Howard Cable with Michele JacotIt was my incredible fortune to be introduced to Howard Cable through a member of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir (that I conduct), who had been at a gathering with Howard and had asked him, as a lark, if he had ever written anything for clarinet choir.

Sure enough, he had, and for none other than the particularly talented clarinet section of the 184-piece North American Aerospace Defense Command (“NORAD”) Band, based in Colorado Springs. Howard guest-conducted, composed and arranged for the NORAD Band from 1960 to 1966. He wrote several selections for their clarinetists, most of which were never published. Luckily for us, two were. One, an arrangement of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey (Rodgers & Hart), Howard hadn’t heard played since 1962, and the other, Wind Song, an original composition, he had in fact never heard performed (though we’re not exactly sure why).

Howard quickly located the two published pieces and passed the music along to us. We invited him to conduct both pieces at our next concert and, to our delight, he accepted. I took the group through the songs for most of the rehearsal process and we arranged for Howard to be there the week of the show to take the reins.

There for the night! The night arrived. An intricate plan was in place for Howard to start out the rehearsal and to be driven home as soon as his pieces were done so that he didn’t have to sit there for two and a half hours on a hard church pew. I introduced myself and shook Howard’s hand. Of course, I had revered this legendary Canadian for years, but had not yet had the chance to meet him. I was a little nervous (slight understatement). Here I was, a strange new face, with 17 clarinetists in tow, about to play Howard Cable’s music for none other than the man himself. Even now, that night seems surreal. I took the group through our usual warm-up and invited Howard to the podium. Howard was on form (which I would later learn was how he always was). In no time, he had the notes weaving and whirling about with the group watching his every move, even from the low chair he sat in to conduct. He rehearsed for a while, but not too long, and then went back to the pew. “We’re ready to take you home now, Howard,” I said. “Oh no,” he replied. “I’m here for the night!”

After the colour returned to my face, I managed to muster up a faint smile and scurry off to put my own clarinet together. Next up on the rehearsal list was my solo feature for that concert, Clarinet on the Town, by Ralph Hermann, which would be led by our associate conductor, stellar arranger (and my former high school teacher) Roy Greaves. Luckily for me, I didn’t know about Howard’s new plan until that moment, so I didn’t really have time to get (any more) nervous. That particular solo had a lot of notes. “Well, here goes nothing,” I thought to myself.

After that, came another test. It was my turn to conduct, and I’d be up there for the remainder of rehearsal. It was hard to concentrate at times, when I could hear Howard’s cane tapping the beat behind me. Was the group not together, or was he just grooving along?

At the end of rehearsal, I told Howard (once again) that we were ready to take him home. Thinking he would most certainly decline, I also told him that a bunch of us would be immediately proceeding to our local post-rehearsal watering hole, and that he was welcome to join us. To our shock, he enthusiastically accepted. He came with us, drank (a lot of) black coffee and regaled us with all kinds of stories, from his time as the artistic director of the Royal York’s Imperial Room, to his summers in Charlottetown and his days at the CBC.

Choir musicians gradually started fading out, but not Howard. He and the few of us who remained were (politely) asked to leave by the server as chairs were going up on tables for closing time. That night was the only time we’ve ever shut down the bar after rehearsal. Usually it’s a half pint all-round with one side order of fries (we’re wild kids). We’re in and out in an hour. That night, I later discovered, was not an isolated incident of Howard closing down a bar. That night was also my introduction to a wonderful human being and a true kindred spirit.

One-trick pony: He didn’t say too much about the rehearsal that evening, and I was worried the entire time that he thought we were just a silly bunch of clarinet geeks. The next morning (a bit early, I might add, after our late night partying) the phone rang. It was Howard, calling with praises for the work I had done with the group the night before and also about my playing. “That piece is a one-trick pony,” he said. “You need another trick!” The following week at our Christie Gardens retirement home pre-show show, he arrived with a manila envelope. In six days, he had whipped up a brand new piece, dedicated to the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, with a solo part for me. We were all floored – and honoured. Figuring this was my “other trick,” we immediately programmed the piece for our next concert, but the music kept coming. A second number, which at first we assumed was a separate piece, was in fact a movement to follow the first one he had given us. We were overjoyed. We didn’t realize at the time that we were going to end up with a three-movement work titled the Wychwood Suite for solo clarinet and clarinet choir.

