PHIL WILSON, BILLIE HOLIDAY AND MORE
Canadian musicians born in April include organist/pianist Doug Riley (12th), pianists Kenny Alexander and Miles Black (13th), pianist Norm Amadio (14) trumpeter Bruce "Boo" Cassidy (16) reedman Art Ellefson and trumpeter Sam Noto, vibraphonist Warren Chiasson and Montreal icon, tenorman Richard Parris (17), bassist Don Habib (22), pianist John Stetch (25) and singer Dorothee Berryman (28).
Songwriters born in April include Henry Mancini "Days of Wine and Roses" (16), Rube Bloom "Fools Rush In" (24), Bob Russell "Crazy He Calls Me" (25), Edward Eliscu "More Than You Know" (26), Karl Suessdorf "Moonlight In Vermont" (28) and Duke Ellington "Solitude" (29).
PHIL WILSON TO BE FETED AT BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC
My dad died on my birthday, February 23, back in 1963 and after the estate was settled I went to NYC for about 10 or 12 hectic days which included the Paul Bley - Gary Peacock - Paul Motian trio session that later came out on ECM, supper at Don and Connie Ellis' home, running into Jimmy Heath on Broadway which led to being introduced to Kenny Dorham and Coleman Hawkins, my first major league ball game, the Tigers beat the Yankees. My companions for that game, Pepper Adams, Tommy Flanagan and Arthur Taylor, attending a Gunther Schuller "Music for Moderns" rehearsal at Carnegie Recital Hall where I got to meet Martin Williams [who used my photos of the event along with an article he wrote for the Oct.- Nov. issue of "Evergreen Review"] and Lucky Thompson - Ellis, Jimmy Knepper, Benny Golson, Phil Woods, Lalo Schifrin, Jim Hall, Barre Phillips, Richard Davis, Charli Persip, Sticks Evans and soprano Susan Belink were among the participants. I also got to attend, courtesy Stanley Dance, a Count Basie recording session at A&R Studios. One of the discoveries of the trip was hearing a superb trombonist who, I was later to discover, answered to the name PHIL WILSON. The Woody Herman band was at the Metropole, where they stood side by side behind the bar. That band later arrived in Montreal and played a club on Sherbrooke Street renamed "The Metropole", you can't say the owners weren't original. During that engagement I began a long friendship with Phil and wrote, in CODA, the very first article about this major talent and discovered he was at the same Basie session that I attended. Phil is now 67, born in Belmont, Mass. -- where he still resides, on January 19, 1937. He studied at the New England Conservatory and, from 1956 through 1958 played both trombone and piano with the Jimmy Dorsey band. He then covered the same two instruments with the Al Beletto combo from '60 to 62. After some time with the excellent NORAD Command Band, which used musicians from both the U.S. and Canada, he joined the WOODY HERMAN band in 1962 staying into 1965 -- one of Woody's great bands. He then moved into the education field and, with a short spell at New England Conservatory, has been at Boston's Berklee College of Music ever since. He also contributed notable arrangements to the Buddy Rich band of the 70s. Our meetings, since the Herman band did a week in the early 60s at the Jazz Hot Room of the Casa Loma here, have been too infrequent, a hang with Phil and John LaPorta when they did clinics in Rosemere, getting together in New Haven [he was teaching at Choate for the summer] and there hearing him sit in with Sonny Costanzo's combo and being his house guest during a flying trip to the Cordova Museum near Boston. I was also given the honour of writing the liner notes for his "Pal Joey Suite" for the Capri label. On Friday, April 16, Wilson, one of the world's greatest living trombonists will be honoured for his years at Berklee and I'm hoping to attend.
