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.

 

 

p26Another death in the family. Less than two weeks after the passing of Gene Lees, the ranks were thinned even more by the passing of Rob McConnell. But the legacy left by him leaves no doubt that his music will live on. Like Duke Ellington, the orchestra was his instrument and his arrangements will be a living memorial to his great talent as an arranger.

A native of London, Ontario, he took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 1950s. In 1954 he played in Edmonton with the band of saxophonist Don (DT) Thompson. Back in Toronto he played piano in drummer Alex Lazaroff’s Rhythm Rockets and trombone with Bobby Gimby before moving to New York for several months in 1964 to play, mainly with Maynard Ferguson’s big band.

On his return to Toronto he became one of the busiest studio musicians and arrangers in town. At one point he was doing the Bob Maclean Show five days a week, playing the Juliette Show, both on CBC plus any number of jingles. Whichever way you slice it, McConnell was a very successful studio musician, but the real satisfaction came from playing jazz, mostly in small group settings until he formed the Boss Brass in 1968. The band’s first engagement was at the Savarin, an attractive watering hole on Bay Street in Toronto. As the band’s name suggests, it originally had no reeds. The instrumentation was 16 pieces consisting of trumpets, trombones, french horns, and a rhythm section – but no saxophones, much to the chagrin of the local reed movers and shakers. Eventually McConnell repented and introduced a saxophone section in 1970. He also added a fifth trumpet in 1976, bringing the total to 22 members.

Inevitably it took some time for the band to be recognized in the United States, but Times jazz critic Leonard Feather, in 1986, proclaimed it the jazz band of the year. Now this was long after the heyday of big bands and for such a group to win critical and a degree of financial success was quite remarkable - an achievement all the more extraordinary when you consider the fact that five Juno and three Grammy awards were accumulated by the Boss Brass over the years.

I think it’s fair to say that it was because of the Boss Brass that McConnell was regarded as one of the major Canadian jazz musicians on the world stage. In 1997 he gave up the unenviable tasks of running a big band and formed a 10-piece group which still had the unique McConnell sound and with which he continued to work until bad health forced him to slow down.

As a person, McConnell had his light and dark sides – we all have different facets to our personality and he was certainly no exception – and was not always the easiest of people. He could be grumpy and difficult to work with, but those of us who knew him offstage also saw a much more gentle, good natured man in contrast to the crusty persona he could present.

He had a biting sense of humour, and pity on anyone on the receiving end of it. I like to think of him as the Don Rickles of jazz.! There was also a wry side to his humour. His close friend, Ted O’Reilly recalled the following little episode.

“The Boss Brass did a CJRT concert at the Ontario Science Centre for me one time, and it was intense. Setting up a 22-piece orchestra, complete with microphone setups and sound checks was hard work. To add to that, we got word that Dizzy Gillespie was going to come to the concert. It went well, of course, but at the end of the hour, with an empty hall, there was Rob collecting all the music, packing his horn; and me, wrapping up mic cables and putting equipment away. Rob stopped, shook his head and laughed, saying ‘Here’s the reward of the jazz world: you the producer, me the leader – where’s the broom to sweep the floor?”

Like many great artists McConnell coped with feelings of insecurity throughout his career, using that bluff exterior he presented to the world as a cover. Not that he was modest or insecure in his belief in the greatness of the Boss Brass – and rightly so.

On a personal note, I’m proud of the fact that in my last year as artistic director of the Toronto Jazz Festival I was able to present McConnell and the Boss Brass in what was to be their final performance. When I called him he really didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting the Brass together, and suggested that I hire the tentet instead. For my part, I knew exactly what I wanted, and fortunately I was able to convince him that a July 1 noon-hour concert in the marquee at City Hall and free to the public would be a perfect way to celebrate Canada Day, and that the Boss Brass had to be the band.

Just before the start of the performance on that day we had a few private minutes together, and it was quite clear that Rob was less than well. We walked to the tent and I know it was an effort for him to even get onstage, but there he was, cracking a joke, making the audience and his musicians feel good and launching into what was to be the last hurrah.

Drummer Dennis Mackrel summed it up nicely: “Rob McConnell was a giant among musicians and one of the finest arrangers of his day or anyone else’s. To listen to his writing was a lesson in excellence, and remains one of the best examples of just how high the bar can be!”

Thank you, Rob, for the musical pleasure you gave to fans around the world and the music that will continue to inspire young players for years to come. The boss is dead – long live the Boss Brass.

Hank Jones

p27As I was writing about Rob McConnell, word came in that we had lost yet another jazz master with the passing of pianist Hank Jones. Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he outlived two younger brothers, trumpeter, composer Thad and drummer Elvin, surely one of the most musical families in jazz.