The following season, even more music came. Howard wrote for and conducted at several subsequent concerts, one of the highlights being a show featuring Howard’s young discovery, crooner Michael Vanhevel. The concert was a huge success, and included the likes of Terry Clark and Kieran Overs as our rhythm section.

Since then, the WCC has been so fortunate to befriend not only Howard, but also Howard’s wonderful friends and family. Virtuoso trumpeter, conductor and arranger Bobby Herriot, and Fen Watkin, fantastic pianist and arranger, were colleagues and dear friends of Howard’s for decades. Due I’m sure to Howard’s initial convincing, the two have come to several of our concerts and have since been writing for our group. Bobby and Fen are now a special part of our WCC family. In fact, huge thanks to Bobby for helping with setting some facts straight for the historical accuracy of this article, and for regaling me with lots of funny, fascinating stories (some not suitable for print) of the antics, poignant moments and memories that Howard and Bobby shared.

On the road: Howard also helped behind the scenes to plan and imagine, with ideas for themed shows and other exciting projects both for the choir and for myself. He proudly became the WCC’s composer and conductor laureate, but mostly, he was our friend.

He would phone me after concerts to debrief. “It’s the maestro calling,” he would say. He would get frustrated if I didn’t answer right away and would call back incessantly until I did. One day, he told me how impressed he was with the work I was doing for the group and how far we had come in even the short time he had been with us. He explained that travelling and conducting were getting a bit more challenging for him, and that he wanted me to tag along … to learn from him, to get some orchestral conducting experience, and also to be there “in case”. “Sure!” I said (after pretending to think about it for a second or two), and thus began my new adventure as Howard’s associate conductor. He insisted on the word “associate” as opposed to the word “assistant,” with a long explanation having to do with the association (pardon the pun) it conjured up. He was a bit of a semantics guy and, when I knew him at least, quite firmly opinionated. He also saw through egos and was one of the most unpretentious people I have ever met. He couldn’t stand narcissists. I loved this about him, as we shared these strong sentiments. I asked him once why he didn’t use his “Doctor” title. “Too snobby,” he said, without missing a beat.

In February of 2015, 94-year-old Howard and I flew to Halifax to conduct his “Music of the Oscars” show with Symphony Nova Scotia. After a lovely visit on the plane where we discussed music, of course, and many other fascinating topics, we checked into the hotel. Later, we met up for dinner. Howard had his preferred Lord Nelson specialty, chicken pot pie. As we chatted over coffee and dessert (banoffee cake, another of Howard’s favourites), Jim Eager, the symphony’s music librarian and trombonist, dropped by to bring Howard his scores for the show. Since they were all his own arrangements, he apparently didn’t need them too far in advance!

Made of horseshoes: After our meal, I took Howard back to his room and went to unpack my suitcase. He asked me to check in on him before he went to sleep, so at about 11pm I knocked on his door, as requested. “Come in,” was the very faint reply. To my utter horror, I opened the door to find Howard lying crumpled on the floor. He had fallen on his way out of the bathroom and had been there for over two hours, unable to get up, let alone get to a phone. I tried to lift him off the floor on my own, but no luck, so I called the front desk for help. After we propped him up in a chair, I asked him what was hurting, and thankfully in many ways, he said he thought that only his left hand had been affected. (I later told him he was made entirely of horseshoes!) The hand was pretty swollen, though, so we got him some ice. I asked if he wanted to go to the hospital and he quickly replied, very definitively, “Not a chance!” He sat for a few minutes in silence, visibly thinking things through. (It felt like forever!) Then, looking at me with an intense stare (and somehow a twinkle in his eye at the same time), he proclaimed, “I think you’d better conduct the whole show.”

