Rabbit & Deacon, Jazz Healers

As listeners, we all know what the different musical instruments sound like….or at least we like to think so. Every once in a while though, a player will escape the tonal boundaries of his horn, making it sound like another one, or even like something we’ve never heard before. For example, Lester Young’s tenor saxophone, which seemed to come at the listener as a vapour through an invisible airshaft, sounding more like a French horn than a tenor. Fittingly, …

Bird Math

It seems that everything that was supposed to go right for the Blue Jays last year, but didn’t  – a deep, potent batting lineup, good defense, a strong starting rotation, a weakened A.L. East ripe for the taking – has come together this year, as though it just took a year for everything to settle. Jays’ management could have been forgiven for simply backing up the truck after last year’s Murphy’s Law-disaster and getting rid of almost everybody, but …

Making Strides, Part 2 – James P.

“There has long been a disturbing tendency among jazz aficionados to regard each innovation in the music as “progress”, a practice that sends the musicians who have been supplanted into the outer darkness” – Whitney Balliett.

I wanted to revisit the above quotation which began Part 1 of this piece, because the process of marginalization Balliett describes applies to few more than James P. Johnson. Johnson was a key pioneer of jazz piano, the founder and widely acknowledged king …

Around the Old Ball Yards….

Some random thoughts on the current baseball season……….

There are many ways to spell tough luck in baseball, it’s that kind of game…one of the best ways this year is S-a-m-a-r-d-z-i-j-a, as in pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Coming into this week, he had a brilliant ERA of about 1.64, but absolutely zilch to show for it – a record of 0-4. Of course he pitches for a bad team, in fact the ‘poster-boy’ of all bad teams, the Cubs. This …

.500, Ho!

The weather around these parts hasn’t consistently warmed up yet (a sort of “Prague Spring”), but already the baseball season has reached the quarter-mark, with most teams having played about 40 games.

The baseball has been similarly lukewarm, so far it’s mostly been characterized by the high number of teams treading water at a winning percentage of .500 or so. Of the 30 MLB teams, 23 are within five games of either side of the break-even mark. If you …

Phew….

It’s been a while since my last posting and I’d like to explain…..It’s not that I’ve become lazy of late, or developed a sudden case of writer’s block or anything like that, although……For the past few days, I’ve been unable to log on to the site itself, which is where I do the actual writing. Whenever I tried to get in, I was greeted with the same scary message that the website was temporarily unavailable, due to a “brute …

Making Strides, Part 1 – Labels

There has long been a disturbing tendency among jazz aficionados to regard each innovation in the music as “progress”, a practice that sends the musicians who have been supplanted into the outer darkness” –  Whitney Balliett.

The process so neatly described above by Mr. Balliett has bothered me for some time, though I’ve also been guilty of it myself at times, certainly when I was younger. What troubles me the most is the last part about older musicians …

Goin’ to Chicago (Sorry, But I Can’t Take You)

Like many of us, I’m growing a little tired of hearing or thinking about Toronto’s disgraced mayor. But his recent crash off the wagon and skedaddle to a rehab shack somewhere in or near Illinois got me to thinking of something more pleasant, namely the classic Count Basie-Jimmy Rushing blues, “Goin’ to Chicago”.

Basie recorded this a number of times in the ’40s with Jimmy Rushing singing. I love Rushing to death, but my favourite version of this is …

No Good Seed Goes Un-Pun-ished

As some of you may know, I support my jazz habit by working days at a splendid old law library called The Great Library. Among other things, this makes it easier for people who’ve heard me play bass to say “Don’t quit your day job.” The library dates back to the 1840s, when people actually used words like “great” to mean “big” – we’ve tried to get the name changed to “The Awesome Library”, but no luck.

One of …

Ben Webster: The Heart of the Matter

Ben Webster fell under the spell of Coleman Hawkins’ ground-breaking tenor saxophone style early in his career, but eventually discovered himself and largely formed his own style by about 1938. Shortly after this he found a setting as perfect for him as the Count Basie band was for Lester Young – the Duke Ellington Orchestra, from 1940-43. His time with Ellington and especially the exposure to Johnny Hodges further shaped him. Hawkins may have been Webster’s original model, but …

Grope Things External

…Sorry, that should be “hope springs eternal”….man, have we needed this. After a harsh winter that tried even the hardiest of souls among us, the Boys of Summer are back with their grand old game and not a moment too soon, Opening Day at last. Cue the massed choirs of the Hallelujah chorus, bring on the William Tell Overture, “Auld Lang Syne“,”Take Me Out To the Ballgameand whatever other celebratory music seems appropriate. Play …

Don’t Even Mention My Blue Suede Shoes

 

The Name Game.

