Snow Business

"They call my home the land of snow" - Robbie Robertson, "Acadian Driftwood". Without a doubt, snow can be a pain: shoveling it, driving in it, schlepping and trudging through it. But it can also be so pretty, not just pretty awful. Snow is the decorative element of winter: without it, the season would be long, cold, dismal and grey; snow makes it long, cold, dismal and white. It's important to stay positive. The beauty of snow is most comfortably appreciated from the snug warmth of the great indoors, as I did on the Sunday before Christmas. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I looked out the kitchen window to behold eight or ten inches of it covering everything in sight. It was folded in dunes all over the back deck, looking like a miniature Alps. It covered the roofs of garages and sheds, making these otherwise pedestrian structures look jaunty and picturesque. There were tiny pyramids of it on top of fence posts, and it lay on shrubs and in the crevices of tree branches like stray meringue. And the perfectly even, fluffy layer of it covering the round deck-table resembled the bottom storey of a wedding cake, which made me shudder a little. It was a bright day, and the shifting sunlight kept playing against all this, making the scene shimmer and glisten. Like many beautiful things, it was fleeting and absolutely free. Along with clouds, water, and eyes, snow must be exceedingly difficult to paint. For starters, it's white, and so is the canvas. And technically, white more [...]

Music Is the Reason ‘Tis the Season

This is a slightly expanded version of an article I wrote for the Dec./Jan. issue of WholeNote last year. Where possible, I've included samples of some of the harder-to-find and lesser-known music. Music is an essential part of Christmas and with that time of year upon us, I thought I'd offer a look at some records that might enhance our enjoyment of the season. These are all personal favourites and most, but not all, are jazz-oriented. Hopefully there's something here for all tastes, from the religious to the secular, for those who like their Christmas music straight and those who like it, well....not so straight. To organize things a bit, I've arranged the selections into four loose categories: JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL Three Suites – Duke Ellington. One of the three suites is Duke's adaption of a holiday staple - The Nutcracker - to his unique musical soundscape. While he and Billy Strayhorn remain quite true to the original, the highly individual voices of such Ellington veterans as Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown et al cast Tchaikovsky's score in an entirely new light, to say the least. The majestic swing of the Overture is especially thrilling, as far as I'm concerned the Christmas season hasn't begun till I've heard it. As an added bonus the other suites are Grieg's Peer Gynt and Suite Thursday by Ellington and Strayhorn, after John Steinbeck's novel Sweet Thursday. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi. A delightful more [...]

So Long, Mose

"Ever since the world ended, I don't go out as much." - Mose Allison. Mose Allison won't be going out as much as his world ended on Nov.15 at his Hilton Head, S.C. home, just four days past his 89th birthday. I don't mean to strike a facetious tone or make light of his death with the above quote. While not unexpected - he'd slowed down considerably in the past few years - his passing came as a personal blow because I'd worked with him quite a lot; I liked and respected him a great deal. There's some comfort in that he left behind a legacy of some 40 records and of course his many songs, both of which guarantee his art will live on. All in all, he had a very good run, touring extensively for 50 years without a regular working band. As he often said in interviews, "I'm in my --th year of on-the-job training." He was able to do this for so long because, although his on-stage persona and songs could seem fanciful, he was not: he was very disciplined and practical, he took care of himself. He didn't smoke or drink - maybe the odd beer at the end of a night - and never gained a pound, eating sparingly and wisely. Mostly he drank herbal tea with honey for his voice and his only vice, if you can call it that, was a moderate fondness for marijuana. But never much of that either - as he said once, "I only need a little poke, 'cause I'm workin' on a 50-year 'contact-high'". His decision to tour as a single was partly financial - keeping a working band on the road is expensive - more [...]