For previous concerts, I had been given a full set of scores in advance, “just in case,” but for this particular occasion, the scores were in Halifax, so I only had the three numbers I was originally scheduled to conduct. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, he quickly sent me away with the rest of the pile (there were nine other pieces) and I stayed up all night trying to absorb as much as humanly possible before the 10am rehearsal downbeat. (I also silently checked on him again at 3:30am to make sure he was okay, and he was happily snoring in his chair). To add to the score crash-course fun, many of the numbers were piano reductions so I didn’t have a lot to go on, and some were hand-written in Howard’s infamous chicken scratch – even with empty bars! Only Howard knew what filled them, and I had to find out as we went along. In case you aren’t familiar with Howard’s writing style, he is the king of key changes and a huge fan of long (and expertly crafted, I might add) medleys, with ones for this particular show often containing six and seven tunes each. And for every tune, a transition, which are tricky moments for conductors to navigate even when there is actually time to prepare.

The next morning, at the insistence of the orchestra’s administrative staff, Howard was taken to the hospital, his hand X-rayed (he had broken some bones) and put into a cast. When I came back to the hotel after the two-service day, he slowly looked up from his newspaper, put down his coffee cup, asked what took me so long (as if he had casually been lounging around all day) and eagerly awaited my report. I filled him in and he told me how proud of me he was for agreeing to take on this challenge. He added that he had already heard positive reports about the day from several people. I was relieved … and exhausted.

Unstoppable! By the end of the dress rehearsal the next day, things were sounding pretty decent. It was a blessing, of course, that the musicians of Symphony Nova Scotia are absolutely incredible. Howard ended up emceeing the show from his wheelchair beside me, which meant that the audience was still able to hear his wonderful tales and anecdotes – a huge part of why many have flocked to Howard’s shows over the years. And good news for me, I got two cracks at it, with a second show two days later – so after the complete out-of-body experience of the first one, I was able to be a lot more relaxed and present the second time around. Luckily, both shows ended up going off without a hitch, and the memory of turning around to bow after the Over the Rainbow encore, seeing Howard with tears streaming down his face, is one that will be deeply etched in my mind for the rest of my days. Of course, I lost it too, at that point, and we hugged each other for a long time as we bowed. I have never had a more stressful or a more exhilarating musical experience. What a ride.

And what a thrilling trip it was to be able to know Howard in his last years. He had a youthful spirit and a sparkle in his eye that kept him young at heart until the day he died (I was so fortunate to be able to have dinner with him two days before he passed away). Howard Cable touched a lot of souls. His cheeky and contagious smile was usually enough to win you over, and when music was thrown into the equation, Howard Cable was absolutely unstoppable. 

As I write this, Robin Engelman’s website is filling up with dozens of tributes, both moving and humorous, from around the world. CBC Radio broadcaster Tom Allen, on his show Shift, eulogized Robin for his “voracious love of life and pursuit of knowledge,” for his “integrity and passion for getting things right.”

Percussionist, music teacher, composer, oenophile and amateur golfer Robin Engelman had an active musical career ranging over half a century conducted at the highest artistic level, so perspectives on his life and work will be many, varied and likely, as often as not, focused as much on the individuals he influenced as on Robin himself. He enlivened many lives, mine included. Here is my take on it.

Remembering1.jpgHis musical path began in the US, but his distinguished contribution to Toronto’s musical life was wide and deep. As a percussionist he had extended engagements with our symphony orchestra under the eminent conductors Seiji Ozawa and Karel Ančerl, our opera company, and for more than 15 years with New Music Concerts. It was, however, his nearly four decades performing with Nexus that most keenly defined his career as a musician.

Being an avid Toronto concertgoer and an active contemporary music student, then musician and composer, I witnessed and savoured Robin’s work in each of his roles from the 1960s on. Witnessing him among his varied colleagues in the act of musicking proved to be defining musical moments, keys of inspiration. They helped to unlock the doors of my own musical journey.