Jones was a prodigious talent and revered by every other piano player. Case in point: seven years ago The WholeNote printed a piece I wrote after spending an afternoon with Oscar Peterson. I talked about his huge talent as an accompanist, knowing when to use his great technique and when to leave spaces, and O.P. said, “Do you know who my teacher was? It was Hank Jones.” He then spoke about the Jazz At The Phil concerts when the closing of the show would feature Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by Jones. “Hank would be right there, playing for Fitz and I’d soak up whatever I could, ‘cause he taught me everything I know about it. I learned from Hank Jones. I’m not ashamed to say that – I’m proud to say it.”

Jones leaves a wonderful legacy, and although we feel sorrow we should also celebrate his remarkably rich gifts.

Happy listening and make some of it live jazz.

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

We all know who Satin Doll is – but how many of you know Queenie Pie? They both inhabited the world of Duke Ellington, although one was a lot more successful than the other.

Satin Doll, a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn – and indeed there was some question as to who was the real father – saw the light of day in 1953; Queenie Pie had a much longer gestation period beginning in the early 60s and was still a work in progress at the time of Ellington's death in 1974. (I've reviewed a new recording of it in the DISCoveries section of The WholeNote this month.)

Queenie Pie was a musical, originally intended for National Educational Television in the USA, which in 1970 became PBS. The work was loosely based on the story of C.J. Walker who developed hair-care products and through her efforts and business acumen was the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.

p22Jazz impresario Norman Granz remembered Ellington having begun the project in the early 60s and that Ella Fitzgerald was supposed to play Queenie Pie, but PBS support was withdrawn and, necessity no longer having to be the mother of invention, the work languished to the extent that when the Duke died it was still incomplete. What material there was consisted of some lead sheets, lyrics and harmonic progressions.

When the work was first performed in 1986, a libretto had been adapted from Ellington's original story, additional lyrics were written and a score in the style of Ellington had been arranged.

Now, here's the 64 dollar question: Is it still Ellington?

There are, of course many examples of unfinished works, completed by other musicians – Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10, Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 7 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem are famous examples – but they were certainly partially completed, not simply melodic lines and harmonic suggestions.

It has to be understood also that Ellington's true instrument was his orchestra and he wrote with his own musicians, especially his soloists, in mind, and was able to experiment with colourings, tonal effects and the unusual voicings that were his hallmark. And having a working orchestra enabled him to hear his music being played. It is well known that in lean years the royalties from his "hits" subsidized the band, enabling him to keep using his "instrument." In a Newsday interview in 1969 he said, "The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent... My music fits the tonal personality of the player. I think too strongly in terms of altering my music to fit the performer to be impressed by accidental music."

It all leaves me just a bit uncomfortable about calling Queenie Pie an Ellington work. Any thoughts?

Mary Lou Williams

This month sees the centenary of one of the most significant women in jazz, a fact that is sadly overlooked by many. I'm referring to Mary Lou Williams, who was the most important female jazz musician to emerge in the first three decades of the music. She also had a bearing on the career of Duke Ellington; in 1941 Mary Lou traveled with and wrote for the Ellington Band for about six months. One of her arrangements was called Trumpet No End, based on the changes of Blue Skies and it is a prime example of just how well she could write. Duke Ellington said of Mary Lou, "Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul."

p23aShe was a composer, arranger and master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop. She also had to cope with a musical environment in which women instrumentalists were hardly plentiful and women arranger/composers were as scarce as hen's teeth.

She was the first jazz composer to write sacred works. She composed three complete Masses, one of which, Mary Lou's Mass, was performed right here in Toronto. I was fortunate enough to know her and privileged to assist in presenting that performance.

If your travels should take you to Washington DC, the 15th Annual Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Centre will celebrate the 100th anniversary of pianist Williams' birth with three evenings of concerts featuring top female jazz artists: vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and saxophonist Grace Kelly; vocalist Catherine Russell, drummer Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.

There will also be a celebration in New York on Williams' birthday, May 8, at the Church of St. Francis Xavier. A very special lady indeed.

Right here in Toronto here are a few things worth the mention. On May 2 there will be a fundraiser at Koerner Hall for the Geneva Centre for Autism featuring Chaka Khan and Matt Savage and his band. For info call 416-408-0208.

On the 8th, St. George's Memorial Church in Oshawa will present Jazz at George's with vocalist Lynn McDonald, Dave Restivo, piano; Pat Reid, bass and Ted Warren, drums. Call 905-263-2791. On the 25th and 26th of the month at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, the Art of Time Ensemble will present "The Songbook 4," featuring vocalist Mary Maragret O'Hara, saxophonist Phil Dwyer, guitarist Rob Piltch and cellist Rachel Mercer. For reservations call 416-703-5479.

