Two important musicians – pianist Don Friedman and trumpeter Erich Traugott – died in late June. I was late in hearing about both because I was unconnected for a few days, off playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival. It’s often said that bad news comes in threes, but in this case these two losses were counteracted about a week later by some good news: major donations of jazz material to the Sound and Moving Images Library and the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University, celebrated by a very nice reception. And so it goes in jazz: an ebb and flow of loss and gain, give and take.
Pianist-composer Don Friedman died at 81 on June 30 in New York, of pancreatic cancer; by all reports it was quick. He was an intelligent, challenging musician with a style by turns rigorous and gentle, but always thoroughly original. He was perhaps better known and regarded by fellow musicians than the jazz public at large: it always seemed to me he was less recognized and appreciated than he deserved except in Japan, where he had a considerable following.
He was born in San Francisco and took up the piano at four, studying for ten years with the same teacher and showing a natural aptitude for classical piano. This was later reflected in his jazz work, which showed technical brilliance, but with a disciplined sense of structure and form even when he was playing “free”. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Los Angeles just as the West Coast jazz movement was getting underway and Friedman was soon fascinated and immersed in the local scene. He studied modern composition for a time at Los Angeles City College, which would later surface in both his own composing and his compositional approach to improvising. Some of his earliest professional experiences were with such West Coast giants as Shorty Rogers, Herb Geller, Buddy Collette and Buddy De Franco, but also included some work with Ornette Coleman before he was fully discovered. Friedman’s adventurous side soon tired of the laid-back ways of L.A. and he moved to New York in 1958, where he would remain for the rest of his career.
He soon formed a trio which at various points contained bassists Chuck Israels or Dick Kniss and drummers Joe Hunt, Pete LaRoca, or Dick Berk. He eventually secured a contract with Riverside and released three excellent trio records from 1961-63 – A DAY IN THE CITY (which featured six Friedman compositions reflecting various times of day in New York), THE CIRCLE WALTZ, and FLASHBACK. These are essential records but are unfortunately not always easy to find; they form a terrific introduction to Friedman’s style as both a composer and pianist. Many notice a similarity to Bill Evans – the singing tone, the smart lyricism, the deftness with chords, a classical piano influence – but there are also discernible differences. Friedman’s right hand lines are more jagged and aggressive, he’s inclined more toward abstraction, and, though he plays some standards on the second and third albums, he’s not as tied to songs as Evans was.
His harmonic adventurousness, willingness to experiment and flexibility made him a much-in-demand sideman in New York at a time when jazz was in great flux there. He played on such notable records as OUT FRONT, with Booker Little and Eric Dolphy; BOOKER LITTLE and FRIEND, DISCOVERY (the recording debut of Charles Lloyd), and TETRAGON, one of Joe Henderson’s finest Milestone records. Friedman’s versatility – he often crossed the invisible line between “free” and “inside” during the same performance – saw him working with relatively more conventional musicians such as Herbie Mann, Pepper Adams and Clark Terry. But also with uncompromisingly abstract ones, such as Jimmy Giuffre – Friedman and bassist Barre Phillips replaced Paul Bley and Steve Swallow in Giuffre’s 1964-65 trio. In 1964 he released his fourth Riverside album DREAMS AND EXPLORATIONS, which is more avant-garde than his previous ones, expanding the trio to a quartet by adding guitarist Attila Zoller, with whom Friedman would have a close musical affinity for many years.
As did many musicians, Friedman experienced a dip in his recording career after the middle-sixties, but hung in there, teaching at New York University and branching out a a solo pianist. Things bounced back, he released a steady stream of good records from the mid-seventies on, his final one being last year’s NITE LITES.
Above all, Friedman was a very musical, thinking man’s pianist over a long, uncompromising career. He never became a star and he never chased trends, but managed to keep growing and developing on his own terms, feeling that he was playing his best in the last decade of his life. When I heard of Friedman’s death, I sent an email of commiseration to my friend Bill Kirchner, who was a fairly close neighbour and friend of the pianist. One of Bill’s comments – “he was only 81” – may seem odd, because many still see 81 as a ripe old age. But I know what Bill meant, and not just because I’ll turn 60 next month. Mostly it has to do with Don Friedman’s playing. When I hear how he sounds on his final record, 81 doesn’t seem that old at all.