He was also a passionately critical teacher and musical mentor to generations of percussionists. Though I was never formally his student, our paths first crossed at York University in the early 1970s. I was already an undergrad there, focused on the bassoon, composition and ethnomusicology, when Robin made his presence known, and felt, as an instructor of percussion there. His studio at Founders College, chock-a-block with orchestral and non-Western percussion instruments, was heady turf for young musical keeners like me.

In this early 1970s photo, Engelman is playing the standard drum practice pad with an intense musical focus, not on his instrument his hands or thoughts, but rather on his musical partner of the moment. With drumsticks in hand, he’s tackling “Three Camps” (according to his own caption to the photo) with his illustrious York University colleague, my teacher and later fellow performer, Trichy Sankaran, here playing the kanjira. They’re surrounded by the tools of Robin’s trade. Looking closer, we see they’re poised like two dancers, the tension and excitement of their musical dialogue palpable in their body language and gaze.

With minimalism in the York air – and Nexus right in the thick of it (more on that later) – I started a student percussion-centric group which made its own music cheekily tagged R[hythm] Pals. Robin encouraged me and permitted us to rehearse at his studio. He also generously allowed us to use his instruments, including the kulintang, a gongchime from the Southern Philippines, which I played extensively in the ensemble in concerts at York, A Space, The Music Gallery and at the University of Western Ontario, London. That kulintang, the gong ensemble in which it is featured, R-Pals, as well as the numerous performances of Nexus I attended at the time, were all determining factors in setting the tone for my lifelong taste for the sounds of percussion, and more specifically, gong ensembles.

Remembering2.jpgThat specific sonic taste for gongs has morphed into a career-long deep and abiding affection, exemplified most enduringly in my 33 years with Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, Canada’s pioneering ensemble of its kind. Robin had, over the decades, attended a number of ECCG concerts, partly because he was genuinely passionate about avant-garde music, but in large part I think, in order to support – and sometimes challenge – the local community of percussionists, many of whom considered him a mentor. As more of his former University of Toronto students began to perform with the group, Robin made it a point to see what we were doing. In 2014, he even published his review of an ECCG concert on his website. Following a lifelong practice of telling it as he saw and heard it, he pulled no punches!

On April 14, Soundstreams will presentSteve Reich at 80,” in celebration of one of the shakers of musical minimalism, and as I had alluded to earlier, there’s a Robin and Nexus connection here too. Nexus co-founders Russell Hartenberger and Bob Becker were both also original members of the seminal Steve Reich and Musicians, formed in 1966. Then, when Nexus was born in 1971 in Toronto, Robin was on board as a charter member. During their many extensive residencies, national and international tours, Robin was there (installments of his tour diaries can be read on the Nexus website). And Reich’s music was often on the program. His minimalist masterwork, Music for Pieces of Wood, videoed in a 1984 Tokyo concert, has surpassed 242,000 YouTube views.

Returning once more to that evocative early 1970s photo of Sankaran and Robin, to me it captures a key feature of that era’s York University music scene and Robin’s place in it. In retrospect, the place was at the beating heart of a kind of transcultural music making, and for a few (trans)formative years I was privileged to be part of it. I’ve spent a career since exploring several such musical broader crossings and meetings. That photo reminds us that Robin’s York studio was one of its early touchstones, while his continuing friendship was yet another. He is already missed by many.

The WholeNote’s regular world music columnist, Andrew Timar, is a Toronto musician and music writer.

Bley-HP-Banner.jpg2105-Bley.jpgPaul Bley who died at 83 in early January was probably never bothered that he was usually described as Canada’s second-best-known jazz pianist; Oscar Peterson was the first. But Bley, who shared a Montreal birth with Peterson, and who similarly was honoured with induction into the Order of Canada in 2008 – albeit 30-plus years after Peterson – was for all intents and purposes a much more radical pianist than O.P.