The Annual Ken Page Memorial Trust Gala fundraiser will be held at The Old Mill on May 20. Warren Vaché and brother Allan Vache, trombonists George Masso and Laurie Bower, John Sherwood, Neil Swainson, Don Thompson, Reg Schwager, Terry Clarke and Lucian Gray are confirmed at time of writing. They will also be joined by a saxophone player called Galloway. It promises to be a pretty special evening. For reservations please call Anne Page at 416-515-0200 or e-mail anne@kenpagememorialtrust.com

I hope your May days will be distress-free. 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.

 

“Spring is God’s way of saying, ‘One more time!’” wrote Robert Orben, American magician and comedy writer. Maybe so, but not for the National Jazz Awards, which have been cancelled for this year.

Bill and Chris King 1The announcement was not entirely unexpected. Attendance last year was very disappointing, giving Bill and Kris King good reason to ask themselves if it was worth going on with the event. What had begun 15 years ago as the Jazz Report Awards, an intimate evening in a club setting, over the years had evolved into a large and costly production.

Raising support money for the arts in Canada is an uphill struggle, and another nail was firmly hammered into the coffin when the financial support of FACTOR (the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings), was cut in half. Spare a thought for the huge amount of time and energy that goes into producing an event. Whether it is a ten-day festival or a one-off evening, the amount of work is immense and the returns, not only the financial ones, can be disheartening.

That said, those of you who know me are probably aware of my mixed feelings regarding “best of” awards in the arts. I have no problem with awards recognizing an artist’s contribution to his or her chosen discipline; I do question polls which decide that Joe Blow is the best. It’s too subjective, and a bit like saying that Picasso is better than that Cezanne.

I feel the same way about some of the Olympic events. There was a time when the Games was made up of contests in which there were clear cut and measurable winners. In a race, the first one past the finishing line was the winner – but in today’s Olymics, striving to capture a wider audience, there are events such as formation swimming, which may be visually entertaining, but how does one judge it objectively and decide a winner?

With jazz, I guess I just don’t see it as a contest. Certainly in days gone by there were some famous “cutting contests,” mostly in late night after-hours sessions when players duelled with each other, but that’s a far cry from winning a poll which may, or may not be a true measure. In addition the voting system is open to the possibility of “vote loading.” (More about that later.) This is not intended to take away from past “winners” at the National Jazz Awards. They have all been great players and important contributors to the music and worthy of recognition. The bottom line is that it is regrettable to see the cancellation of a jazz event for lack of support – but sometimes a thankless task becomes too hard to take.

Some years back I wrote about jazz polls and I thought it might be interesting to include some excerpts from that article. “Jazz polls are almost as old as Downbeat magazine, which was first published in 1934. Gone but not quite forgotten is Metronome magazine, which used to vie with Downbeat for the cachet of being the most popular jazz mag. But jazz polls were not confined to music publications in the 1940s. Esquire magazine added an annual jazz poll to its (for the day) spicy pages. Playboy magazine got into the act as well, but on a few occasions came up with some “interesting” winners – this was a jazz poll, remember –  such as Henry Mancini for bandleader (1964-66), Barbra Streisand for female vocalist (1965-66), and Peter, Paul and Mary in the vocal group category (1964-66)!”

I rest my case.

Spring into Festival Mode

We tend to think of jazz festivals and the summer season going hand in hand, but on the international front April brings a shower of events for those of you with itchy feet, money and an urge to travel.

The biggest and best known is, of course, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which takes place from April 23-25 and April 29 - May 2. Confirmed artists include Dr. John, Jon Cleary, Joe Lovano, Leroy Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Average White Band, Aretha Franklin, Marcus Miller, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Neville Brothers, Van Morrison, B.B. King – and that's only a few!

Further afield, there’s the National Jazz Festival – April 1 to 5 in Tauranga, New Zealand – while in South Africa on the 3rd and 4th there's the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. In addition, there is the Cully Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Tallinn International Festial in Estonia, Jazzfest Gronau in Germany, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in England, the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival in Northern Ireland, April Jazz Espoo in Finland, and Bray Jazz Festival in North Wicklow, Ireland. Still in the U.K., the Norwich Jazz Party – certainly one of the best jazz parties on the planet – takes place on the first weekend in May. (You can find out more at  info@norwichjazzparty.com.) You could make quite the grand tour out of that lot!

By the way, also this month in Portland, Oregon, there is the first year of an event which wins a gold star in my pun-laden life. It’s called The Soul’d Out Music Festival. Just don’t take the way it sounds literally! And with the month of April comes the 9th annual Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) festivities courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, and you can find out more about it by visiting smithsonianjazz.org/jam.

Good listening – and please support your local musicians.

 

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

 

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