Dorothee Berryman completed her 15 concert tour back at the Cabaret on St. Laurent and, despite a persistent cold, sounded better than I have ever heard her and the support from Eric Harding, Jean St. Jacques, Jon Geary, Dave Watts, Camil Belisle and Normand Bock, was everything a singer could want. On March 5th. pianist Lorraine Desmarais took the stage with Ingrid Jensen, Jane Bunnett, Rosemary Galloway and an inappropriate drummer -- an all woman concert in a country with a shortage of female drummers is like painting yourself in a corner. There was some outstanding writing and soloing nonetheless. Then it was over to Upstairs to hear the Sonny Greenwich Quartet, a rare 2 night appearance from this world class player with just right support from Don Thompson, Jim Vivian and Barry Elmes -- on our arrival my companion said "Ah, now that's a drummer". Another guitarist Jim Head accompanied by Josh Rager, Zack Lober and Jim Doxas was heard at the same locale on Sunday night. Head is currently a Jazz Masters student at McGill and an excellent player. Speaking of Jazz Masters degrees, both Head and the wonderful trumpeter from the Pittsburgh area, Steve McKnight, were heard to advantage in their Master Class recitals at Pollock Hall the week of March 7th. Joel Katz, who produced the excellent documentary, "Strange Fruit" was in town to both show and discuss his film at McGill. I attended his appearance in a class for Professor Norman Cornett's religious studies students, one that featured a most interesting question and answer period -- other non students in attendance were singer Jeri Brown and renowned painter Katherine Pavlis Porter. That song was written by a Jewish Bronx schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol aka Lewis Allan -- it was originally a poem. It is often credited to Billie Holiday and on that subject this is a letter to the editor that the composer wrote to Down Beat in 1965.
The Roots of "Fruit"
A friend of mine has called my attention to an item in the July 1 issue of Down Beat. It reads as follows:
"RECORD NOTES: Billie Holiday's justly famed performance of Strange Fruit, which she wrote in protest of lynching, has been reissued as a single by Mainstream..."
The song was not written by Billie Holiday at all. I wrote the words and music of Strange Fruit as a protest against lynching. My name is on the copyright on file in Washington, on the song sheet published by Edward B. Marks Music, and on the record labels, etc. The song was written a year or more before Billie Holiday ever heard it, and the first time she did was at Café Society, where I played it for her at the request of Barney Josephson, manager of the café, and Robert H. Gordon, who directed the performers who appeared there in its early days.
Billie did not even know what the word "pastoral" in the song meant, and I had to explain it to her. She didn't dig the song at first because it was so different from all the other songs to which she was accustomed, and she was not particularly interested in it. It was only after she sang it at the opening of Café Society and got a tremendous ovation, and every night thereafter, that she got to really understand the song and appreciate how well it was suited to her.
What she did contribute to the song was her own personal and strikingly original styling, but that's all. If it had not been for Josephson and Gordon, she would never have chosen the song.
I can't blame Billie for thinking of it as "her" song because she was a sick girl, but I take occasion whenever it arises to correct this basic error, which seems to perpetuate itself.
Hastings on Hudson, N.Y.
On Friday, March 12, I got to hear a young woman with a marvellous voice. Marcia Seebaran was also heard on oboe and guitar joined by Jon Gearey and Alex Bellegarde and what turned out to be probably the worst drummer I have EVER heard -- one who continually, regardless of the mood of the song in question, pounded on his bass drum to the point that another writer and I discussed going on stage, grabbing the bass drum and then throwing it into traffic on Ste. Catherine Street. Gearey tells me he works with Marcia as duo and I look forward to hearing that combination in the near future -- this one was painful, ruined by a completely tasteless "musician".
On March 16th, to coincide with "Open City", a wonderful exhibit of paintings by the late Jack Beder, one that included Montreal nightclub scenes from the 30s and 40s, and some choice memorabilia from the Concordia Archives, the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery of Concordia University, presented an evening of discussions, about music and Montreal's colourful night club scene of yore, chaired by Nancy Marrelli, the curator of the Archives, it was an evening that had presentations by former dancer Tina Brereton and jazz historians, Andrew Homzy of the Concordia Music department and yours truly. It was a well attended event and from my point of view I found the questions of the interesting variety. The Beder exhibit was wonderful and moved U.S. painter Katherine Pavlis Porter to work on a piece for an American arts magazine. Others in attendance were Abby Smollen, Carlton Baird and Pat Sorrentino, founding members of the New Jazz Society (1950) and, its replacement, the Emanon Jazz Society (1951), groups of great importance in Montreal's jazz history. The following day Effendi records unveiled a new web site and celebrated its 5th Anniversary (at Upstairs). That same day there was a memorial service held the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul for John R.E. Bradley, who died on February 25 in his 80th year. John entered the recording industry working with pioneer Herbert S. Berliner, who founded the Compo Company in Lachine and John was an important part of that company for many years.
