Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Like many musicians, I've had some odd moments in my career, perhaps none odder than hearing the great Irish tenor John McCormack for the first time in a Moscow hotel room about two in the morning. I was with guitarist Oliver Gannon and drummer John Sumner, the three of us well on the way to being in our cups. The occasion was a concert tour of the Soviet Union in September of 1986 with Vancouver saxophonist Fraser McPherson, or "Fraz" as we called him. Fraz was really too jazzy a nickname for him, he looked less like a jazz musician than anyone I've ever met. Tall, balding, distinguished-looking, with thick horned-rim glasses, bushy Lionel Barrymore eyebrows and a stentorian rumble of a voice; a nervous, serious headmaster's demeanour and the omnipresent three-piece suit, he looked more like a diplomat or a banker. Musically he was conservative too, but a wonderful player, knew hundreds of tunes and liked "four beats to the bar, no cheating". He played sort of like Zoot Sims, but not as freewheeling or loose-limbed, more buttoned-down. I came to love Fraz for his fairness and for the wry humour behind his sternness, as well as for all the tunes and musical discipline he taught me. For me it was the last of three such trips to the "big fridge" with Fraz and the most grueling, partly because of the schedule - thirty concerts in thirty days. And the "arrangements" for looking after us were much more disorganized and paranoia-inducing than on the earlier trips; maybe a sign that more [...]

Claude Thornhill & Gently Falling Snow

When it comes to being put in the mood for listening to certain music, I'm ridiculously suggestible. A kettle whistling in the kitchen will make me think of "Five O'Clock Whistle" and the next thing I know, I'm happily listening to Ivie Anderson with the 1940 Duke Ellington band while the kettle boils over, splashing hot water all over the stove. Believe me, it could be worse..... much, much worse. Sometimes the trigger can be more abstract and subliminal, as was the case this past Sunday evening. I'm a bachelor for the next few weeks, as my wife Anna has gone to Vancouver Island to visit her sister and help her recover from upcoming surgery. My old friends Susan and Bob Allair took pity on my sudden lowly status as a "wretched outcast" and invited me to their house on Sunday night for dinner. As always, the food and drink were excellent, as was the company, conversation and music. We started out by listening to jazz on satellite radio, later switching to an R & B trip down memory lane. It was a mild and still night, so I decided to walk home, figuring the forty-minute trudge would help me work off the meal. It began to snow ever so slightly as I neared home and, as I'd also been listening to some Lee Konitz records that afternoon, I immediately thought of Claude Thornhill and his wonderful, unique band of the 1940s. At ninrteen, Konitz first made his mark playing alto in Thornhill's 1947 band and he's never been out of the jazz vanguard since. That I'd been more [...]