Trumpeter Erich Traugott died suddenly on June 26, he was 88. He did not have the international profile of Don Friedman, but as a mainstay of the Toronto music scene for decades, his death was felt very much locally. It certainly hit me hard – like many, I had a great deal of affection and respect for Ech, as he was sometimes known. But after the initial shock wore off, it was impossible to think of his long, productive career without a smile. He played with just about everybody during the peak years of TV, radio and jingle recording in Toronto and, owing to a healthy musician’s pension and judicious investing, he was able to retire in the late ’90s on his own terms when he thought it was time. He spent his retirement north of Toronto doing the things he loved: golfing, visiting family and old friends, playing cards, looking after his wife Jo (who suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years), occasionally visiting Toronto to hear some music, often played by old colleagues.
He was born May 18, 1928 in Poland, and his parents came to Canada when Erich was eight months old, eventually settling in Kitchener, Ontario. As a child he studied both piano and trumpet, his abilities eventually earning him a scholarship to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. After completing his studies, he played for a time in the Baltimore Symphony before moving to Toronto in 1952.
His timing was good, in short order he was extremely busy playing trumpet (often lead) on countless CBC television and radio shows, film soundtracks, stage productions and concerts, easily making the transition from a classical background to more jazz-oriented playing.
I say ‘jazz-oriented’ because Erich was not, strictly speaking, a jazz player. He wasn’t an improvising soloist given to stretching out, he never led a small jazz group. But he was more than just a section guy who just read the trumpet parts and played them accurately. His innate musicality – a beautiful, pure trumpet sound, flawless intonation (he had perfect pitch), an authoritative sense of time, attention to dynamics and phrasing – made him an asset in any jazz setting involving written arrangements. He had a gift of converting often difficult written material into real music, quickly. In many ways he was the Joe Wilder of Toronto – universally liked and respected as both a sweetheart and a thorough-going trumpet professional of unimpeachable integrity. And while he wasn’t an improviser, Erich could stand up in front of a band and play the straight melody of a song in such a singing, sincere way that it brought goosebumps. I heard him do this a few times and still remember several veteran musicians talking about a night years ago during a dance set at the Imperial Room when Erich played the Irish air “Galway Bay” and reduced the band to tears. He also played pretty good piano; more than once I heard him sit down and bang out a standard on the keys with some style.
To underscore how highly valued he was, Erich was a charter member of Canada’s two most important jazz orchestras – Nimmons ‘n’ Nine (the earliest band led by Phil Nimmons, beginning in the middle ’50s) – and Rob McConnell’s The Boss Brass, beginning about 1968. He was perhaps best-known for his work with these bands and his many recordings with each form his most lasting musical legacy. Along with Guido Basso, he was a constant among the many changes in the BB’s trumpet section, giving the band a strong measure of consistency for many years. Both McConnell and Basso said Erich was the guy the rest of the band tuned up to, and they were right.
Though I certainly knew of him beforehand, I didn’t get to know Erich well until I joined The Boss Brass in 1983. In fact, looking back on it, getting to know him was one of the best things about playing in that band, he was very kind to me. My very first job with the band was a weekend of concerts with Mel Tormé in Hackensack, New Jersey. I was really nervous and the long bus ride with the band partly helped me to relax, while also giving me more time to worry. After arriving w had a set-up/rehearsal during which I made some goofs on charts I hadn’t seen yet, which didn’t help my confidence any. I was in over my head.
Perhaps sensing my anxiety, Erich came over to me on a short break and introduced himself with a warm smile, shaking my hand with, “You’ve really got some sound and clarity, we can feel you in the trumpet section and it makes a difference. Welcome aboard, nice going.” I stammered my thanks, surprised. I’ll always be grateful to him for that, his confidence-boost meant a lot to me when I really needed it. When those first gigs were over, he came up to me and said with a wink, “You know, getting in the band is the easy part, it’s getting out that’s hard.”
We were pretty tight after that, I would have gone through a brick wall for Erich from that moment forward. We used to have nice conversations about songs and about music in general, he was forever talking about sound projection and the importance of getting the time off the ground. I also got to know what a fun, delightful guy Erich was, off the bandstand. He loved to play poker on the bus, loved to tell and hear stories or jokes, did a lot of laughing and joshing, but all in a low-key, classy way. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody and nobody ever said a bad word about Erich, simply because there weren’t any.
