Since last month I have been in three cities, New Orleans, London and Vienna. Of the three, New Orleans is the least representative of the country where it is located. London is unmistakably British, Vienna with the Danube and echoes of the Hapsburg Empire is as Austrian as Wiener Schnitzel. But N.O. or “The Big Easy” is unique among American cities with its background of European, African and Caribbean influences and is far from one’s image of a typical American city.

In case you are not familiar with its history, the territory of Louisiana was claimed for the French in the 1690s. In 1718 the city of New Orleans was founded and in 1803 Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States, (828,000 square miles for less than three cents per acre!).

The most famous street is Bourbon Street, the focal point of night-life in the French Quarter. Once a hub of New Orleans jazz with bands playing in clubs and bars along the length of the street, the tide of progress has washed that away, with the exception of a few places, making way for souvenir shops, clubs, bars and strip joints. There is still some jazz but you have to seek it out.

25_jazz_fritzels-jazz-club_img_0243_2I have to mention Fritzel’s which lays claim to being New Orleans’ oldest operating jazz club. It is one of the last venues on Bourbon as you head toward the Marigny and features traditional jazz. They welcome sit-ins which can be a mixed blessing — it certainly was the night I was there when a tenor player who couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag joined the resident musicians. But a fun place, nevertheless. At one time the wall opposite the bar was adorned with a large portrait of Field Marshal Rommel. The picture is still in the club, but has been moved round a corner away from open view, probably to avoid giving offence, although my understanding is that he was respected both by his troops and the allies.

Preservation Hall at 726 St. Peter St. in New Orleans’ French Quarter, is probably the most well known of all the jazz clubs in the city. Here you can hear the traditional acoustic New Orleans jazz.

Some other hot spots include Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse (in the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street), Snug Harbor and Vaughan’s.

25_jazz_natchez_new_orleans_short_breaksI caught up with a couple of friends during the visit. Jon Cleary first played Toronto when I booked him into Café des Copains and more recently at the jazz festival when John Scofield brought Jon to play organ with his group. I found him at a club called dba on Frenchman St. at the down-river end of the French Quarter. I also enjoyed an evening on the Natchez, the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River, where the band, Dukes Of Dixieland, is led by trumpeter Kevin Clark, who spent some years in Canada and will certainly be remembered by Toronto audiences.

But before leaving The Crescent City I have to comment on this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival taking place at the end of April. Herbie Hancock, Mavis Staples, Al Green and the Dirty Dozen are among the headliners — but so are Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys and Eagles! Oh, well.

25_ronnie-scotts-jazz-club-londonNext port of call was London which seems to be doing relatively well in terms of “name “ players. Michel LeGrand, Pat Martino, Scott Hamilton, David Sanchez, Alan Broadbent, Al Di Meola, Howard Alden and Manhattan Transfer were among the musicians coming into town over the following few weeks. Most of them were scheduled to appear at Ronnie Scott’s, which means a pretty expensive night out. Nearby is the Pizza Express Jazz Club, plus two or three dozen pubs and clubs scattered throughout the city, some only presenting jazz once a week.

But talking to musicians, the general reaction when asked how the work scene is was pretty negative, with fewer gigs available and poorly paid at that. (It had been very much the same story in New Orleans — fewer gigs and very often paid by passing a jar round the room.)

Next, I waltzed over to Vienna. It is known as the City Of Music because of its strong connections with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler.

Where does it stand today as a jazz city? There are some names which most of the insiders will mention when asked, “Where is the jazz?” Jazzland and Porgy and Bess are the leading clubs in the city. I have a special place in my heart for Jazzland since I have been going there for 35 years and photos of musicians who have played there line the walls — everyone from John Lee Hooker to Art Farmer. The night I arrived Branford Marsalis was playing at Porgy and Bess and Lew Tabackin had been at Jazzland a couple of weeks before.

There are also a number of smaller venues, Blue Tomato and Miles Smiles Jazz Cafe among them catering to the more avant-garde, Reigen featuring blues and Lustiger Radfahrer with blues to bebop. But again, talking to local players, the common thread in our conversations was lack of work. Like every place else, one of the major problems is with the mass media and their lack of interest — make that almost complete disregard — for jazz. Radio pretty well ignores it and there is not a single newspaper with a weekly jazz column (does that sound familiar?).

