octaves and was so remarkable that Ellington said that when she did not sing the parts that he wrote for her, he had to use three different singers!

In the early days of the society, meetings were held in members’ homes – but nowadays Montgomery’s Inn, at the junction of Dundas Street West and Islington, is the home of the Society. And each year the Toronto Chapter presents a fundraising concert at a date close to Ellington’s birthday, April 29. In 2011, on Saturday April 30, a group led by Dave Young and Terry Promane will be the featured ensemble. More about that closer to the date.

As a result of their fundraising activities, seven $1,000 scholarships are awarded to emerging Toronto musicians, a remarkable achievement for what is a relatively small group of enthusiasts. Speaking of which, they would welcome additional members – especially some younger blood – so if you’re interested please call Chris McEvilly at 416-234-0653 and help the spirit of Duke Ellington to live on in one of his favourite cities.

 

What’s in a Name?

When I spoke to the Toronto Duke Ellington Society the topic was nicknames given to some of the musicians who worked with him. Here are a few of them.

Trombonist Joe Nanton was one of the great pioneers of the plunger mute. He joined Ellington in 1926 and his growl and plunger sounds were a major ingredient in the band’s jungle sound that evolved in the 20s. He earned his nickname “Tricky Sam” during his first years with Ellington. There are a couple of conflicting stories about the origin of his nickname, neither having to do with his trombone technique – a common misconception.

One story is that he consistently won when he played poker with bandmates, so much so that he became known as tricky with a deck of cards. But saxophonist Toby Hardwick claimed that he was capable of “doing with one hand what someone else would do with two – he was tricky that way.” Nanton had perfected a technique of drinking on-stage without anyone noticing!

Another trombonist, Lawrence Brown, joined the band in 1932. Somewhat straight-laced, he kept away from the drinking and high-life enjoyed by the rest of the band, a rather puritan behavior that earned him the nickname “The Deacon.”

p28Tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves joined the band in 1950 and stayed for the rest of his life. His nickname was “Mex,” because people thought he was Hispanic, when in fact he was from the Cape Verde Islands. But Ellington bestowed on him another sobriquet. Because he sometimes walked around in the audience while soloing, the Duke dubbed him “Strolling Violins.”

Here’s one for punsters. In the 1950s Britt Woodman was in the trombone section. So was Quentin Jackson, whose nickname was “Butter,” thus giving rise to “Britt and Butter.” So you see, some of us don’t only play on instruments – and words seldom fail us.

Happy listening.

 

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

Here we are heading into a new season. Summer is a sweaty memory. Before we know it, we’ll be complaining about the cold weather. But it also heralds an upsurge in club and concert activity. There are even a couple of festivals to round out that season.

The Guelph Jazz Festival runs from September 8 to 12 and kicks off with a performance featuring accordionist Pauline Oliveros performing live in Guelph with Anne Bourne (cello), Guelph’s own Ben Grossman (hurdy gurdy) and Jesse Stewart (drums) connected to two other sites where they will be joined by Ricardo Arias on balloon (in Bogotá, Colombia) and Jonas Braasch on soprano sax, Doug Van Nort on laptop and Curtis Bahn on electronics (in Troy, NY).

Some of the other featured artists include the quartet of Bob Ostertag, Sylvie Courvoisier, Taylor Ho Bynum, Jim Black on the 9th, Henry Grimes, Jane Bunnett, Andrew Cyrille, Marilyn Crispell, a double bill of The Trio (Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis), Sangam (Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain and Eric Harlan), and on the closing day – and I do mean day because it is scheduled for 10:30am – guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. The festival is a veritable feast for anyone who enjoys contemporary music. Full details can be found in our listings or by going to www.guelphjazzfestival.com.

P29Then there’s the All-Canadian Jazz Festival in Port Hope, September 24-26, which will be a real celebration of Canadian jazz. The Shuffle Demons, Alex Pangman and Her Alleycats, Laila Biali Trio with Guido Basso and Phil Dwyer and the Brian Barlow Big Band with Heather Bambrick to name just a few. Again, full details can be found at www.allcanadianjazz.ca.

On October 3 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge, the Jazz Performance and Education Centre will present a tribute to Warren K. Winkler, Chief Justice of Ontario. The JPEC Jazz Orchestra (Denny Christianson, music director), and vocalist Ranee Lee are the featured performers for this gala event.

Not Run of The Mill

The fall programming at the Old Mill certainly isn’t “run of the mill.” On Thursday, September 16, 7:30pm in the dining room, 2010 Grammy Award-winning vocal virtuoso Kurt Elling will take the stand followed by the Oliver Jones Trio on September 30, while over at the Home Smith Bar Thursday nights will feature John Sherwood, except on the 16th when Richard Whiteman will take over.

Friday nights will showcase June Garber, Luis Mario Ochoa and Julie Michaels. On Saturday nights the Home Smith will present the Bob Scott Duo followed by the trios of Gord Sheard and Paul Read.

Gallery 345 at 345 Sorauren Ave. is also coming up with some interesting programmimg this month with “The Art of the Piano,” featuring Dave Restivo and Robi Botos on the 12th, Henry Grimes, Jane Bunnett and Andrew Cyrille on the 13th, and Indo-Latin jazz from Irshad Kahn World Trio on the 19th.

Meanwhile, the Rex rolls on and Quotes will be back mid-month. So the season is well and truly under way, and you should check the listings section for more complete details of the month’s offerings.

I also did some looking back at significant and memorable events this year, and two spring to mind immediately.