I last saw Erich in August 2012 on the occasion of a Boss Brass reunion concert at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival. The concert was sold out but two seats were reserved for alumni Erich and Ed Bickert, both of whom came. I was having dinner in a restaurant before the concert with my wife Anna when Erich walked in, and Anna later told me my face lit up when I said “Look, it’s Erich!” It had been a while and it was great to see him again, looking so well and happy. We had a nice chat getting caught up, he had the gift of making you feel good about yourself and life in general. Simply put, he was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word and will be greatly missed.
A jazz dedication at York University.
The Sound and Moving Images Library and the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections are part of the very large Scott Library on the Keele campus of York University. Together they serve the Arts faculty in general and the Music department in particular. Music Librarian Rob van der Bliek, himself a keen jazz and blues scholar, has been on staff at SMIL since 1990. Together with university librarian Joy Kirchner and archivist Michael Moir, Rob organized a dedication/reception on the evening of July 7 to celebrate and publicize significant donations of jazz collections – recordings, books, photographs, memorabilia, etc. – and to honor the donors, who I’ll come to in detail shortly. It’s tempting to say that this was the finest event of its kind that I’ve been to, except that I’ve never been to any event remotely like this one. It was both entertaining and informative – my favourite combination – and went several steps beyond the usual reception in class and thoughtfulness.
I first came to know Rob van der Bliek about two years ago through the preeminent Canadian jazz writer Mark Miller. Mark and I have become good friends in the past few years and he has been very supportive of my writing in a number of ways. He kindly introduced me into a circle of his friends who occasionally get together for food, drink and conversation at a pub. It’s a very brainy group made up mostly of academics and/or writers with a great deal of interest in jazz, not to mention knowledge of it. Apart from Mark and Rob, it includes Stuart Broomer (both a musician and a prolific jazz writer/reviewer for many years); Peter Danson (a practicing lawyer and erstwhile record reviewer for Coda magazine); Jack Chambers (a professor of linguistics at U of T and author of Milestones, a definitive two-volume biography of Miles Davis); Alan Stanbridge (a professor of Arts, Culture and Media at U of T and active on many jazz fronts); David Lee (bassist, jazz scholar and author of The Battle of the Five Spot) and David Stimpson, who was an integral part of Sackville records, and is a retired bookseller who owns a massive collection of jazz books. I’m not quite sure how I fit into this ‘jazz Mensa’, but I always find their conversation lively, interesting, thought-provoking and fun.
I mention all this because, if not for Mark Miller, I wouldn’t know Rob van der Bliek and likely wouldn’t have even heard about the reception or been invited. And, as it turned out, two of the major York donors were Stuart Broomer and David Stimpson – knowing them made the reception more meaningful to me. It was very kind of Rob to include me, it was an honour to be there. Even so, I must confess that on the day of the reception my inner slug was lobbying to give the whole thing a miss. I’d put in a long, hard day here at the library and the thought of the subway-bus trek all the way up to York was daunting. Besides, there was rain in the forecast and I’m not that familiar with the campus, so I had visions of wondering around lost while getting soaked. My better side prevailed though and it was surprisingly easy to get there and find the library; much to my own amazement I actually arrived on time.
The reception was held in a big, modern, open room called The Collaboratory. As I entered, I immediately saw some people I knew: Rob of course, Alan Stanbridge, David Stimson, Al and Mary Henderson, Anne Page-Galloway and others. Rob welcomed me and thanked me for coming, pointing out the bar and food and inviting me to check out the material artfully arranged under glass in a number of large display cases dubbed “the coffins”.
My recollection of the material is clouded because I was also socializing while looking at the displays, which where wide-ranging and fascinating. They included some interesting old commercial sheet music, mostly samples from the thousands of scores donated by the late pianist John Arpin through his widow. An original copy of Le Jazz Hot by Hugues Panassié and a beautiful set of books/LPs detailing early black jazz musicians in Europe. Many old photographs of local musicians, including a stunning one of Paul Grosney (who had a huge impact on my career) with Louis Armstrong, likely from around 1950. A program from the first (and last) Canadian Jazz Festival in 1959, including some eye-opening American names on its board – I guess Canadians couldn’t be trusted to organize a jazz festival on their own back then. Some shards of a broken Gennett 78, given to Stuart Broomer after a Christian Marclay performance by some fans who gathered up the pieces after Marclay had smashed it. Also from Stuart some stunning ‘art-bags’ in which CDs had been packaged. A wonderful black-and-white photo of Jim Galloway playing his soprano, as well as some contracts and advertisements from his days of booking Bourbon Street, way back when. And much, much more. Some of this material brought back floods of memory, some was utterly new to me. But either way, being a retro-minded history freak, I began to tingle seeing all this, I couldn’t help myself. A whole lot of local jazz history was here in very concrete form and I vibrated with all of it.