Where they do much better than we do in Toronto is in the measure of support from government bodies. The following figures for Porgy and Bess are at least ten years old but make the point. They received almost $90,000 from the culture office and more than $130,000 from the state! That said, Porgy gets a much larger piece of the pie than any other club and that certainly causes some resentment among other club owners who get little or nothing. But at least the music is acknowledged as having cultural significance.

So it would seem that “name” touring acts, which make up a tiny proportion of what is out there trying to make a living, have some sort of a circuit going for them, but the thousands “in the trenches” have a hard go of it. Sound familiar?

Back to New Orleans where we began. While there, I tasted a freshwater fish called drum and very nice it was. But I use this only as an excuse to end with that most familiar topic, a jazz joke about a drummer:

A quartet out on the town in Amsterdam winds up in the heart of the Red Light District, where the working girls sit in windows seductively displaying their wares.The drummer of the band approaches one of the windows and knocks on the glass.

“How much?” he asks.

“Fifty euros,” replies the girl.

“Really?” says the drummer looking surprised, “that’s pretty cheap for double glazing.”

Happy listening right here at home.

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

I’m not sure why, but when April rolls around I find myself thinking about songs. (Of course, I think of songs every day of every month, but there is something about April that triggers a reaction within me. Maybe it’s the promise of spring.

And there is quite a clutch of songs out there to sing about this month — April Showers, April In Paris, I’ll Remember April, April Love — an integral part of each being the lyric, which brings us to the topic of singers: Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Blossom Dearie were all born in April (as were some very significant musicians — Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Count Basie and Duke Ellington to name only a few).

By the way, one of my favourite April songs is April In My Heart from 1937, composed by Hoagy Carmichael and with lyrics by Helen Meinardi who was Hoagy’s sister-in-law at the time. There is a great recording of it by Billie Holiday. If you don’t know the song you should check it out.

I regularly have spoken about the importance of melody. Add to that the significance of a song’s lyric. Most of the great standard songs had a verse, chorus and lyric. Great players like Lester Young and Sonny Rollins are on record as stating that it is important to know what the lyric is about. Without that understanding, the interpretation of the song will be less than it might be. Rollins would even sometimes recite the lyrics to a song for his musicians.

If you look at this month’s concert listings you will find a strong presence of the vocal art, with jazz and jazz-based music more than pulling its weight.

On April 15, as part of SING! Toronto Vocal Arts Festival, two a cappella groups, the Swingle Singers and Countermeasure, a Toronto group in the same mould, will be at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre at 8pm. Also on the 15th, at Koerner Hall, Adi Braun and her trio present “Noir,” a concert of music from the era of film noir, with Jordan Klapman, piano, George Koller, bass and Daniel Barnes, drums. Then on the 16th, Bobby McFerrin will bring his vocal pyrotechnics to Roy Thomson Hall. Nikki Yanofsky will be at Massey Hall on April 21 and on the 27th Kellylee Evans will be at Glenn Gould Studio.

jazznotes_heather-bambrick_good_shot_3And we are not finished yet. On April 28 at Walter Hall, it is time for the Toronto Duke Ellington Society’s 15th Annual Scholarship Concert featuring the Brian Barlow Orchestra with Robi Botos, piano, Heather Bambrick, vocals and tap dancer David Cox.

So, you see, quite the month for pipes — no, Jock, not that kind, I mean vocal pipes!

But let’s not forget instrumental jazz. On Apr 14 at 8pm Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau will be at Koerner Hall; and looking ahead on May 5, also at Koerner Hall, the Hilario Durán Latin Big Band, with guest saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, will perform.

If I may, while I’m still on my “trumpeters should know the lyrics” soapbox, let me add one more element, and that is tempo. I learned a huge amount from some of the great swing veterans with whom I was lucky enough to work. Choosing the correct tempo for a piece was so important to them and could make all the difference in finding just the right “slot” for a tune. Too slow or too fast and something was lost. For example, in my opinion, All The Things You Are is a beautiful ballad. The words say it all :

“You are the promised kiss of springtime

That makes the lonely winter seem long.

