Thanks, and One More Ed Story For the Road

Hello, everybody. I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I wanted to thank all of you for reading my remembrance of Ed Bickert and for the very positive and widespread response which has been a little overwhelming, but in a nice way. I’m a bit naive, but I guess this reaction was to be expected under the circumstances. It says more about Ed than my writing and as I’ve learned over the years, in terms of reader response it’s no so much how you write that counts but what, or who, you write about.

I wrote the piece for two main reasons. One, I felt I had to, not as a chore or obligation, but for Ed and to bring myself some solace. I sort of felt it was expected of me, and indeed a couple of people said they would have been disappointed if I hadn’t written something. Me too, I guess, but then I often disappoint myself.

And two, I reasoned that if writing it was cathartic for me – and it was, once I got going – then reading it might provide some release for others, which was the idea. The comments left seem to bear that out, and I’m glad. I’ll admit I shed a few tears writing it, and afterward too. And some of the comments left brought more waterworks and a few goosebumps.

I always appreciate it when people leave comments. The pats on the back are nice, but that’s not what I mean. Often the comments are insightful or contain information I didn’t know and I’ve learned a lot from them. They’ve sometimes led to new friendships, some of which have changed my life, always for the better. I wish I had time to answer each and every one of them but I don’t, certainly not in this case. They’re coming in almost faster than I can keep up so I just wanted to say a collective thanks to everybody who took the trouble to leave a comment.

I don’t know if everyone reads the comments – I just write this stuff – but I wanted to comment on and share five which particularly moved me.

This one from Ted O’Reilly, well-known to most of us and a longtime friend who knew Ed longer than me, just because it’s so heartfelt and brief. Thanks, ya big lug:

Tears. Just tears. I’ve been waiting for you to say what you have.

And this one from drummer Barry Elmes, also a longtime friend who played with Ed many times, including in the quintet Barry has led for many years. It touched me because he said the article on Ed helped him with his grief, which was my wish for everybody. I emailed him right away to thank him, which led to some back-and-forth emails Wednesday night in which we reminded each other of funny stories involving Ed. These were of the not-for-public-consumption variety, and they’ll stay that way. Nothing unseemly or nasty or anything. Let’s just say that Ed, like many people who grew up on farms, had a delightfully earthy side. Thanks, Barry.

Steve: Thank you! Despite Ed being in my quintet for a decade, or perhaps because of it, I think I’ve sort of been in denial of Ed’s passing, at least to the extent that I have not yet been able to find pleasure in recalling the many great, and funny, events that happened while he was in my band, or when I was lucky enough to play in his trio or his quartet with Rick Wilkins. Your beautiful article has now somehow snapped me out of it, and I’m sitting here quietly beaming as all the memories are now freely coming back in endless waves of joy.

The next two demonstrate how Ed’s inspiring musicianship changed people’s lives forever, and I bet there are many more examples. This first one is from Patrick Boyle, a fine trumpeter and composer from St. John’s, Newfoundland, who is now a jazz professor at the University of Victoria. Obviously the journey Ed unknowingly set him out on was a long and fruitful one. Patrick recalls hearing Ed in the Barry Elmes Quintet, a night which I’ll never forget mainly because of the setting. It was my first visit to Newfoundland, which I love; and the venue was special too, the Duke of Duckworth pub, run by an impish Irishman named Terry O’Rourke. It was not generally set up for music and the place was heaving that night, people were literally hanging from the rafters. There was a pool table that was too heavy to be moved so they just covered it with a fitted piece of plywood and about 20 people sat on it. Unbelievable. My good friend Angie Heale was there, in fact she drank most of my pay that night, and took some photos of the band in action. She framed a particularly good one and gave it to me. It’s on the wall at my place now as a treasured reminder of an unforgettable evening. How odd to be reminded of it now by someone who was there so long ago who I didn’t even know at the time. Ed moved in mysterious ways. Thanks, Patrick.

Steve, this is just what fans of Ed need right now. Thank you. I recall so fondly hearing you and Ed in Barry’s band at the Duke in St. John’s, NL many years ago. It changed my life, and I realize that may sound like a cliche but it honestly isn’t. Seeing that quintet work together, having fun, inspiring each other on stage…it set me on a quest to learn as much as I can about this music. My entire life is what it is because of what I experienced that evening, watching Ed in the corner, eyes closed.

