Viva Edmonton, Part Two – Bravo BiBO

As discussed in part one, Edmonton has a rich arts and culture scene, maybe surprising to some for a city of its middling size and northern isolation.  This is amply demonstrated by the versatile and classy Citadel Theatre and in Edmonton's long-standing main jazz club, the "Yardbird Suite." As its Charlie Parker-inspired name signifies, the club is operated by people who know and love their jazz, namely the Edmonton Jazz Society.  Imagine that, a jazz club run collectively by people who actually like and understand jazz, with some public funding help; we should be so lucky in Toronto.  I've played there many times over the years and it's unique - it combines a concert space with a club feeling and has everything needed for the presentation of the music without being overly deluxe.  A good-sized stage properly located, not one but two grand pianos, a good sound system, a house bass, drum kit and amplifiers.  Why haven't we thought of stuff like this in Hogtown? Last summer I played at Yardbird during the jazz festival and noticed the place had been given a smart facelift, courtesy of an infusion of cash from, I believe, the Alberta Heritage Fund.  A swank new entrance and foyer, with a photo gallery and nice new washrooms.  Fortunately, they left the funky old, graffiti-covered band room intact; some things shouldn't be changed and hey, at least there is a band room.  It's fun to sit back there and look at all the scrawled musings and images on the walls from more [...]

Viva Edmonton, Part One – It Could Be Verse

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Alberta and have come to understand this ambivalence recently – I don’t care much for Calgary, but I do like Edmonton.  Calgary is very head-office, a button-down, corporate oil town with all the character of drywall.  Edmonton though is funkier and more interesting, with a much stronger arts and culture presence, which was hammered home for me this past weekend.  "The Flying Beavers", as I've dubbed the trio of John Alcorn, Reg Schwager and moi, played two all-Cole Porter concerts in a new cabaret room there called "The Club".  It's in the Citadel Theatre, long one of Canada's best.  Also known as the Rice Theatre, the smaller space has all you could ever ask for as a performer - a grand piano, great lighting, sound, stage, tech-crew, atmosphere, everything.  It’s one of the best rooms I've ever played and we would be proud to have such a venue in T.O.  It was sold out too, which was great, except the audiences seemed really subdued to us, especially on Saturday.  They were like an oil painting, but apparently this is normal for winter crowds in Edmonton, they're still frozen or something.  This was odd too, because actually it was surprisingly mild out, much to our relief.   Anyway, what I wanted to write about are the lyrics to the verses of a couple of Porter songs we did, which I think you might get a kick out of (as Porter also once said in a song.)  Alcorn forgot to bring the music for "Just One Of Those more [...]

The Martinet of Maryland

Earl Weaver's death over the weekend was a jarring and unpleasant surprise, but coming as it did on a baseball-themed cruise, it was maybe an appropriate exit.  Earl loved to hang out and talk baseball with anybody who would listen - old players, young players, reporters, coaches, fans - I can just see him on the cruise ship, bending an elbow and yakking it up in his scratchy, hoarse voice.  There are worse ways to go and given his fondness for hoisting a few, his overall hard-ass attitude and chain-smoking, he didn't get cheated in making it to 82.  He didn't often get cheated on a ball field either, though he often thought the umpires were trying to do just that. I came to think of Weaver as being a direct descendant of John McGraw, who was known (among nastier things I'm sure) as "The Little Napoleon" for his shortness and totalitarian ways.  Both men were great baseball tacticians and strategists, both were irascible, feisty, ill-tempered, combative and mouthy little bastards who hated losing and anyone who stood in the way of their team winning.  Of course, McGraw came first and had much more success as a player, was a more patrician, authoritarian and imposing figure as a manager, though his sleeves were often rolled up and his knuckles bloody and bared.  As a player, Weaver never went beyond the low minors and his road to the majors as a manager was more modest and hard-scrabble, but this only served to make him more human, more like one of us and thus more lovable. Maybe more [...]

Our Man’s Gone Now

This past weekend brought momentous baseball news - the deaths of all-time Cardinal great Stan Musial at 92 and celebrated Orioles' manager Earl Weaver, suddenly on a baseball-related cruise at 82.  Because Musial was older and his career more distant, I read less commentary on him, so will deal with him first and Weaver later, in a separate entry. "Stan the Man", baseball's "perfect, gentle knight", suddenly gone at 92.  It's perhaps not appropriate to mourn the passing of someone who lived that long, he wasn't cheated, certainly beat the odds.  When someone of his stature goes though, it's fitting and natural to pause for a moment, to take stock and remember why we were lucky to have him with us for so long.  It's apt that Musial lived to be such an age, he didn't have any bad habits, looked after himself and his baseball career was defined by consistency and longevity. Musial was born November 20, 1920 in Donora, Pennsylvania, a small town in the state's coal mining region, which also produced both Ken Griffeys, senior and junior.  I guess there was something in the water.  He broke into the major leagues in 1941 as a 20-year-old, playing 12 games with the Cardinals, hitting a very loud .426.  This was enough to make him a regular in 1942, even though the Cards at the time were a powerhouse and a very tough team to catch on with, owing to Branch Rickey's obsessive stockpiling of young talent in the St. Louis farm system during the late 1930s. Musial was more [...]