As if jazz fans don’t feel confused and isolated enough already, there are some snarly name-duplications around just to make matters worse. Take the name Tommy Flanagan, for example. Most jazz fans would think of the pianist, but the general public might think of the Scottish actor. Google is neutral and offers up about an equal number of hits for each, though the actor’s come first. Or Tommy Williams – is it the jazz bassist …

Early Days, Big or Small, Part Two

It’s sort of funny, but because I played bass for ten years in Rob McConnell’s big band The Boss Brass (and later, about another decade in his Tentette), some people may think of me as this ace big band bass guy. I suppose it makes sense in a way, they were both very good bands and playing in them became part of my skill set and profile. For sure, I learned a lot about playing in big bands from …

In Praise of Gary Benson

Yesterday brought the sad news that guitarist Gary Benson, a fixture on Toronto’s jazz scene for many years, died at the age of 75. It was not entirely unexpected as Gary had been very ill for some time, but the news will hit those who knew him in the jazz community hard nonetheless. He was a fine player and an even better person, we’ll all miss his even-keeled, modest personality and sense of humour, his jokes and wonderful impersonations. …

Early Days, Big or Small? Part One

In connection with the post on The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess, I wanted to include some more general commentary on jazz and big bands, some of it personal and involving my very early days as a jazz fan and player. As that piece was overly long, I’ll take up the subject again here.

Big bands are not for everybody, they sometimes form a dividing line in jazz not unlike Dixieland. By this I mean that there …

Keynote Address, Part Two – Notes

These are notes I wanted to include in the post “Keynote Address”, but felt it was long enough as it was.

[1].  Alfred Lion arrived in New York in 1929, but health issues forced his return to Germany soon thereafter. He worked in South America from 1933 and would return to New York in 1938, in time to hear John Hammond’s “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts of 1938 and ’39, which inspired him to found his own label. His …

Keynote Address

The invaluable Spanish jazz-reissue company Fresh Sound Records recently entered new territory by out-doing itself with a huge 11-disc reissue called The Keynote Jazz Collection, 1941-47. With a whopping 243 titles performed by 62 different bands, it’s a massive compilation of music from one of the key (no pun intended) independent New York jazz labels of those years – Keynote Records. It offers a stunning cross-section of 1940s jazz in all its various styles, during a time when the …

Putting the Potts On

No, this is not another post about food, I swear. The title of this essay is a pun I couldn’t resist, which I’ll explain. There’s an old expression in jazz that when a band is swinging, really cooking as it were, they “have the pots on.” This certainly applies to The Jazz Soul of Porgy & Bess, a wonderful 1959 big band recording of Gershwin’s folk-opera, written by the D.C.-based arranger Bill Potts. It features an all-star cast of …

Don’t Burn the Garlic

My last post was about making chili and while I don’t intend to make this a food site, this one is about cooking too. It’s just that I’ve become something of a foodie in recent years, because I’m fortunately surrounded by people who either love good food or who are great cooks. Or both, they tend to go hand in hand. I also really enjoy cooking when I have time and seem to do more of this in the …

My Kick-Ass Chili

I wanted to post this a few days ago, but the web server for this site went down and then I was off to Mexico for a few days………

Given the Ice Station Zebra conditions outside, I think it’s time for something to warm us up, in this case my recipe for chili. I wish the name sounded a little less like chilly but trust me, a bowl of this will heat your innards and stick to your ribs, …

Happy New Year with Annie & Joe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYnmSAtZuB0#t=366/
Hi and Happy New Year to everyone. A friend sent me the above YouTube clip and it knocked me out so much I wanted to share it with all of you. It seems to be from a 1959 Playboy jazz special, but fortunately that leering creep Hugh Hefner has limited screen time and there’s a very young Tony Bennett among the guests, smoking away like everybody else. First off there’s Annie Ross, who gets up and sings “Twisted”, …

Laughter Travels Well Too

As part of the last post about The Wind Journeys I planned to write about a second great road film I watched recently, but got off on a music tangent and decided enough was enough. Don’t worry, I’m not setting myself up as some sort of faux film critic, I won’t make a habit of these little movie reviews. It’s just that I really love movies and have been watching a lot of them recently and happened to …

The Wind Journeys and Other Musical Travels

As a big movie fan, I don’t know what I’d do without Turner Classic Movies, though I’d no doubt be better-rested without it. With so many more channels on TV now showing so little worth watching (and with so many ads), TCM is like an oasis of civilization. I often land in this cinematic Shangri-La at an hour when more reasonable people are sleeping though and the next thing I know I’m down a half-bottle of red and it’s …

Apologia, More on Halladay

Yesterday’s post on Roy Halladay as usual contained a few small typos and grammatical mistakes but also a factual error – I posted it in some haste because of the time-sensitve nature of his retirement. The typos I can live with, but factual errors bug me, I try not to make many of those. For some reason, I got it into my head that Halladay had an 18-year career, with 14 seasons in Toronto; it was actually 16 years, …

Is Roy Halladay A Hall-of-Famer?

