Beachcombing

A baseball season is like a vast ocean of plays, numbers and events taking place in games that come at us daily, with the relentlessness of waves breaking on a shoreline. It’s impossible to keep track of everything or take it all in, but if you pay attention randomly, you’re bound to see things that haven’t happened in a long time or perhaps ever, left like nuggets washed up on a beach.

For example, on Thursday night I tuned …

R.I.P. Lenny Boyd

Sometimes bad news comes in waves, as was the case recently when the Toronto jazz scene lost two of its stalwarts – bassist Lenny Boyd, who died on June 6, and drummer Archie Alleyne, who passed on June 8. Both had long careers and there will undoubtedly be forthcoming obituaries detailing their lives and many achievements. I have no intention of doing that here, even if I could, but I would like to share some memories, as each man …

Ornette, Redux

I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I wanted to revisit Ornette Coleman and yesterday’s article about him, for several reasons.

Firstly, the response from people was very quick, positive and voluminous, so thanks to everybody for their comments and support, this was both gratifying and a little surprising. I say surprising because I wrote the piece pretty quickly, wanting to get it out in one day in the interests of timeliness in this case, and for …

Ornette

This morning brought the news that jazz legend Ornette Coleman died at age 85, from cardiac arrest. Somewhat surprisingly even to me, I’m having real trouble processing this information, my reaction is mostly one of profound shock and disbelief.

This flies in the face of logic and reason, which is often the case with our feelings. I mean, I know we all have to go eventually, even Ted Williams, and at 85, Ornette was well within the age range …

Used To Be, Still Is

In 1971, Jimmy Rushing turned seventy and became terminally ill with leukemia. He’d been singing jazz professionally for almost fifty years, first leaving his native Oklahoma as an itinerant blues singer in the early twenties, eventually joining Jelly Roll Morton for a short spell in Los Angeles. He worked his way as far back east as Kansas City, getting in on the ground floor of the seminal, blues-based music teeming from that wide-open town. He sang with Walter Page’s …

More Gremlims

In very timely fashion, a couple of readers informed me of a problem with the link to today’s post “Tricotism”, which didn’t seem to be taking people to the bulk of the piece after the initial teaser. I wasn’t sure at first what they meant, the problem being that I don’t receive the posts, so I don’t know what the whole process looks like. At any rate, I think I figured it out and fixed it. I somehow “mis-published” …

Tricotism

 

It was once said of ex-President Gerald Ford – perhaps unfairly – that he was “too dumb to chew gum and fart at the same time.”

And as Yogi Berra, that undisputed king of syntax-mangling one-liners once said, “Think!? How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”

Well….Odd as it may sound – or maybe not – I’m finding I can’t think and write at the same time, it’s a case of think …

Sorry About That, Folks!

Recently a couple of readers pointed out to me by email that they have been unable to leave comments on this site as per usual, apparently it has been mysteriously asking for some sort of password and/or log-in, which seems both heavy-handed and sinister. I’m grateful to them for letting me know, I had no idea this was going on – as you may have gathered, I’m at a sub-Luddite level of techno-peasantry. Or to put it more bluntly, …

In A Mellow Zone; Lax Reality

At the end of February my wife Anna went to visit her sister Fran, who lives in the little town of Courtenay, nestled in the Comox Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island. It was part holiday, part nursing mission – Fran had to have some surgery done in Victoria and Anna is an excellent care-giver. I went out on March 24th to join them and give Anna a break, staying about sixteen days, which explains why I …

Mo Woe

At age 58, it’s probably too late for me to outgrow my infantile fascination with funny baseball names and numbers.

As all of us who care know, baseball stats only mean anything when taken in context and measured against norms, and they have a way of averaging out over the course of a whole year, or a career. But in the early going of a season, like now, they can be wonderfully skewed, either freakishly high or low, because …

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Like many musicians, I’ve had some odd moments in my career, perhaps none odder than hearing the great Irish tenor John McCormack for the first time in a Moscow hotel room about two in the morning. I was with guitarist Oliver Gannon and drummer John Sumner, the three of us well on the way to being in our cups. The occasion was a concert tour of the Soviet Union in September of 1986 with Vancouver saxophonist Fraser McPherson, or …

Claude Thornhill & Gently Falling Snow

When it comes to being put in the mood for listening to certain music, I’m ridiculously suggestible. A kettle whistling in the kitchen will make me think of “Five O’Clock Whistle” and the next thing I know, I’m happily listening to Ivie Anderson with the 1940 Duke Ellington band while the kettle boils over, splashing hot water all over the stove. Believe me, it could be worse….. much, much worse. Sometimes the trigger can be more abstract and subliminal, …

Contra Contrafact

 

The term contrafact has gradually made its way into the jazz lexicon, establishing an increasingly firm toe-hold for itself in recent years. For those lucky enough not to be familiar with it, a “contrafact” is defined in jazz terms as “a composition created by overlaying a new melody line on the harmonic structure of a pre-existing song” – or put more simply, the borrowing of another song’s chord changes to create a new one.