And this one from Matt Aschkynazo, whose distinctive name rings a vague bell but I don’t think I know him. It’s self-explanatory and blew me over. It shows the preposterously generous side of Ed in much the same way as my story of him playing for the beginner bassists in the barn that day. (We should have been playing Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” but none of them knew it.) Thanks so much, Matt, for a truly amazing story…… and I thought I’d heard most of them about Ed:

Mid-70’s I was a rocker, playing full time in Northern Vermont. On a break one night, Ed’s trio version of When Sunny Gets Blue came on the PA. I was transfixed. I was just starting on the road to jazz, and everything changed in that moment. I sought out the LP and realized I had a friend in Yorkville, who I immediately contacted. He was musical, but not into jazz….and I demanded he go find Mr. Bickert gigging and lemme know how it was. Turned out he neighbored the Barlows and asked if they knew Ed, who had totally flipped out his Vermont buddy. Word came back to me that Ed was flattered, had said if I was ever in Toronto I should look him up….and INCLUDED HIS PHONE NUMBER. Unbelievable. On my next days off I got in my funky little VW, with the rotted bottom and dryer hose running from the heater box into my pants (it was 40 below F) and drove the 10 hours to Tronna. Next day Ed welcomed me, offered me a cup of his endless supply of great coffee invited me to join him in the basement with his tele and the old Standel (he had to pound it on the side to get it running) and proceeded to give me a 4-hour lesson. I was so completely intimidated that I could only manage Girl From Ipanema….which we played the whole time. He was incredibly supportive and endlessly patient. I went back for 2 more visits over the next 3 years, finally able to relax enough to actually play. I will never, never forget his kindness, and the incredible lesson of being in the presence of his intense, understated mastery. It changed my life. Just as I could feel the beautiful bond he and Madeline shared, so it was with his depth and kindness to me as a fellow guitarist. And, by the way, once I asked if I could try his guitar. He allowed me the privilege, and in my hands it sounded way trebly…like it belonged on a bad country gig. All I did was turn up the volume. That was a lesson, too. RIP, old friend. I will always love you.

And this one from Rick Wilkins, partly because he’s the Clark Kent of Canadian jazz and has known Ed as long and well as pretty much anybody. He and Ed formed bookends, except Rick doesn’t have the ranch hand dimension. Rick’s comment contains one of Ed’s greatest lines, which I’ve heard and simply forgot to include in the piece:

Thanks very much for this Steve. It certainly expresses many of the feelings and the respect we felt towards Ed. I always felt that it was a privilege being on the same bandstand with him.
One example of his homespun humour.
When asked, “How was it playing with a certain boisterous piano player?”, he replied, “Well, it was kind of like trying to change the fan belt on your car with the motor running”.

That’s the thing with Ed, though. He came up with so many great lines and there are so many stories laced with his wit and wisdom that it’s impossible to remember them all at once and include them. I could easily write a daily blog with five or six Ed stories for weeks, but don’t worry, I’m not going to.

I do want to share this last one, though, which I would have included but didn’t think of it until I’d finished writing. It concerns the unforgettable expressiveness of Ed’s features – the carved-in-granite face, those eagle-nest eyebrows and piercing eyes, with that steely voice – and the impact they could have.

In the summer of 1988, the late singer Trudy Desmond had a barbecue party in her backyard. There were a lot of people there, mostly musicians and jazz folk. Ed and Madeline were there, and Don and Norma Thompson, who lived just up the street. I remember Ted O’Reilly and Larry Green were there, and some of us wondered if they’d stage a ‘battle of the jazz broadcasters.’ I brought along my sons Lee and Graeme, who were 7 and 5, respectively. John Sumner brought his middle daughter Jennifer, who was visiting from Brazil. She’s double-jointed and I recall her entertaining my boys and others with her rubbery flexibility.

At one point I took Graeme over to where the food was and on the way we bumped into Ed. Graeme hadn’t met Ed but probably knew what he looked like from album covers, and I think he had a vague notion that Ed was some mythic figure, not a real guy you’d see at a party. (Actually, he was both.) Graeme was a really outgoing kid, not at all shy and when he saw Ed, he blurted out, “Hey, you look just like Ed Bickot!” (sic).

Ed kind of grinned and did his Boris Karloff thing with the flashing eyes and arched brows, and said with that dry voice: “That’s because I am Ed Bickert.” Graeme flinched slightly and jumped back about a foot: without meaning to, Ed had spooked him. But he recovered and said, “Oh…… Well, nice to meet ya” and off we went for a burger. Graeme had been ‘Edified’ at a tender age and survived.

Later, Graeme said, “Dad, that Ed Bickot guy is kind of scary” and I answered, “Yeah, I know. But don’t worry. Once you get to know him, he’s really nice.”

Cheers everybody, and thanks.