I don't pretend to be an expert on opera but I most say, that at intermission of a college presentation, I was most happy to hear my host mouth the six magic words, "Do you mind if we leave?" It was then off to Upstairs for singer Jeri Brown -- much more to our liking. March 21st marked the first anniversary of the death of Art Roberts, a mentor to yours truly and hundreds of others he touched in his lifetime. March 22 director Gordon Foote led a wonderful McGill Big Band I through its paces in a concert at Pollock that included a Bob Brookmeyer piece dedicated to Maria Schneider and work by Maria herself. Early that day, Ron Kazior, a cousin who was the closest thing to a brother I ever had, died in Connecticut. In our youth we spent most summers together, hanging around WMMW, the radio station in Meriden where we both appeared on "Junior Disk Jockeys on the Air" in 1948, he played Mario Lanza and Louis Prima and I opted for Woody Herman and Dizzy Gillespie. We also used to travel the 18 odd miles to Hartford to hear music at the State Theater where I recall hearing the Buddy Rich and Sauter-Finegan bands. I remember Buddy announcing that he would be playing a Max Roach arrangement of "Old Man River". After the show we went around the back of the building where the musicians were relaxing between performances and when I asked (I was 13) if Max really wrote that arrangement, I was asked if I knew who Max was and when I replied, "He's the bebop king!", we were rewarded with free ice cream cones from the band members. Another time Ron went backstage (as he often did) to get me an autograph -- this time it was Mel Torme and Ron said Mel didn't look to pleased when he asked Torme why they called him "The Velvet Frog". (The "Velvet Fog" was the actual nickname). On March 24, McGill Big Bands II and III were presented, directed by Ron DiLauro and Steve McKnight, in that order. The following night the "Effendi Jazz Lab" --- Frank Lozano, Remi Bolduc, Alex Cote, Aron Doyle, Kelsley Grant, Steve Amirault, Frederic Alarie and Martin Auguste -- was presented at Salle Pierre Mercure (named after the noted composer and the man who produced the 1953 "Jazz Workshop" TV show that featured Charlie Parker, Brew Moore, Dick Garcia and Paul (then "Buzzy") Bley. That weekend trumpeter Kevin Dean made his regular monthly appearance at Upstairs in the fine company of Yannick Rieu, Andre White, Alec Walkington and Dave Laing and Charlie Parker was the composer of the night. March 30 saw the founding members of the NJS and EJS groups having their monthly reunion at Amazona Restaurant and, a little later that afternoon, Suzie Arioli launched her new Justin Time CD, one produced by the famed John Snyder, who was in from Connecticut for the event. On the last day of the month Dorothee Berryman and I attended the Upstairs debut of Sheila Jordan student Lana Turner (no, not THAT Lana Turner) with John Roney on piano.
APRIL TILL NOW
The month started on a sad note when singer Isabelle Wolfmann (in from France) took ill and had to cancel both an engagement at Upstairs and a recording session. Guitarists Mike Rud and Kenny Bibace and bassist Tim Nolan, the musicians who were to accompany her, (with Camil Belisle added on drums) fulfilled her engagement at Upstairs for two nights that were both musical and a great deal of fun. Bibace and Belisle were both part of Dorothee Berryman's tour and she was again in attendance, thoroughly enjoying herself.
UPCOMING APRIL EVENTS
There is jazz on nightly basis at House of Jazz [2060 Aylmer], Modavie [St. Paul at St. Laurent] and Upstairs [1254 Mackay]. The latter has "9 X 9", tomorrow night March 14th, a night of music by members of Kevin Dean's McGill composition class. Kevin will be the feature on the weekend of April 16-17 with his special guest, Toronto-bases Terry Lukiwski, one of Canada's great trombonists. The following day (Sunday) it will be a quartet led by Toronto born pianist David Ryshpan, another musician currently studying at McGill. He'll be joined in a quartet made up of Jon Lindhorst, tenor, Alex Mallett, bass and Liam O'Neill, drums. He calls the group "Indigone". The weekend of the 23/24 will feature vocalist George Evans [the former host of CKUT's "I Feel A Song Coming On"] joined by pianist Gordon Webster, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Jim Doxas and on the last weekend of April guitarist Gabriel Lambert, who's appeared previously as a member of Kevin Dean's organ band, will be featured with reedman Joel Miller, Andre White on drums and, in from NY, keyboard player, (piano, organ), Ehud Asherie, who's been heard in NYC at Smalls, Smoke and the Rainbow Room. He was a student of the late Frank Hewitt and has worked with Clark Terry, Bob Mover, Joe Cohn and Jane Monheit among others. Scheduled for May at Upstairs are people like Andre White with Kirk MacDonald, Frank Lozano with Jim Lewis and the wonderful bassist, Kieran Overs, Min Rager's Quartet with Kelsley Grant, Cameron Wallis with Jon McCaslin and a Christine Jensen band featuring sister Ingrid.