You are the breathless hush of evening

That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.”

It begs to be played as a ballad, and yet so many musicians play it at the speed of light. It might be a wonderful exhibition of technique, but it sure as hell loses the meaning of the song. Please don’t misunderstand me — technique is important; it’s just that it isn’t all-important. I am not laying down a hard and fast rule. For example, Indiana is a song that lends itself to a bright tempo, but I also love to play it as a ballad. If you are a player, try it some time.

I’ll stick my tongue firmly in my cheek and tell the story about the music teacher who says to a student who has just played a long solo containing many notes but no substance: “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is you’ve got a lot of technique. The bad news is you’ve got a lot of technique.”

To end with, here’s a quote from Paul Desmond: “I tried practising for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.”

Happy listening and please try to take in some live jazz. Our club listings starting on page 56 are the best around. So no excuses.


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

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader andformer artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. Hecan be contacted at

Some years ago Petula Clark had a hit called Downtown. Part of the lyric is “The lights are so much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go Downtown.” But for jazz fans, is downtown losing some of its appeal?

When I arrived in Toronto, anywhere north of Bloor St. you were heading for the suburbs. All the major jazz clubs in Toronto were in the downtown core and, as I’ve said before in this column, going out to hear jazz meant going to The Colonial and the Town Tavern (who were bringing in “name” American players), George’s Spaghetti House, Castle George above the spaghetti house, Friars Tavern, The Golden Nugget, The Rex and later Bourbon Street, Basin Street, Cafe des Copains. And that is only a partial list of the south of Bloor venues.

But with the demise of the club scene The Rex is the only club from the above list still presenting jazz all week long.

The Reservoir Lounge does have a six-nights-a-week schedule of mostly jazz and blues and there are a number of clubs programming jazz part-time, to which this magazine’s club listings, starting on page 52, well attest. With its Friday evening sessions, Quotes immediately comes to mind. And for fans of New Orleans jazz, Grossman’s Tavern still has Saturday afternoon sessions which began over 40 years ago!

But, why so few full-time jazz clubs left?

Economics played a large part. Travel costs soared, accommodation was more expensive and fees went up. Some of the artists who used to play clubs moved to the concert stage. Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Burton, George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, to name only a few who played in Toronto clubs, all became concert artists. The audience for straight-ahead jazz was aging and very often there was only a handful of people for the last set: no more hanging and drinking late — there was work next morning.

26_JAZZNOTES_JAZZDRUGSAnother factor, I believe, is that people who don’t live in the downtown core go home after work and the thought of driving back to the city is a deterrent. Perhaps starting the music earlier would have helped. In Tokyo I went to a jazz club where the music started at 5pm and people went there straight from work. In New York many clubs have jazz from 7:30pm and it seems to work. For example, if you get to Dizzy’s Club at 11pm you will have missed the headliner.

(To be a little less serious it reminds me of the joke: “Hey buddy, how late does the band play?” “Oh, about a half a beat behind the drummer.”)

But back to the demise of jazz clubs. The music has largely moved to the concert hall which understandably tends to showcase only performers who have drawing power, leaving a host of talented jazz players looking for work.

Insofar as concert halls are concerned, it’s interesting to note that there are events coming to the outlying areas which normally you would have expected to find only at a major concert hall in downtown Toronto.

The Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts on March 3 presents Arturo Sandoval in “A Tribute to My Friend Dizzy Gillespie,” and the following night he is at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, Centre for the Arts, Brock University. Michael Kaeshammer plays the Rose Theatre, Brampton on March 7 and on March 8 he is at Brock. Then on March 22, also at Brock University, Dee Dee Bridgewater appears the night after an engagement at Markham Theatre with “To Billie with Love: A Celebration of Lady Day,” which is, of course, a tribute to Billie Holiday. Looking ahead, on April 3 in Markham it will be Chick Corea, solo jazz piano.

If all of that is a bit confusing the following summary by venue will help:

• Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts: March 3, Arturo Sandoval; March 21, Dee Dee Bridgewater; April 3, Chick Corea

• Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, Centre for the Arts, Brock University: March 8, Michael Kaeshammer; March 22, Dee Dee Bridgewater

• Rose Theatre, Brampton: March 7, Michael Kaeshammer

Not bad for the ’burbs.

