Contra Contrafact

  The term contrafact has gradually made its way into the jazz lexicon, establishing an increasingly firm toe-hold for itself in recent years. For those lucky enough not to be familiar with it, a "contrafact" is defined in jazz terms as "a composition created by overlaying a new melody line on the harmonic structure of a pre-existing song" - or put more simply, the borrowing of another song's chord changes to create a new one. I describe those not familiar with the term contrafact as "lucky", because, frankly, I don't have much use for it as a word, though I like the musical practice it describes. I'll go into more detail about my objections later on, but for now, suffice it to say that to me, it has a whiff of the ivory tower about it and is yet another $300 word, which jazz has enough of already, thanks. It's also nowhere near as expedient as the practice it describes. None of this is meant as a rebuke to any people who've used contrafact or continue to. For one thing, some of them are my friends; I've used it myself and will throughout this essay because it's already established and convenient. Early Bebop Contrafacts The practice which "contrafact" describes was a common and important one in the early days of bebop, beginning in the early-1940s. There were earlier examples, such as Duke Ellington's "In A Mellotone", based on "Rose Room", but it was the younger turks of bebop who really ran with the idea. First-generation beboppers put new melody more [...]

Happy 90th to The Jazz Angel

  Surely, Toronto has had no better jazz fan and supporter than Terry Sheard, pictured above at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival last August. As he will turn 90 this February 25th, he's also been one of the most enduring. I think Terry might agree that his enjoyment of music has helped keep him young despite his advancing years; something certainly has, because he has more jump than many people a third of his age. He's very well-known and well-liked in local music circles, but for those who don't know him, well, let's just say that over the years he has made a huge contribution to the growth of jazz in Canada, one which has perhaps been equalled only by our most important musicians - people like Oscar Peterson, Phil Nimmons, Rob McConnell, Ed Bickert, Guido Basso and a few others. That is a bold statement and I'm sure Terry would protest it, both because he idolizes musicians and is self-effacing to a fault. But it's true, so I don't see how I could avoid making such a claim on his behalf, even if he'd rather I didn't. Simply by showing up to thousands of jazz performances over the years he has been supportive enough, but that's just been the tip of the iceberg with Terry. He has also been tireless in promoting awareness of the music and helping to organize this, both through his own enthusiasm and considerable verbal powers, and in his seventeen-year role on the board of CJRT, Ryerson University's non-profit radio station, which began in the early 1970s. more [...]

Who Was It Wrote That Song?

The vast repertoire of jazz is mostly made up of two main streams: The Great American Songbook, which came from musical theatre or Tin Pan Alley, and songs or compositions that have come from within the ranks of jazz itself. While rumbling around among all these, it's common to come across the same prolific contributors over and over again. The show-tune "big boys", including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and many others far too numerous to mention, and their jazz counterparts - Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billy Strayhorn, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, John Lewis, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, etc. The chances of hearing one of their tunes or compositions in any given jazz context are quite high. And this doesn't even include musicians like Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and many others who were primarily instrumentalists rather than composer/arrangers, but who still wrote a lot of tunes for their own use. It's also quite common to come across good songs that are played often enough to be familiar, yet the names of their composers don't ring any bells. Usually this is because the person or song-writing team in question wrote only one or two songs that became notable and lasted. I've lost track of how many times I've played a really terrific tune for the umpteenth time and wondered about who wrote it, only to investigate and see  names I've never heard of - as they used to more [...]