The Ken Page Memorial Trust Gala in May featured a cross-section of Canadian and American artists in an informal setting, again at the Old Mill, where players were mixed and matched throughout the evening. The visitors included the Vache brothers, Allan and Warren, George Masso and the multi-talented Scott Robinson, all long-time favourites with Toronto audiences. And the local musicians included almost a who’s who on the Toronto scene with John MacLeod, Kevin Turcotte, Laurie Bower, Al Kay, Don Thompson, John Sherwood, Reg Schwager, Neil Swainson, Terry Clarke, Lucian Gray and some guy playing a bent soprano sax.

Then there was the tribute performance by members of the Rob McConnell Tentet at the Old Mill. Led by trombonist Terry Promane the band gave an exuberant evening of Rob’s arrangements – that is, until the closing number, “For All We Know,” composed by J. Fred Coots in 1934, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis. It goes as follows:

For all we know we may never meet again

Before you go make this moment sweet again

We won’t say goodnight until the last minute

I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it

For all we know this may only be a dream

We come and we go like the ripples of a stream

So love me, love me tonight tomorrow was made for some

Tomorrow may never come for all we know

Ah, they don’t write lyrics like that any more.

But on that night it was an instrumental performance – and if ever there was a demonstration of the emotional power of music it was John Johnston’s moving alto sax interpretation of Rob McConnell’s arrangement. If there was a dry eye in the room it must have belonged to someone who is emotionally deaf.

To all of you out there: fall in and get out to hear some 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.

 

“I’ve been a great jazz fan my whole life. I certainly like modern jazz as well, but my favourite kind is New Orleans jazz. Something about the primitive quality, the simplicity of it, the directness. It is the one style of jazz that stays with me the most.”

So says Allan Stewart Konigsberg, better known as Woody Allen in a recent article in New York’s Village Voice.

“Early jazz was very pleasurable and very simple,” explains Allen. “After a while, that stuff became concert music, and the chord progressions got very complicated, and the harmonies got very complicated. It became less pleasurable. Not less great … But it required more concentration and more effort from the audience.”

Allen has just finished the season of sold-out Monday night appearances at New York’s up-market Carlyle Hotel where, to be honest, his fame rather than his music was the big attraction, and forking out $100 for the privilege wasn’t a problem.

He does not deny his limitations as a musician, but his love of the music is genuine.

It is, however, a form of jazz that is no longer a part of the mainstream of the music. The audience for traditional jazz has diminished, partly through attrition, changing tastes, media neglect and the fact that jazz has embraced so many different influences that it is now well nigh impossible to define. Only a few young musicians now choose to specialize in traditional jazz and you have to look to Europe to find many of them.

Certainly, early jazz and swing musicians looked upon themselves largely as entertainers. There was no comprehension that jazz music might be or develop into an art form. “Entertainment”: such a vital word when describing early jazz, and a word that’s foreign to much of today’s music.

New York, which used to be a stronghold of jazz in the tradition with places such as Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s still does have a few places where you can hear jazz that swings: Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street, Il Valentino at the Sutton Hotel on E. 56th St., and on Mondays you can catch Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (11-piece band) at Club Cache, downstairs at the Edison Hotel on W. 46th St.

Here in Toronto the longest running of these traditional strongholds has to be Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina, which this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of New Orleans Jazz every Saturday afternoon from 4:30 pm.

P24The original bandleader was Cliff (“Kid”) Bastien, and his Saturday afternoon residence at Grossman’s began when, in 1970, then-owner Al Grossman hired the young trumpeter and his Camelia Band, later called Kid Bastien’s Happy Pals, to perform every Saturday. Apart from a short period around 1980, Kid played there until his death in February 2003. But the band, now led by Patrick Tevlin, still plays New Orleans jazz to a faithful following.

C’est What has bi-weekly sessions with the Hot Five Jazzmakerss from 3-6pm, although in the next few weeks the dates are June 5 and July 4. They play a mix of ragtime, blues, spirituals and classic jazz, and they have been strutting their stuff in this downtown watering hole on Front St. E. for over 20 years. The leader is trombonist Brian Towers, and the band is dedicated to playing in the traditional style with the emphasis on entertaining their audience.

It’s worth making the observation that when I say traditional jazz, I’m using terms of reference that have changed from the old days when jazz was still relatively easy to define – the time when you were either a traditionalist or a bebopper. Nowadays, as I have said in earlier columns, it is pretty well impossible to define just what jazz is, so widespread are the influences – and Charlie Parker’s music, once considered pretty “outside,” now sounds positively traditional.

Having said that, a great spot for jazz that swings has to be Quotes on King St., opposite Roy Thomson Hall. They have established a loyal following for their Friday sessions from 5 to 8pm with the resident Canadian Jazz Quartet plus a guest each week drawn from the extensive pool of front-rank local musicians. If you want a seat near the band you have to get there early.

What makes this club so successful? For one thing the timeframe of 5 to 8 is a winner. You can make your way there after work or make it a destination. you can enjoy the music and be home by 9 o’clock, or go out for an evening on the town. It also falls into the TGIF category at the end of the work week for most people.

But there’s another significant element; the quality of the music is extremely high by any standards, and the club has become a “hang” for local musicians, adding to the cachet. In this regard it is reminiscent of the old Montreal Bistro. They do, however, take a break over the summer months, so you will have to wait until September 17, when jazz at Quotes will enter its fifth year of swinging jazz.

However, the reality is that more and more traditional jazz finds itself surviving in little enclaves, supported by a small but dedicated following. Yet there’s a vital significance to this music: every style of jazz is an integral part of the story and if you know nothing about the roots your music – or your listening experience – will be less rewarding than it might have been.

If art reflects the age, and recognizing that we are in an era of anger and frustration, then it’s no wonder that today’s music often reflects what is happening around us these days. As the Austrian writer Ernst Fischer said: “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.” But I like to think that music also has the power to heal, soothe and calm, and there has to be room in our lives for jazz that lifts our spirits and entertains us.

Happy listening – with the emphasis on happy!

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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