© 2019, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “Thanks, and One More Ed Story For the Road

  1. Thanks a million for the tearful therapy both yesterday and today Steve. And for everyone’s lovely and loving comments. Ed was my world. I too have many favourite Ed lines, too numerous to remember or mention here. But…I did always find it hilarious when he and I would go to a jazz club (for what he called “Another One of Ed and Linds’ Excellent Adventures”), after he had retired, and he would shake hands with a fan and say, with that hint of a grin unique to Ed, “Hi. I used to be Ed Bickert.” A line he claims to have stolen from Norm Jewison btw. It never failed.

  2. What an inspiring and moving piece of writing Steve. Thank you so much. I’m sure that somewhere in the wild blue yonder Ed is cracking a little smile and nodding his head.

  3. Steve, I was a 20 year old kid at jazz camp in 1991, and I remember you, Don Thompson, Gary Williamson, Alex Dean, Rob McConnell … what a lineup. I think Ed was there. I want you to know again how much it did for me as a young guy to witness such friendship and musicianship. I remember sneaking “off campus” to hear the faculty playing in the bar in the town near by. Magical. The sky up there was majestic and dark too. You have had a big influence on me and other friends of mine too. I hope you know that. Thank you for sharing these stories about Ed and your feelings in his passing. Peace.

  4. Thank you so much, these are beutiful – but may I repeat my question as to whether he ever EVER found a place with Shearing? I’d so love to know…

  5. Wonderful thoughts you shared with us Steve. So my condolences for the passing of your friend, a true « icon » of jazz. Canadian Jazz. His recordings have inspired probably thousands of guitar players around the world. I remember a gig in the early 90’s across Sunrise Records on Yonge St. A bar on a 2nd floor I think with a view on the street. You could come in and sit 10 feet away from this master of jazz and there was no cover! He was playing and during his solo the desk phone rang (yes before the cell phones) and he went straight up the neck of the Tele to play the note of the ring tone and made it work in his solo. Just like that. He probably quoted a few heads of tunes as well during the set. From the duo album with Don Thompson to his album as a leader and all the way to the Boss Brass where he shined he was truly an inspiration to all jazz fans and musicians. Sorry for your loss to all. Bernard

  6. On Australian radio I am giving Ed a big sendoff on my two shows: I’ve already played Got A Right to Sing the Blues (With Dave McKenna), Strollin (with the Boss Brass) together with Walk It Off (clever?) with you at Bourbon St; and at your suggestion I will play My Shining Hour with Rosie, Bossa Nova Ova with the Brass, When Sunny Gets Blue with Paul, and a CBC trio date with Don Thompson on a tune called I’ll Wait and Pray. We’ve actually met before: When you came to Perth WA with Woody I did an interview with you for my old show. Sorry I never heard Ed live – a penalty you pay for living in th eternal sunshine this far from Canada.

  7. Thanks for this, Steve. Great tribute. Your articles brought smiles and tears… and an ear worm (My Shining Hour) – a good one. 🙂. So great to hear that again ; I love it. Ed’s solo (beautiful lines and grips); Rosemary’s singing (the voice! the time!), and the wonderful generosity of this band.

  8. From the fall of 1959 through the summer of 1960 I don’t think i missed at least one night a weekend at the HOUSE OF HAMBURG (sp?). Ed played there a lot and it was a big let down when he didn’t.

  9. Hi Steve, Thanks for your great writing about Ed, and all the rest. It`s weird, but early in February I was traveling by train down to the Seattle area – it`s a beautiful ride along the coast and I was listening to Live at The Garden Party, I Wished on The Moon and “The White Album“, thinking of how incredibly long it had been since I had heard Ed, and missing him very much. I got to play a week with him in Moe`s band, and I remember that pitch immediately became VERY important, not to mention, the notes. I also remember that gig as being the first time that I ever really heard the Basie time feel, and by that time I had been playing for almost ten years. I kept a respectful distance on the breaks, but my Mom blew in and got quite a lot of Ed`s attention, and not just a few smiles. I just sat back and watched the older generation do their thing, eyebrows and all – it was beautiful. Ed may be gone now, but the music will live on…

  10. I guess I’m a bit late with this, but I have an Ed story I’d like to share.
    We always used to see Ed as a sideman for someone else, and he’d just sit there virtually motionless and totally silent, as he played all this beautiful music. One time, however, I saw him lead a trio at either George’s Bourbon Street or Basin Street, and I was amazed to hear him announce all the tunes, introduce his colleagues, and talk nicely to the audience with his very nice voice. After a couple of tunes of this, I was overcome with amazement, and I cried out from the audience, “Ed – you HAVE A VOICE!!” Without batting eyelash, he responded, “Naw – the bass player’s a ventriloquist.”

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