Mounted along the walls were flat screens which served as listening/viewing stations, but I’m afraid I didn’t take advantage of these because I was too busy talking to people and eyeballing the older material. Mark Miller arrived as did Stuart Broomer with his family in tow; it was lovely to meet them. Also there was a bass off to one side that I recognized – a huge, distinctive Abraham Prescott that once belonged to Neil Swainson. It’s now owned by Toronto bassist Rob Clutton, who would be performing later with saxophonist Brodie West. I went over to take a look and had a nice chat with Rob, who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Rob van der Bliek introduced me to his colleagues Joy Kirchner and Michael Moir, which I was glad of because I had an odd question for Joy. I’d been wondering if she was somehow related to Bill Kirchner, who comes from a long line of German Kirchners originally from Brooklyn Heights. I asked Joy – a very attractive and pleasant lady – about this and she gracefully took it in stride. She said that although Kirchner was a German name, she was from a long line of Kirchners from England, but was aware of the Brooklyn Heights Kirchners. She gave the overall impression of a person who is aware of quite a lot.
There were some chairs set up in rows and a podium with a microphone, and Rob van der Bliek asked everyone to take a seat for some speeches. After a few words from Joy Kirchner and Michael Moir, Rob spoke in detail about the individuals being honored for their donations, the relationships between them and their connections to the local jazz scene. He began with Jim Galloway and his legacy as a mainstay of Toronto jazz on so many fronts: as a musician, bandleader, broadcaster, booking agent for many clubs and as artistic director for many years of the du Maurier Downtown jazz festival, which has morphed into the current TD one. Along with some memorabilia, the library recently received the business papers of the festival dating back to Jim’s time. This was mostly thanks to Jim’s widow Anne Page-Galloway, also Patti Marshall and Josh Grossman, both heavily involved with the current festival. As Rob pointed out, this material will provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the politics and economics of organizing an event with so many divergent voices clamoring to be heard. He also pointed to the many recordings Jim did for Sackville, which were available in the library along with a description of Jim in Mark Miller’s book Boogie, Pete and the Senator: Canadian Musicians in Jazz: The Eighties.
This led Rob to David Stimpson, who, along with John Norris and Bill Smith, was a founding partner of Sackville Records. As part of his donation of rare jazz books and paraphernalia, he has given the library some of the documentation about the forming of that company, another interesting glimpse into the business of jazz. David worked at the U of T Bookstore for twenty years beginning in 1964, challenging the ways in which booksellers worked and establishing one of the first bookstore marketing departments. Later he started University Press Goup, which promoted a sizable roster of university presses with a reputation for quality. David first approached Rob about taking on his collection of jazz books way back in 1991. Rob remembers sitting in David’s living room gaping at the walls of books, not quite knowing what to do. That collection is now available at the library, which benefits us all.
Next Rob turned to Stuart Broomer, who started out his writing career with Coda (also in 1964) and was involved as a multi-instrumentalist – mostly bass and piano – in the free- jazz scene in Toronto for many years. As a nineteen-year-old he sat in on piano with Albert Ayler, which I’m confident nobody else can boast of. He abandoned playing in the early ’80s to focus on writing for Coda and many other publications. While his taste in jazz and knowledge of it are wide-ranging, Stuart has a special affinity for the avant-garde in all art, and he knows more about free jazz than anyone else I’ve ever met. He donated his collection of about 5,000 free improvisation CDs to the library, much of it on rare European labels. As Rob pointed out, none of this is duplicated in the library’s huge collection of sound recordings, nor is much of it likely to be available on Spotify anytime soon.
And finally among the donors, Rob turned to the late Curtis Bailey, who is well-remembered by many Toronto jazz fans as a kind of superfan, always in the clubs when not working his regular job at Sam the Record Man or manning the microphone for his weekend radio show on CIUT. He died in 2007, but it took several years before I got used to him not being around, usually near the bandstand, with his drawled greeting of “What’s happenin’, baby?” The library received his collection of 3,000 jazz CDs and LPs in 2009 and they’ve now been processed. As it turned out, these filled many unexpected gaps in the York holdings.