Better Get It In Your Soul

Looking over the concert listings for this month, I was struck by the number of “jazz vespers” at various churches. That got me thinking about how attitudes have changed over the years.

In New Orleans, where many people say that jazz was born, a large number of early jazz performers played in what were euphemistically called “sporting houses.”

Jazz started to get a reputation as being immoral and many members of the older generations saw it as threatening the old values in culture and promoting the new decadent values. In fact, in 1921 Anne Shaw Faulkner, head of the Music Department of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, claimed the following: “Never in the history of our land have there been such immoral conditions among our young people, and in the surveys made by many organisations regarding these conditions, the blame is laid on jazz music and its evil influence on the young people of to-day.”

Professor Henry van Dyke of Princeton University wrote: “It is not music at all. It’s merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, a sensual teasing of the strings of physical passion.” Pretty harsh words for a music which one day would be regarded as America’s only truly American art form.

But in history there have been several great periods when music was declared to be an evil influence, and certain restrictions were placed upon the dance and the music which accompanied it. Genteel and proper society condemned the sensuousness of Strauss waltzes because the intimacy of waltz dancing was considered to be immoral.

Jazz then was given little respect, but over time it captivated the intellectual and cultural elites of America and Europe and eventually was accepted by the world at large. Part of that acceptance as a legitimate art form opened a much wider range of venues for the music and that included places of worship. Some churches opened their doors to jazz vespers. In Toronto, for example, there are this month four jazz performances at Eglinton St. George’s United Church, two at Christ Church Deer Park and a couple at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, all certain to be well accepted by the congregations.

So, in the evolution of jazz, it has gone from houses of sin to houses that forgive sin.

Enjoy your music this month and 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

26This month’s article is a bit more serious than most of my contributions. The year began with the loss of a friend when Ian Bargh died on January 1. And with him went a treasure trove of musical know-how, a knowledge of the great standard song repertoire, including rarities that hardly anyone else knew, and the ability to interpret them, turning them into musical gems.

He also had that most desirable of qualities in a jazz musician: a sound of his own, a personal stamp that he put on everything he played.

A Scot and, like myself, born in Ayrshire, Ian in many ways was typical of the breed: careful with money, hard working, a bit of a rough diamond, but under it all, generous and sentimental.

In the last few years he and I talked quite often about death and we always agreed that we would not want a lingering end to life. Well, the end did come quickly for Ian. We came home at the beginning of last December from a cruise on which my band, the Echoes Of Swing, was playing. Ian, as they say, played his buns off and the smile on his face told us all just how much he was enjoying himself.

A month later and he was gone from us, but not in spirit, for a part of him will always be there for those of us who knew him, and his music will live on through his recordings.

Like the rest of us, Ian did have his idiosyncrasies and he certainly could have his grumpy moments when he saw the world through dark coloured glasses. I remember one occasion when, for a joke, I gave him a bottle of Famous Grouse scotch whisky. Somehow it seemed more appropriate than a sweet sherry!

I mentioned that Ian had “a sound.”

No single musical element identifies jazz musicians more than their personal sound — a sound that represents the individual. In the arts, a personal identity is something that any artist should strive for whether it be in the visual arts, literature, theatre or, of course, music. In jazz, Armstrong, Bechet, Lester Young, Bud Freeman, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell and “Red” Allen are only a few who had a personal sound that makes them instantly recognizable.

The American composer, author, historian and musician, Gunther Schuller, had this to say on the subject: “It is up to the individual to create his sound, if it is within his creative capacities to do so — one that will best serve his musical concepts and style. In any case, in jazz, the sound, timbre, and sonority are much more at the service of individual self-expression, interlocked intimately with articulation, phrasing, tonguing, slurring, and other such stylistic modifiers and definers.”

In simpler terms, be your own person.

The late veteran trumpet player Sweets Edison also had his views on the subject when speaking about the early jazz greats. In his opinion, most of the musicians in those days were artists. They were individualists and had a sound of their own. If Billie Holiday sang on a record you’d know it was nobody but Billie. Louis Armstrong could hit one note on a record, and you’d know it was Louis Armstrong. Nobody sounded like Lester Young, like Coleman Hawkins, like Bunny Berigan, like Benny Goodman, Chu Berry, Dizzy Gillespie. They all had a recognizable sound.

