A Kinder, Gentler Roy

My last post about Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie's electrifying version of "Blue Moon" got me to thinking about another surprising encounter with "Little Jazz" on a record, some 25 or 30 years down the road. If there's one sure thing to be learned about Roy from various sources - reading about him in books, listening to his records or hearing other musicians tell stories about him - it's that he was probably the most competitive trumpeter who ever lived, especially around other trumpet players. Even on his own, Roy was generally an intense and aggressive player, but often leavened the fireworks with some control, showing a lyrical and melodic side. Put another trumpeter next to him though, and look out. He saw red, his hackles rose and he went for the jugular, hitting the other guy with all the speed, power and range he had, trying to win a contest even if there wasn't one. As Gillespie put it, "Roy just didn't know how to behave around other trumpet players." Part of it may just have been his personality, and the fact that he was a little guy probably contributed a bit to the chip on his shoulder as well. He also came up when Louis Armstrong was paramount and cutting contests were the norm, there were guys around every corner in Harlem trying to cut you down to size or steal your gig. His bitter first-hand experiences with racism as the sole black player - and a star soloist at that - travelling with the bands of Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa wouldn't have done much to soften more [...]

A Trip To the Moon with Roy & Diz

Whether you're a young musician in training or a fan in the making, the early days of jazz discovery are heady ones, not unlike Christopher Columbus landing on the shores of the New World. Because there's so much music to hear for the first time the musical slate is blank and your ears are fresh and unspoiled, just waiting to be thrilled on a daily basis. Reading about jazz in books and magazines fuels the curiosity and helps along the knowledge, but hearing great music in person or on records is what really makes a visceral impact in those fledgling days. My first such "light-bulb" experiences came while listening to jazz records alone. But later, quite a few of these wow moments came in the company of trumpeter John MacLeod, my oldest jazz friend. This is intended as an account of maybe the most memorable of these. I've mentioned John a number of times in other posts; we met in high school and he inducted me into his Dixieland band on bass with the general instruction to "don't stop playing till the tune's over." Relative to that time - 1973 or so - we were both 'retro-ists' in terms of our jazz tastes and listening habits, John perhaps more so. He was mostly into trad and Swing: Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook records and a bunch of older big-band stuff. I was more of a bebopper, heavily into Bird and Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, some MJQ and above all Miles Davis with more [...]

Nothin’ Up Our Sleeves…..

The Mike Murley Trio - Murley on soprano and tenor saxophones, Reg Schwager on guitar and yours truly on bass - played a concert on the evening of February 5 at The Fourth Stage, a newish performance space at The National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was part of the city's newly-founded Winter Jazz Festival, which in turn is part of its annual celebration of ice and snow, "Winterlude". Although this year, "Interlude" might be more like it, as our normally frigid capital is having almost as mild a winter as Toronto, with temperatures barely cold enough to keep the ice sculptures solid and the Rideau Canal, normally an outdoor skating rink, partially unfrozen. Oh yeah? Check this..... The major sticking point in the logistical arrangements for this gig was the presenter's - or maybe the stage-crew's - insistence that we do a 1 p.m. sound-check for a 7 p.m. concert. Apart from being obscenely early just on the face of it, this didn't take into account that the band was driving all the way from Toronto that day, which, in winter conditions and including finding our way through a (mostly) unfamiliar city, would mean having to leave at about eight in the morning. Simply put, this just wasn't going to happen. It was even more of a long-shot once it was decided that Mike and Reg would be riding in Mike's Mini and my wife Anna would be driving me and the bass in our Chevy, because she's even less of a morning person than the guys in the band - much, much less. In fact, Mike half-jokingly more [...]

Warren Vache Is Coming To Town

Jazz cornet master Warren Vaché will be appearing for three nights at The Jazz Bistro Feb.25-27, accompanied by a fine local rhythm section consisting of Mark Eisenman on piano, Terry Clarke on drums and some guy named Steve Wallace on bass. This is a musical event not to be missed as Warren, though no stranger to local fans in recent years with regular appearances at The Toronto Jazz Festival and various Ken Page Memorial Trust events, has not played a multiple-night engagement at a Toronto jazz club since the early 1980s heyday of Bourbon Street, where he often appeared with his old running buddy, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. Together, Warren and Scott formed the spearhead of what came to be known in the late-70s as 'the young mainstream movement' in which the styles and repertoire of past masters such as Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Ben Webster, Bobby Hackett and others were not only revived, but refreshed through club appearances, concert and festival tours and a series of Concord recordings. In the years since, Warren, already a redoubtable player in his younger days, has only continued to grow and mature as an artist, refining his style to the point where his solos can now be considered object lessons in the history of jazz trumpet playing, filtered through his own highly unique personal sensibilities. His sound has deepened and taken on a burnished lustre and his dynamic control is breathtaking, he can play at a whisper with great emotional impact. more [...]