I was knocked out by the inclusiveness of Rob’s speech, which reflected the pluralism of the donors and their collections. They ranged from the traditional (Galloway) to the not-so-traditional (Broomer); from the bookish (Stimpson) to the colloquial (Bailey). Jazz is many different things to many different people and a large spectrum of it was represented here.
Rob said that no event celebrating jazz would be complete without some actual live stuff, but he didn’t want the band to be some anonymous trio tucked away in a corner noodling away on “Autumn Leaves” while everyone schmoozed and ignored them. So he decided to present some music while everyone was still seated and in an attentive mode – jazz is not background music or walk-by music, it’s music that needs to be listened to. The invitation to this event included the first few bars from the sheet music for “Round Midnight”. Rob pointed out that it’s been recorded over 1700 times, behind only “Body and Soul”, “St. Louis Blues”, “Summertime”, and “Sweet Georgia Brown”, which surprised me. (van der Bliek knows lots of this kind of stuff, he just can’t help it.)
Rob then introduced the duo of alto saxophonist Brodie West and bassist Rob Clutton, who have played together for many years in the largely free improvisation scene revolving around the Tranzac club and the Somewhere There festival. Rob asked them to play just one piece, their take on “Round Midnight”, reasoning that it has welcomed and withstood many alterations and variations over the years.
Brodie began with the familiar melody as a starting point, backed by the normal bass notes from Rob. Then they proceeded to take the tune apart and put it back together again in an intimate performance that was by turns meditative and zestful, but always intelligent. They probed at the song, peeling away layers, refracting parts of it. There was no overt pulse or swing, yet it didn’t become dirge-like; there was always motion and interplay, which are the essence of rhythm. There was plenty of space and it grew quite abstract in spots – some might even say “out” – and yet…..I’ve played “Midnight” hundreds of times and know it like the back of my hand, and I always felt a connection between what Brodie and Rob were playing, and Monk’s great song. They abandoned its chords and formal structure, yet stayed in touch with its moods and contours, its tonality (if somewhat tangentially) and, above all, with the ghostly feeling of the song, which is the important thing. While they were playing, a new thought struck me: that jazz is the sound of musicians thinking and conversing about a common topic in real time, with only whatever restrictions they choose to accept. Not a definition of jazz perhaps, but as close as I’ll ever come.
They probably played somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes but I’m not sure, and in any case, it’s irrelevant. Listening intently to a good jazz performance makes time stop, as it did here. I was bowled over, both by Brodie and Rob’s performance and Rob van der Bliek’s thoughtful invitation to them. This was the hippest offering of music I’ve ever experienced at a public reception of this kind, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I’ve said it a million times before, but I’ll say it again: it’s not just the music, but also the presentation that affects how it is received and listened to, and people listening to jazz is the key to its success. Surround it with a little quiet and people might actually find that they like it – who knew?
Afterward, people went back to mingling and many of us went over to compliment Brodie and Rob on their playing. Stuart and I each had a go on Rob’s huge bass, Stuart demonstrating that he still has some chops. When things were winding down and people were leaving, everybody was presented with a takeaway gift – some really beautiful note cards with various images from the collection – photographs, a sheet music cover, an old Jack Kane chart – on their fronts, nicely tied up with envelopes. It was a final touch of class from an event that brimmed over with it.
So, kudos to Rob van der Bliek and his colleagues for such a well-planned gathering, to Brodie West and Rob Clutton for a fine performance and, above all, to the donors for their long-term dedication to jazz and generosity in sharing it. I’m very glad I attended and came away from it with some positive thoughts. Firstly, that, many signs to the contrary, jazz is in good hands, it’s not going away because there are a whole bunch of people who care about it.
Secondly, that although much of jazz history is naturally American-centric, there’s a large slice of local jazz history that is ours and also very important. It’s comforting to know that it’s being preserved and curated by talented and dedicated people.
Thirdly, something that I was dimly aware of, but now more so: jazz means many things to many different people, and in various ways. While I’ve spent the last forty years with my head down mostly playing jazz, there have been all kinds of people, such as these donors, who have contributed to the growth of the music in other important ways. By writing about it, studying it, disseminating it, curating it, collecting it, or by just being fans of it and loving it. Jazz needs the efforts of many people with different angles to keep it going.
And lastly, the hipness of the musical offering demonstrated that, if you hang out with the right people, there are still occasionally signs of intelligent life on this planet.
© 2016 – 2017, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.