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.

 

This is an article of mostly personal recollections, thoughts of some friends no longer with us. But it’s not a column of obituaries. You can read them elsewhere. It’s just that the events of the past month have stirred up memories.

For example, I remember nights with Vic Dickenson when we would end up in his room after the gig. His favourite tipple was a scotch called Cutty Sark – not mine, but it took on a certain quality when sharing it with Vic who was for me the finest, most subtle and humorous of all the trombone players.

I learned so much from this gentle man. On the bandstand it was a music lesson just to stand beside him and listen, and after hours I marvelled at his knowledge of songs. “Do you know this one?” he would say and sing the verse and chorus to some lesser-known tune. He knew the lyrics to all of them and taught me that to interpret a ballad you should at least know what the lyric was saying. Only then could you really interpret the melody and “tell your story.” (There’s a wonderful anecdote about the tenor sax player Ben Webster, one of the greatest ballad players in all of jazz, who was unhappy with a chorus. When asked what was wrong, he said, “I forgot the words.”)

In these after-hours intimate times with Vic, if we emptied a bottle it was his habit to take the freshly opened replacement and pour the first few drops on the floor, saying, “For departed friends.” Well, in the past month alone I could have poured a fair amount of the golden liquid on my floor for four more departed friends.

John Norris, whose death was an enormous loss to the jazz world, was not a musician but was responsible for a huge legacy of writings and the recordings he produced for Sackville Records of which he was a founder/owner, making that label one of the most respected in the business. He dedicated his life to jazz and earned the love and respect of all the musicians whose life he touched. We travelled often together – to Europe, Britain, Australia and the United States – and became good friends over the 40-plus years that we knew each other.

Saxophonist/composer John Dankworth was not a close friend in the way that John Norris was, but we did share some enjoyable times together. One of my early recollections as a young bandleader in Glasgow was sharing the bandstand with my own group and the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. The venue was Green’s Playhouse, a huge ballroom on Renfield Street with a sprung dance floor. To give some idea of its size, the hall was directly above the biggest cinema in Europe with seating for 4,368 patrons!

Over the years we saw each other on his visits to Toronto. Most recently, last May at the Norwich Jazz Party, I enjoyed some time with Johnny – now Sir John – who regaled us with stories at the dinner table and was still filled with love and enthusiasm for life and playing. On February 6 John died at age 82, having been ill since October. His last performance was at the Royal Festival Hall in London last December when, a trouper to the end, he played his saxophone from a wheelchair.

page 26 jake_hannaThe passing of Jake Hanna at age 78 in Los Angeles on February 13 of complications from a blood disease was another tremendous loss. He was one of the great drummers, equally at home in small groups and big bands, and one of the unforgettable characters in jazz. If Jake was behind the drums, one thing was sure – the band would swing. He began his professional career in Boston and by the late 50s was playing with Marion McPartland and Toshiko Akiyoshi, as well as in the big bands of Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman.

I bought my first car in Toronto in 1964, a beat-up old NSU Prinz, and drove it to Burlington because Woody’s band was playing at the Brant Inn. There, for the first time I heard Jake Hanna in person, making that great band swing mightily. At the time, of course, I had no idea that we were to become close friends and that he would one day make an album with my big band.

After the stint with Woody Herman, Hanna was a regular on the Merv Griffin television show, and when the show moved to the West Coast, Jake was one of a handful of players who made the move with Griffin. That job lasted until 1975, after which he played with a variety of groups including Supersax and Count Basie, and occasionally co-led a group with Carl Fontana. In addition, he was a fixture at festivals and jazz parties.

In a room full of musicians he was always a centre of attraction, telling stories from a seemingly endless collection of memories and cracking jokes with a dry humour that would have us all in stitches. He was the master of the one-liner on stage and off: “So many drummers, so little time.” Not all of them were original, but somehow Jake took ownership of them. If Jake liked you it was for life; if he didn’t it was also a pretty permanent arrangement. He was straight ahead in the way he played drums and straight as a die in the way he lived life. It just won’t be the same without him.

Earlier the same day I lost another good friend in cornet player Tom Saunders who died at age 71. Tom’s idol was Wild Bill Davison, a firebrand player and one of the great hot horn players. It was through Wild Bill that I met Tom and it began a friendship that lasted more than 40 years. Following in Bill’s footsteps he was recognized as one of the finest cornetists in traditional jazz. Although influenced by Wild Bill, Tom had his own sound, played great lead, but could also take a ballad and make it a thing of beauty. Like Jake Hanna he also had a dry wit, entertaining audiences between numbers with jokes and amusing reminiscences. In fact he could have had a career as a stand-up comedian.