More recently, Gary Smulyan, winner of the Downbeat critics’ poll in 2009 and 2011 for baritone sax, said that sound comes before everything ... If you listen to just the tenor saxophone — John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin, Joe Lovano, Chris Potter, Don Byas, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins — they all play tenor saxophone but you know who they are immediately. And to Gary, that’s the defining thing. “I’ve given a lot of thought and a lot of practice to try to really develop a sound that’s personal and unique to me” he says. “I mean you could be a great technician but if you don’t have a good sound no one’s going to want to hear you … And it’s really the identifying characteristic of who you are as a musician. And your sound is not in the instrument … The sound is something that you carry within your very being and that’s what comes out. So take someone like Sonny Rollins. I think that if you gave Sonny Rollins 50 different tenor saxes, 50 different reeds and 50 different ligatures, he’s going to sound like Sonny Rollins, with some variation because maybe the instruments aren’t comfortable … But essentially what’s going to come out is Sonny Rollins … and I tell that to my students. I say, ‘Don’t look for the magic instrument, because there’s no magic instrument.’”

I don’t mean to suggest that one should slavishly imitate one musician. As the saying goes, when you copy from one person that’s plagiarism, but if you copy from everybody it’s called research and every jazz musician is a product of what he or she has listened to and absorbed. Some musicians say they get ideas about their sound from players who don’t even play the same instrument as they do. It’s more about concept, phrasing and note choices.

It’s the same magic that makes a melody stick in our head, and the same magic that makes a particular improvised solo a classic.

And that takes us back to Ian Bargh and the very elusive personal touch he brought to his music.

Finally, if we look ahead to the beginning of next month, on March 7 at 5:30pm in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, one of our great Canadian musicians who has the magic in his music will be performing. His name? Guido Basso. He, along with another master musician, Don Thompson, will present a free concert of jazz classics and originals. If you are lucky enough to be there you will hear what the words in this month’s column have tried to describe.

Meanwhile, happy listening and try to make some of it live music.

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

33_jazz_notes_markmiller2-1Mark miller is probably the finest author of jazz books that this country has ever produced. There. Having stated my case right off the top, I am pleased to say that there is a new addition to his now substantial body of work. It is called Way Down That Lonesome Road, the story of Lonnie Johnson in Toronto, where he lived for the last five years of his life from 1965 to 1970.

There might well be a lot of readers who would ask “Who was Lonnie Johnson?”

Well, he was born into a musical family in New Orleans, in 1899, and was destined to be a pioneer jazz guitarist, credited with being the first to play single string solos on that instrument. In his early career he was pretty well regarded as a blues player although he wasn’t happy to be pigeon-holed as such. But he went on to make recordings in 1927 with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five as a guest on I’m Not Rough, Savoy Blues and Hotter Than That, and in 1928 with Duke Ellington on Hot and Bothered, Move Over, and The Mooche.

The book covers in some detail the early career of Johnson, but the meat of this work deals with the years spent in Toronto and no one is better qualified than Mark Miller to tell that story.

But in the grand scale of things, Lonnie Johnson is overlooked, like so many other musicians. And therein is a clue as to what makes Mark Miller, the author, click.

He is drawn to the stories of musicians who made significant contributions, but have been neglected because they weren’t “stars.”

Who else would have so diligently researched and written an informative and entertaining book on the life and music of Valaida Snow or an equally rewarding look at the life of Herbie Nichols — again, hardly household names. He likes to look for the overlooked.

It came as no surprise when I learned that Miller was researching a book on Lonnie Johnson’s final years when he called Toronto home. It is a fascinating read set at a time before Yorkville became fashionable and traditional blues and jazz were relatively popular. To those readers who were around in the days of “flower power” and hippies, the book is a nostalgic trip down memory lane and a detailed study of Johnson’s life in a town where he felt welcome.