Peterson, seven years Bley’s senior, was a flamboyant stylist who adapted Art Tatum’s all-encompassing swing era techniques to the structure of modern jazz during an almost incalculable number of performances from the late 1940s until his death in 2007. However Bley, represented on more than 100 discs during his career, cycled through a variety of keyboard strategies from the outgoing to the cerebral, eventually matching the atonality of off-centre techniques with straightforward, melodically measured motion. He was also one of the first serious improvisers to deal with the sonic possibilities that could be extracted from the then brand-new portable Moog synthesizer. Later, such better-known pianists as Keith Jarrett, The Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson and Satoko Fujii developed their playing following the examples of Bley’s breakthroughs.

As a teenaged boogie-woogie specialist “Buzzy” Bley, born in 1932, was gigging locally at 13 and briefly took over Peterson’s regular gig at Montreal’s Alberta Lounge in 1949, when the latter made his New York debut. The next year Bley moved south to study at New York’s Juilliard School of Music, and by the mid-1950s had not only recorded with alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, be-bop’s avatar, but made his first LP Introducing Paul Bley, on Debut records, in a trio with legendary modernists, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Art Blakey. Bley, who had married pianist/composer Carla Bley – née Karen Borg – was leading a conventional Modern Jazz Quartet-styled combo in Los Angeles in 1958, when he let his bassist Charlie Haden’s friends, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, sit in. Coleman’s revolutionary restructuring of the then-accepted jazz basics – so that improvisations didn’t have to be based on the initial structure and where every player was free to contribute his variants to the tune – was a revelation to and influence on Bley.

Back in New York, Bley became a charter member of the so-called New Thing and the Jazz Composers Guild, alongside certified avant-gardists such as militant tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, bandleader Sun Ra and pianist Cecil Taylor, among others. He expressed his new-found polytonal keyboard freedom on two 1960s LPs for the ESP label. One, Barrage, was with a quintet including drummer Milford Graves and the Sun Ra Arkestra’s alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, and included distinctive cover art work by Canadian visual artist Michael Snow. Closer, a session with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Barry Altschul, was one of the multitude of trio discs Bley would make with a succession of bassists and drummers during the 1960s and 1970s. On it, Bley redefined the idea of interplay in the jazz trio in a method much different than Peterson’s traditional follow-the-leader approach. It was this conception of bluesy yet cerebral intensity that welcomed other players’ ideas at any time, which influenced Jarrett and many other keyboardists. Earlier, Bley and Swallow had been part of multi-reedist Jimmy Giuffre’s drummer-less trio, which played hushed chamber jazz informed by folksy themes and European atonality. The band’s masterpiece was Free Fall (Columbia), and it and the trio’s other discs are generally acknowledged as the initial influence on ECM Records’ characteristic sound.

Meanwhile Closer could also describe Bley’s relationship with his favourite composers of the era. Except for the odd original, standard and Coleman covers, the majority of his repertoire – including certified jazz classics like Ida LupinoAnd Now the Queen and Ictus – was composed by Carla Bley. After they separated, his next companion, singer/keyboardist Annette Peacock, composed much of the material he played. As late as 1992 he recorded an entire disc consisting of Peacock material simply entitled Annette (hatOLOGY). His associates were bassist Gary Peacock and Viennese flugelhornist Franz Koglmann. Bley’s sparse piano ruminations that terminated when he was satisfied, not according to conventional structures, plus his low-key articulation also appealed to the growing European free music experimenters. Besides work with Koglmann and Swiss reedist Hans Koch, some of his best latter day sessions were with Europeans: Time Will Tell and Sankt Gerold Variations 1-12 recorded for ECM in the mid-1990s with British saxophonist Evan Parker and long-time American-in-France, bassist Barre Phillps; Chaos (Soul Note) with British drummer Tony Oxley and Italian bassist Furio di Castri; and Florida with Danish drummer Kresten Osgood.

