The following is kind of a funny story about the production of TEST OF TIME, the CD by Mike Murley’s erstwhile trio (a.k.a. Murley-Bickert-Wallace) which just won the Juno Award in the “Best Traditional Jazz” category, whatever that means. (It used to sort of mean jazz involving straw hats, banjos and/or clarinets, street names from New Orleans and old drunk guys, but I think these days it mostly means jazz with songs you might actually know and maybe even recognize. Or maybe now, ‘traditional’ means jazz recorded more than ten years ago by a band that doesn’t quite exist anymore, as on this disc. Your guess is as good as mine.)
Before getting to the story though, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all and sundry for their good wishes and in turn to congratulate my fellow-winners Mike Murley, Ed Bickert, and especially our good friend Barry Elmes, who as engineer, producer and ” jazz archaeologist” had an awful lot to do with the release of this record. Winning a Juno for music recorded fourteen years ago is one of the more unexpected but pleasant developments in my admittedly checkered career and is proof that if you manage to stay in the jazz game long enough, you, a) – end up playing almost everywhere with just about anybody you could imagine and, b) – are bound to see, hear and sometimes even smell some mighty unexpected things along the way.
Anyway, on to the story:
In late September of last year, Mike Murley and I were in Antigonish, N.S. with David Braid’s Sextet on the beginning of a tour that would eventually take us to Denmark. We were in residence for a few days at St. F.X. University, doing some teaching and concerts set up by our trombonist Gene Smith, who is head of the Jazz Faculty there.
At this point, the Murley trio’s CD was in the late stages of preparation for release, mostly having to do with cover-art and layout. Elmes had already done a lot of the other spade-work and the visual aspect was the province of his wife Jennifer Bedford, an experienced graphic artist.
During a lull in the Antigonish action (if you will), Murley invited me to come by his hotel room to look at some of the proposed covers for the CD that Jennifer had just sent to his laptop. Because the music was recorded way back in 1999, the working title for the release was IT’S ABOUT TIME and these cover ideas played with this out-of-the-past theme. There were a lot of options because Jennifer had found a website with almost limitless downloadable images.
Some of the visual motifs toyed around with wine and so on. One showed a bottle with a label saying 1999 vintage, GRAND CRU DU JAZZ” or something, with the names Murley, Bickert and Wallace on it. Another showed an open bottle tipped in pouring position with our names in the emanating mauve vapour. Being quite fond of the grape-juice myself, I liked these ideas but thought the title should have tied in too – something like READY FOR OPENING, AGED IN THE BOTTLE, FROM THE CELLAR, or UNCORKED.
Some of the other images dealt with the idea of antiquity in other ways that I forget, some of them good, others not so much. Something about the title IT’S ABOUT TIME was bugging me though and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Ever so slowly as we looked over the images on the screen, an idea or memory struggled to form in my road-addled and foggy mind. Finally it rolled into place with a dull thud like a stone…. “Hey Murl…. wasn’t Terry Clarke’s record from a couple of years back called IT’S ABOUT TIME too?”
For those who don’t know him, drummer Terry Clarke – not to be confused with Canadian-born country-music singer Terri Clark, who’s probably confused enough already – is one of the great veteran players of the Canadian and international jazz scene. Being the drummer in Braid’s band, he was with us in Antigonish. He’s played with everybody and is on hundreds of jazz records but about three years ago, as he neared 65 – retirement age for many – Terry released his first-ever record as a leader, IT’S ABOUT TIME, doubly apt in his case. It won a 2010 jazz-Juno to the great satisfaction of many; talk about an overdue honour.
Meanwhile, back in Murley’s room, Mike reacted to my question with an inspired spew of Maritime invective, as only he can – “Oh my holy —————————ing God!” – or words to that effect. “Jesus”, he said to me, “I think you’re right, I’m glad you caught that!” We Googled the title just to be certain and sure enough, Terry had used IT’S ABOUT TIME just a few years before. Murley had to email Jennifer with the bad news that it was back to the drawing board as far as the cover design and name went, meaning further delay and work. Better that we caught this mistake sooner rather than later though, as they were hoping to go to press later that day or the next. They settled on TEST OF TIME as the new title, but given where Elmes discovered the long-dormant and forgotten tapes in the first place, I wanted the record to be called OUT OF THE CLOSET. I imagined some intriguing cover-art possibilities for this title but was voted down for reasons perhaps understandable, I guess.
Terry Clarke was staying in the room next door and later I told him of this near-calamity and my vague, lucky save. He laughed and said something typically waspish like, “Oh, so that creaking noise I heard was the sound of you guys trying to come up with an original idea… I thought maybe it was the water pipes.” Terry is not only a great drummer, he’s a funny guy, very quick on the draw.
So, there you have it, the story of how the Canadian jazz community was saved from the embarrassment of having two Juno-winning jazz records with the same name within three years. As if people don’t think we’re bereft enough of ideas as it is. I thought that since the same trio had won a Juno in 2001, winning one again was already a long-shot, and maybe the Juno committee would have balked at giving the award to another record called IT’S ABOUT TIME so soon. But it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference, if any. Mostly I take from this story the cold comfort that I’m not quite always as out of it and forgetful as I often seem to be, at least not yet.
Speaking of name-goofs, Antigonish, David Braid and Terry Clarke, here’s one of my favourite Canadian jazz stories:
A few years ago, Braid was again in Antogonish doing a guest-artist stint at St. F.X. When this was over, Gene Smith was driving David to the Halifax airport, a trip of about two hours. David realized near Halifax that he’d left a small bag at Gene’s house containing his passport and wallet. So he was now without photo I.D. and it was too late to turn back. Panicking, but showing the jazzman’s vaunted improvisational instincts, our hero realized he did have some of his Sextet CDs with him which had both his picture and name on them. Maybe these would do for I.D.
At the check-in counter he explained his predicament and produced one of his CDs, which the agents greeted with bemused skepticism. They looked at it askance and as they turned it over they saw Terry Clarke’s name on the back. “Ah, now” said one agent to the other, “Dis here fella must be all right, he’s got Terri Clark on his record. Dose thicks went and spelled her name wrong though, eh?”
Braid managed to choke back the tears of laughter long enough to get through security and this story serves to illustrate the comic and surreal anonymity of the “Great White Canadian Jazzman of the North.” No matter how many Junos you win, there’s no danger of getting a swelled head or suffering from too much media exposure here, it’s almost comforting in a way. It’s not a question of who you are – for sure nobody knows that – or even who you look like, but rather how famous a name you can be mistaken for that counts.
Me, I’m thinking of legally changing my first name to William and maybe investing in a kilt and some blue face-paint, the better to face our “Braveheart New World” with.
© 2013 – 2017, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.