Another important side of Miller’s life was his time as a reviewer and critic. He was the sometimes controversial jazz columnist for Toronto’s Globe And Mail newspaper from 1978 to 2005. His reviews showed the same insightful and well-crafted standard of writing which is now so clearly evident in his books.

His views were at times open to question with some of his readers, but nobody could ever deny the quality of his writing.

Some of those same readers were of the opinion that Miller had a definite preference for the more contemporary and “avant-garde” players and are surprised, for example, that he would devote the time and energy to a book on the aforementioned Valaida Snow or Lonnie Johnson. A look at the contents of A Certain Respect For Tradition, a volume of his selected writings, will in fact show a knowledge and appreciation of a broad spectrum of the music. Mr. Miller does indeed have a refreshingly open mind to his chosen craft.

He eventually elected to give up writing his pieces for the newspaper. By way of explanation he had this to say: “The business of jazz, the media in general and the Globe in particular have all moved in new directions. Their various interests, and mine, simply diverged.”

Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, given that nowadays the mainstream media have by and large abandoned coverage of jazz. In the last few years more than half of all arts journalists were either dropped or moved to other positions. On the other hand there are arts blogs now competing for attention online by the hundreds of thousands. But the lack of arts coverage in conventional newspapers speaks volumes about where we are culturally right now.

When asked to name some of his favourite musicians the list ranged from contemporary bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons to Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers via Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk and Gil Evans – it was a Gil Evans recording that first opened his ears and mind to jazz – showing a healthy open-minded approach which is reflected in the subject matter of the ten books he has had published.

Looking at the evolving nature of the music, Miller sees a future in which jazz will be seen as a small period of time in the overall development of improvised music in which melody, rhythm and a melding of musical influences from other cultures played an essential part and after which the texture of jazz changed radically, evolving and reinventing itself while still retaining its creative force.

If there is a tougher way of making a living in jazz by playing, then it surely is surviving as a writer about jazz. It is also a lonely occupation with no instant feedback from an audience, no applause for a well written chapter or a well-placed turn of phrase.

The loneliness isn’t necessarily a hardship. Some writers enjoy the solitary working life and I suspect that Miller fits the description. But that sits quite comfortably with his personal life in which he admits to enjoying tv, sports and the company of friends.

He might also have included his interest in photography, but since his next project is likely to be a book of his own photographs, perhaps that now goes into the “work in progress” category, eventually to become book number 11 in the ongoing tale of this Miller.

As always, happy listening and, I might add, enjoy some reading. (In fact, you might want to start with a short excerpt from the preface to Mark Miller’s Way Down That Lonesome Road.below.)

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

Here is an excerpt (from the internet) from the preface to Mark Miller’s Way Down That Lonesome Road: Lonnie Johnson in Toronto, 1965–1970. It gives a taste of Johnson, and just as importantly of what makes Mark Miller tick.

I want all you people to listen to my song

I want all you people to listen to my song

Remember me after all the days I’m gone

Mr. Johnson’s Blues, 1925

So sang Lonnie Johnson on the very first recording that he made under his own name, 86 years ago in St. Louis, mindful even then of his own mortality. If he has indeed been remembered after all the days, and now decades, since his death, 41 years ago in Toronto, it has been largely for his early and essential contribution to the histories of both blues and jazz.

… These, at least, are among the memories of some of the many people whose paths he crossed in Toronto between 1965 and 1970, the final years of his life — the years that serve as the time frame of this book. As much, however, as Way Down That Lonesome Road is a biographical study of Lonnie Johnson in this period, it is also a social and cultural history of the scene that he encountered in Toronto. As such, it takes its lead from my book Cool Blues, which found in the visits of the legendary alto saxophonist Charlie Parker to Montreal and Toronto in 1953 an opportunity to bring the modern jazz communities in each of those cities back to life. And like Cool Blues, Way Down That Lonesome Road (which takes its title from a song that Johnson recorded in 1928) is populated by a cast of secondary characters — musicians, critics, friends and fans — who have stories of their own to tell.

… The story of his years in Toronto combines both — the happiest of times and the hardest, a Dickensian sort of paradox, albeit in a tale of just one city. This is that tale; here is that city.

— Published October 19, 2011 by The Mercury Press/teksteditions © Mark Miller 2011

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