At 36, pitcher Roy Halladay announced his retirement the other day, signing a one-day contract with the Blue Jays which will allow him to retire as one, a classy move by all concerned. It’s gratifying to local baseball fans that this was clearly important to Halladay, and for one glorious moment there, I thought he’d actually signed a real pitching contract for next year, Lord knows we could use him if he were healthy. Roy cited a chronic back …

Three Pitchers Who Bucked the Odds

 

The following is a companion piece to “Shake Hands With the D.L.”, which examines injuries to pitchers down through the years. This piece takes a closer look at three pitchers from the distant past – Babe Adams, Eppa Rixey and Dazzy Vance – who overcame serious injuries and went on to have long, interesting, productive careers. In fact, Rixey and Vance are in the Hall of Fame and many think Adams should be. 

1. Babe Adams.

Shake Hands With the D.L.

In May of this year, I read that 104 pitchers have been on the major-league D.L. (disabled list) since the beginning of 2012, that number likely rose by 50 or 60 more by season’s end. If memory serves, at one point in the 2012 season there were something like 35 pitchers out of action and scheduled for Tommy John surgery, many of them relief closers. That procedure deals with the elbow only and doesn’t take into account frequent injuries …

The Iron Clarinet

The soprano saxophone has had a fairly schizoid history as an instrument and this is fitting, because it comes in two completely different forms. There’s the straight one, which looks like a slightly bloated clarinet that’s been dipped in brass. And the curved one, which looks like a miniature alto saxophone, to be used as a kid’s toy or as a prop in a staging of Gulliver’s Travels. As alto saxophonist Campbell Ryga (more on him later) puts it, …

The Cement of Lament

There are certain pieces of music which stick in our minds for hours or even days and often these so-called ear-worms are unwelcome, as we chance to hear a snippet of something we don’t even like and it just won’t leave us alone, goddamnit. I’m very suggestible in this way, sometimes all it takes is for somebody to mention an old TV show or movie and suddenly my inner jukebox kicks in and I have the theme from “Green …

La-di-dah, di-dah-di-dum……

On a recent gig there were some requests for autumn songs – “Autumn Leaves”‘ naturally, which never goes away but I never tire of either, as long as it’s not played too fast. Its imperishable structure and cyclical chords make it a great vehicle for blowing, plus people know and like it. Also “Autumn In New York”, which is maybe the best of this lot, a masterpiece with the great line describing Manhattan’s streets as “canyons of steel”.

“Autumn …

Say It Ain’t So, Joe….

I want to make it abundantly clear that, while I have a fairly active imagination, I’m not one of those nutters given to conspiracy theories…I repeat, I’m not a conspiracy theory guy. But the baseball played by the Cardinals in the early innings of last night’s World Series opener was so surpassingly strange, so surreal, that it brought eerie echoes to me of the curious doings in the 1919 Series. Yes, that one, the Black Sox one, the thrown …

Sarahndipity – I Feel Pretty…Good

They might be called jazz serendipity, those odd moments when out of the blue (and often out of context), you chance to hear a great jazz performance and it simply takes your head off, you’re just gone, palpably reminded of how great and uplifting this music can be.

I had the strangest one of these one summer night after a gig, quite a few years ago. I can almost pinpoint the time because I was working at The Senator …

After Hours Diary

“It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place….”

It was just the four of us, fairly late Wednesday night – John Loach and his trumpet, John Alcorn singing without a mic, Mark Eisenman at the keys and me on bass – huddled around the piano at Loach’s place in a tight circle, playing a few “good old good ones”, the songs of our lives, making music for our own pleasure. It was all about the mood and …

Unsung Bassists, Part Five

The series continues with a look at four bassists who had prolific freelance careers mostly in the mainstream, small-group swing field – John Simmons, Al Hall, Al Lucas and Gene Ramey. These men were born within five years of each other and their careers often overlapped and intersected in the patchwork quilt of New York jazz in the 1940s and ’50s. Sometimes, one would replace another with a given artist; for example, each of them played and recorded extensively

I’ve Got the Hippie, Hippie Shakes

Recently I got into a discussion with two female library colleagues who are my age, about the young of today and some of their customs and….. “idioms”. You know….Who Bruno Mars is (which they knew but I didn’t.) How Facebook is rapidly becoming old-hat and being replaced by things like Instagram and Snapchat. The preponderance of ghastly plaid shorts and stupid, undersized straw fedoras on young men. How old words like “hip”, “cool” and “hipster” have become co-opted by …