I describe those not …

Happy 90th to The Jazz Angel

 

Sheard

Surely, Toronto has had no better jazz fan and supporter than Terry Sheard, pictured above at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival last August. As he will turn 90 this February 25th, he’s also been one of the most enduring. I think Terry might agree that his enjoyment of music has helped keep him young despite his advancing years; something certainly has, because he has more jump than many people a third of his age. He’s very well-known …

Who Was It Wrote That Song?

The vast repertoire of jazz is mostly made up of two main streams: The Great American Songbook, which came from musical theatre or Tin Pan Alley, and songs or compositions that have come from within the ranks of jazz itself. While rumbling around among all these, it’s common to come across the same prolific contributors over and over again. The show-tune “big boys”, including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and many others …

Aural Hygiene, Part Two

As I revealed in a much earlier post entitled “Aural Hygiene”, I often combine dental-hygiene appointments with CD-shopping because my favourite record store Atelier Grigorian is right around the corner from my tooth-scraper. I repeated this “jazz S&M double-play” this week with some serendipitous results, which in turn led me to remember some stories. As they preserve so much precious music which would otherwise be lost, jazz records provide an indispensable current linking memory, songs, emotion, important musical developments …

When A Man Loves A Movie

Along with more gender-appropriate gifts, I bought my wife Anna a copy of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals for Christmas. I felt slightly guilty about this because I knew I wanted to see it too. On the other hand, Anna’s a big fan of the soul/R&B music which this movie would definitely touch on, and then some. She also really enjoyed the similar music docs Standing In the Shadows of Motown and Twenty Feet From Stardom – how’s that …

The Truthful Edge of Big Joe Turner

Last Friday around midnight, my wife Anna picked me up from the subway after a gig. As I opened the car door to load in my bass, I was hit by a blast furnace of music, not loud, but intense, like a freight-train. A fat, romping beat and a thundering, edgy voice that could only be one guy. As always when I unexpectedly hear great music coming from a radio, I was stunned and just stood there for a …

A Gentle Whirlpool of Music

I’ve been playing the bass for about forty years now and I thank my lucky stars that all of the knowledge I’ve acquired through experience and study has not blunted my ability to partake of music on a purely emotional level. Whether playing or listening, it’s the way music feels – and makes you feel – that counts, and this goes beyond any knowledge, important though that is. No matter what kind, music at its best should move you, …

Before It Disappears Altogether, “Merry Christmas”

 

The other day, a friend told me of a cartoon she saw recently which showed a man standing in front of his house with another guy, pointing at all the Christmas lights and other decorations he’d put up. In the middle of these was the lit-up message “Have A Nice Day”. The caption read, “I didn’t want to offend anybody”.

And this from another friend, in an email response to an impromptu Christmas gathering of musicians last week:…

Blogus Disappearus & The Cyber Attack Jim-Jams

More than once I’ve observed that in our post-9/11 digital age, paranoia is no longer a mental disorder so much as a normal condition of everyday life. A lot of this has to do with a loss of privacy, both voluntary (with our computers) and involuntary (with sweeping new laws.) The tragic events of 9/11 themselves induced an understandably palpable fear and paranoia, worsened by increased surveillance in the interests of heightened security. Some welcome the resulting loss of …

Blogus Interruptus

Hello all – some of you may be wondering why there have been no posts from me for such a long while – has Wallace lost it, gotten lazy, is he suffering from writer’s block?

It was actually none of these. Just before the World Series finished I came down with a nasty cough and chest infection which I walked around functioning with like an idiot before it got really bad and turned into what my newly-appointed respirologist called …

Why We Live Indoors

The other day I got into a spontaneous conversation with two ladies I work with here at the library, about the dubious joys of camping and enjoying the great outdoors. It proved to be amusing and thought-provoking enough that I thought I’d write about it.