Bley’s association with Annette Peacock was around the same time as he began experimenting with the Moog. Besides recording several discs showing off its parameters, he was the first improviser to adapt the analog keyboard synthesizer for live performances. After spending a couple of years working out strategies for multi-keyboard and patch chording, Bley abandoned the synth and returned to piano. After that he was usually recorded in classic piano trio or solo piano formats. The exquisite Play Blue (ECM), a meditative solo disc recorded in 2008 and released in 2014, is his final session as of this time.

Although Bley left the synthesizer for others to explore he didn’t give up on multimedia. With his wife, video artist Carol Goss who survives him, for a decade starting in 1974 he co-founded and ran Improvising Artists Inc. (IAI), which recorded 20 discs and some of the first music videos. Besides his own work, Bley and IAI put out discs by established improvisers such as Peacock, Giuffre, Ra and saxophonist Sam Rivers as well as younger discoveries. Jaco, IAI’s sixth release with Bley on electric piano and Bruce Ditmas on drums, was the studio recording debut of future jazz superstars, guitarist Pat Metheney and electric bassist Jaco Pastorius.

During the 1990s Bley also taught part-time at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Among his many students was Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. Her first CD, Something about Water (Libra) from 1995, is a duo date with Bley. Similarly, although he hadn’t lived in Canada for about half a century, along with his other projects, Bley recorded a series of albums with several Canadians during the 1990s and aughts. They included such well-received efforts as Double Time with flutist Jane Bunnett; Outside In with guitarist Sonny Greenwich; Know Time with drummer Geordie McDonald and trumpeter Herbie Spanier; Touché with fellow expatriate Canadian, flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler; and Travelling Lights featuring saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, all on Justin Time records.

No matter whether he played in duo or larger formations, Bley’s off-handed mastery, which combined narrative delicacy with rhythmic astringency, was always completely original and instantly identifiable. What better epitaph than that can there be for an improvising musician?

Ken Waxman’s column Something in the Air is a regular feature of The WholeNote’s CD review section, DISCoveries.

Jacques IsraelievitchMuch has been written about Jacques Israelievitch and his remarkable career since his untimely death on September 5, 2015. Instead of repeating his extensive biography, I want to write about him from the heart, as a dear friend and esteemed colleague. His wonderful qualities as a kind, gentle and spiritual man made him an extraordinary musician and artist. He was a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather.

I loved the way he called his wife, Gabrielle, “angel” and held her hand. I loved the way he beamed with pride when speaking about his three sons and two grandchildren. I loved the way he cared about his students, musical friends and artists. I loved the way he Skyped his mother in France almost every time we rehearsed. I loved the way he always encouraged, supported and inspired me during concerts and recording.

Read more: Jacques Israelievitch

Remembering.jpgJune of this year brought a rash of deaths which rocked the jazz community – locally, bassist Lenny Boyd and drummer Archie Alleyne – and internationally, jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and third-stream-composer Gunther Schuller. I wrote memorial blogs about Coleman, Schuller and Boyd, who was my bass teacher. These can be read by accessing my site at wallacebass.com. I wasn’t going to write about Archie Alleyne’s yet: I just didn’t have another obituary piece about such a good friend in me. And then David Perlman – the editor of this publication – asked me to write about Archie in this issue of The WholeNote.

Oddly, it was while attending the early spring memorial celebration of Jim Galloway – who used to write in these very pages – that I first learned that Archie was seriously ill. I hadn’t seen Archie in some time and while looking about for him at Jim’s event I was told that he wasn’t expected to live through the summer, a body blow. He didn’t even make it that far, dying on June 8 of prostate cancer. Perhaps it’s just as well he went this quickly, as he was suffering, but the speed of it was still shocking. Archie was such a zestful man, so integral a part of Toronto’s musical scene in so many ways and for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s gone. The palpable gap of his absence from Galloway’s event was a strange kind of rehearsal for missing him, something we’ll all have to get used to.

Read more: So Long, Archie, and Thank You
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