Flyin’ Blind With Mr. Ed At the OK Corral

A nicely edited version of this piece can be seen at: http://music.cbc.ca/#/blogs/2012/11/Ed-Bickert-the-Gary-Cooper-of-Canadian-jazz This story concerns the guitarist Ed Bickert, who's had a huge impact on jazz in Canada and certainly on me and other musicians of my generation who came up listening to and playing with him as an elder statesman.  A lot of this will be written in the past tense, which doesn't feel quite right because Ed is thankfully still very much well and among us.  On the other hand, a lot of what I'll describe happened years ago and, because Ed decided to retire from music a while back for his own reasons, his playing is literally a thing of the past, sorry to say.  It lives on though, through his many fine recordings and the values he instilled in a lot of musicians.  Like many, I really miss hearing him, miss playing with him, miss his presence on the scene, what's left of it. Apart from his wonderful playing, and despite being a quiet and modest guy, Ed functioned as a powerful aesthetic compass and edit-button in the jazz played around these parts, a kind of jazz-bullshit antidote.  Whether he was on the bandstand with you, or just in the audience with those radar ears and forbidding eyebrows, you felt Ed's presence, sharpened up and were a lot less inclined to indulge in any musical wanking.  He's from the West and has an aspect of "The Marlboro Man" about him - in fact, that was one of his nicknames, reinforced by decades of "professional" more [...]

What’s New? This Is

The brilliant musician Mel Powell had a jazz career unlike any other I can think of.  It had a stop and start, double-life quality with very long gaps, none of which were caused by the usual problems of drug addiction, imprisonment, alcoholism or nervous breakdowns.  He was so prodigiously gifted that he was torn between jazz - as a top-flight pianist/arranger - and the world of "straight" music, where he was a respected composer of modern classical music (eventually winning the  Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1990) and an elite music educator and academic.  For these reasons, Powell remains an obscure and shadowy jazz figure even to those who have heard of him; at this point, many likely haven't.  I mention all this because, although I've heard some of his records before, I recently heard a track for the first time, a 1954 recording of the standard "What's New", which astonished me.  I'll return to this later, but first some background and context on Powell from his interesting life. Powell was born Melvin Epstein on February 12th, 1923 in New York City to Russian-Jewish parents, certainly a fertile lineage for both pianists and composers.  He grew up in the Bronx within view of Yankee Stadium and was a rabid baseball fan. He was a child prodigy who graduated from high school at fourteen and for a time he entertained ambitions for a career as both a ballplayer and concert pianist.  He began piano studies at six and was well on his way to a concert career when his older more [...]