Tommy lived life to the full and we enjoyed many hours together. He had his faults, but always played hard, partied a lot – sometimes too much – and enjoyed life until it eventually caught up to him. We all loved him and those of us who were close to him also knew that under a gruff exterior he was a sensitive and caring man.

And what did Jake and Tom have in common? They were not only great players, they were great entertainers, who were immensely proud of their music, but never took themselves too seriously. They genuinely loved the music and always gave it their best shot. The world of jazz is diminished by the passing of these four great talents and my personal world has become smaller.

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

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. If that is the case then the father of invention has to be that unforgiving adversary and necessary evil named Deadline.

Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” And author Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby wrote, “A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large.”


Please forgive my fascination with origins of words, but it led me to the following: perendinate (puh-REN-di-nayt) means to put off until the day after tomorrow. It is from the Latin perendinare (to defer until the day after tomorrow), from perendie (on the day after tomorrow), from dies (day). The word procrastinate is from Latin cras (tomorrow). So when you procrastinate, literally speaking, you are putting something off till tomorrow. In the words of Mark Twain “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” In other words, why procrastinate when you can perendinate?


P22I humbly plead guilty. Every issue of The WholeNote rolls around and I am faced with the inevitable deadline. Author Diana Scharf Hunt said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” And no less an authority than Samuel Johnson claimed that “A man may write at any time if he sets himself doggedly to it, for nothing excites a man to write but necessity.”

In other words, you can sit around waiting for inspiration which is another way of admitting that you are procrastinating – or is it perendinating? – but the surest way of actually getting something done is to have a deadline, and this ties in with inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s credo that “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” And as for inspiration, well, according to Cole Porter it was nothing more than a phone call from someone offering a job. Then, of course,  you sweat it out to meet the deadline.

One of my favourite deadline stories concerns the movie The Bridge On The River Kwai. The film was completed in December of 1957 and the producers wanted to submit it for that year’s Oscar Awards. The deadline for submissions was the end of the month, but the film did not yet have a musical score! Several composers were approached and they all turned it down saying that there wasn’t enough time to do the job. All except one, that is: British composer Malcolm Arnold agreed to take on the project and completed it in ten days! Not only that, he won an Oscar for the best musical score that year.


You Can Quote Me

Having included all these quotations reminded me that Quotes Bar and Grill, located across the street from the Roy Thomson Hall, is into another season of Friday jazz sessions. The club has a really good, intimate feel, and the jazz swings which is a given since the house band is the Canadian Jazz Quartet. Every week there’s a featured guest player, and the music is the thing from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. It’s the closest thing in town to an old-time New York jazz club like Jimmy Ryan’s or Condon’s.

Not far from Quotes is the Glenn Gould Studio, and this month there are three dates of interest to jazz fans. The Bad Plus will be there on the 6th followed by a couple of Canadian groups: the Ingrid Jensen Quintet on the 23rd, and Laila Biali, three evenings later.


Word Has It...


One of the great blessings of jazz is that the originators of the music were around when sound recording was in its infancy. We can hear what King Oliver sounded like, the young Louis Armstrong, or Bessie Smith – and we can listen to some
of these great innovators talk about their music. Jelly Roll Morton’s Library of Congress recorded interviews are a case in point. It’s akin to being able to listen to Bach or Beethoven talk about their lives and music. Over the years the art of the interview produced some highly skilled practitioners: Chris Albertson, Stanley Dance, Leonard Feather, Ralph J. Gleason, Nat Hentoff, Gene Lees, Dan Morgenstern, Studs Terkel and John S. Wilson.

All of the above are among the contributors to the recently published
Downbeat – The Great Jazz Interviews – A 75th Anniversary Anthology, from Hal Leonard Books. The book also includes contributions from a dazzling array of jazz musicians: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, W. C. Handy, Jon Hendricks, Marian McPartland, Jelly Roll Morton and Wayne Shorter among them.

Despite comedian Martin Mull’s claim that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” this is a treasure trove of information, opinions and insight, documenting events from the great years of
Downbeat magazine. The feud between Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy makes for fascinating reading, as does the discussion Don DeMichael has with John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. But these are only a few of the gems, and only avid collectors who have back issues of the magazine would have access to the wealth of knowledge contained in this very welcome addition to anyone’s jazz library.

Let music help you to beat the February blues – and make some of it live jazz. Happy listening!


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

 


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