My brother and I get along great and have lots in common, including a whacked-out sense of humour and a generally easygoing attitude about most things. But sometimes it’s hard to believe we share …

Someone Has To Blink First

The second round of the baseball playoffs continued where the first one left off, with tense, exciting, rollercoaster individual games in two series that didn’t come close to going the full distance. The Royals swept the ALCS against the Orioles, yet the first game was decided in extra innings, they won the second one by breaking a tie with a two-run ninth-inning rally and the final two games were decided by the same bare 2-1 score – not that …

L.D.S. = Lively, Dramatic, Surprising

The first round of the baseball playoffs – known as the League Divisional Series (LDS) – have just finished and already, the games have provided a nail-biting cornucopia, enough surprises and thrills to last an entire postseason. There have been lots of extra-inning games, one-run games, lead reversals, nervous ninths, late-inning heroics, close plays, strategic brilliance and managerial blunders, clutch-hitting and clutch-whiffing, great pitching and fielding and not-so-great pitching and fielding. Even some of the bad plays have at …

October Salamis

 

First of all, I want to apologize for the many typos in yesterday’s post. I wrote it in some haste and to a tight deadline, owing to an early-evening recording session. Also, my editor – namely me – edits like Emilio Bonifacio plays second base, i.e. clumsily.

I also want to apologize in advance to those of you who are jazz fans rather than ball fans, because I’ll probably be writing mostly about baseball the next little while,

Season Wrap

 

My last baseball piece was a naïve, premature and overly optimistic one about the then-brimming fortunes of the Blue Jays, written as they stood in the sunshine of first place, about fourteen games above .500. They promptly stumbled, then really fell apart in August and, scraping egg off my face, I resolved never to write about baseball again. I felt like a know-nothing hack and a jinx to boot (not that I’m superstitious about baseball or anything, no…).You

The Mystery and Grace of JERU

It probably doesn’t speak well for my mental health, but often for no reason I can fathom, I wake up with a particular record deeply embedded in my mind and ears. Almost as though it had been played constantly by jazz elves while I slept, as some kind of weird music-hypnosis therapy. This happened quite early on Saturday morning, when I couldn’t get a Gerry Mulligan record called JERU out of my head even while half asleep. There was

Jazz Cooking: A Bolognese-Puttanesca Hybrid

Last night, I had a craving for the flavour of a simple tomato sauce over pasta, something I haven’t had in a while. It’s not really a summery dish, but then again it hasn’t been all that summery a summer. I set out to make a straightforward Bolognese sauce, made a blunder and ended up with a cross between a Bolognese and a Puttanesca sauce. Much to my surprise and delight, it turned out to be one of the

The Thrill of First-Nighting

Recently, I began an email correspondence with the multi-faceted, New York-based jazz figure Bill Kirchner [1], on whom more later. Bill stumbled across my blog and left some nice comments, then contacted me by email. We’ve been back and forth quite a bit, exchanging thoughts, information and stories. We’re about the same age and while he’s a lot more accomplished than I could ever hope to be, we have a lot in common, including knowing some of the

The Strange Case of Osie Johnson

 

One thing leads to another and my recent post about trombonist Eddie Bert touched on the drumming of Osie Johnson, which got me to thinking about him and listening again to some of the many records he played on. I’ve been thinking of writing something on him for a while as he’s long been a great favourite, so here goes.

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Both on records and in person, drummer Osie Johnson was all over the hyperactive New York jazz …

A ‘Bone For All Seasons

Lester Young and Bill Evans are two examples of the rare breed who achieved an imperishable standing in jazz by creating unique, highly influential styles. Rarer still are those who were beyond category as visionary composers who virtually invented their own musical universe, such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

These are one-of-a-kind geniuses though, originals who come along once in a generation, maybe even once in a lifetime. But there are mere mortals among us who achieve a …

Young Man With Some Corn

Fairly late the other night I was trawling around the channels, glass of French red in hand, looking for something to watch. There was a ballgame from Seattle on, but it was already 4-0 Orioles in the fifth inning and it had that look of a yawner. I flipped over to TCM just as host Ben Mankiewicz was introducing Young Man With A Horn from 1950, starring Kirk Douglas (!), Doris Day (!!), Lauren Bacall (!!!) and Hoagy Carmichael …

Bill Harris, Trombone Surrealist

It’s as well the trombonist Bill Harris actually existed, because not even the most imaginative novelist or jazz fan could have made him up. He was most certainly unique, but that word doesn’t quite do him justice; he was “unique” the way 9/11 was “devastating”, as the JFK assassination was “shocking”, like Rob Ford is “dissolute.” And words such as original, individual, colourful and distinctive, while equally applicable, don’t really do it in his case either. In spite of …

Brazilian Players Blame Rout on Using Wrong Hairspray

The following jokes about yesterday’s unbelievable 7-1 drubbing of Brazil by Germany in the World Cup semi-final were rolling around in my head when I woke up this morning. I’m not sure they’re that funny, but I am pretty sure this means I need help.

Q: How do you make a Brazilian soccer player stand tall?

A : Give him feet.

Q : How do you make a Brazilian soccer player run?

A : Turn his countrymen loose on …