McGill Big Band I under Foote (Gordon that is) will be at the Indiana Restaurant [2001 University] on Tuesday, April 13, beginning at 8pm. On the 15th jazz violinist Mireille Proulx, with pianist John Sadowy, makes a noon appearance in the Studio-Theatre of Place des Arts in the Les Melodines series. Le Va-et-Vient [3706 Notre Dame W] has the Pierre St. Jak ensemble on April 13th, Remi Jean with Michel Donato and Pierre Tanguay, 14th, the Dan Thouin-Yannick Rieu Quintet, the 15th, Sean Craig Quintet, the 22nd, a trio of Alex Cote, Frederic Grenier and Ugo DiVito, the 27th and [iks] on the 30th. The quintet of trumpeter/composer Joe Sullivan with Andre Leroux, Jim Head, Daniel Lessard and Andre White appears at Bar Focaccia [2077 University] on April 15-16.
This year's winners: Contemporary Jazz, "Blow The House Down" by the Great Uncles of the Revolution. Traditional Jazz, "Lost In The Stars" by Guido Basso and Jazz vocal, "Shade" by Holly Cole.
Among those with a Montreal connection, bandleader Buddy Clark on April 2, bassist Noble "Duke" Samuels, March 20 in Minneapolis, cornet player Webster Young on December 13 in Vancouver. Wash. and in NY, pianist Gil Coggins on February 15, both of whom were around Montreal in the early 60s. Former Woody Herman drummer Don Lamond and tenorman Hans Koller, December 22, trombonist Milt Bernhart and bandleader Billy May, January 22, bassist Malachi Favors and pianist Frank Mantooth, January 30, bassist Bill Yancey, January 21, Ruth Ellington (Duke's only sister) March 6, reedman Preston Love, February 12, drummer Walter Perkins, February 17, pianist/arranger Coleridge Perkinson and bandleader/guitarist Alvino Rey, February 24, drummer Jack Sperling, March 5 and writer Grover Sales, February 14. Today came news that percussionist Chief Bey died April 8th at the age of 92. He played Montreal many years ago in a Herbie Mann group that also included Hagood Hardy and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. He also appeared in Paul Auster's film, "Blue In The Face".
The Montreal International Jazz Festival recently announced concerts by Elvin Jones Jazz Machine and by Tony Bennett and there are rumours of appearances by the Keith Jarrett trio, Karl Jannuska's group "Liberating Vines" with Brodie West, Kelly Jefferson and Fraser Hollins and the remarkable European singer David Linx as well as an outdoor event with David Amram. We also have news of Matthew Savage, the young pianist who was heard calling Coltrane tunes at up tempos during the hotel jam sessions in 2001 when he was nine. Matthew just won the National Geography Bee at the State level and will represent New Hampshire in Washington at the National level. Matt picked up a $100.00, a new globe of the world and will be bringing 60 bottles of maple syrup to give the other contestants and judges in Washington. His trio will be playing in Greenfield, NH on April 25 and Cleveland, Ohio on May 6. He turns 12 shortly. The Victoriaville Festival, May 20-24 will include Billy Bang and Han Bennink.
Justin Time recently issued items by Coral Egan (not a jazz album) and Susie Arioli. Items, including a Paul Bley solo outing (with notes by Frank Kimbrough), a Francois Carrier session with Bley, Gary Peacock and Michel Lambert and a meeting between Joanne Blouin and the Vic Vogel big band are due in May. In the Enja/Justin Time series they have releases by Cecil Taylor and the Italian Instabile Orchestra, "The Owner of the River Bank" and "Morton's Foot" by the wonderful Rabih Abou-Khalil (with delightful titles like Waltz for Dubbya and Lobotomie Mi Baba Lu) and "Here On Earth" (a reissue) by Ingrid Jensen, who also turns up along with Donny McCaslin on drummer George Schuller's "Round 'bout Now" on the Playscape label. Toronto's Sackville label has a valuable pair, "Vintage Nimmons 'n' Nine', 2 CDs of Airchecks from CBC broadcasts done between 1959 and 1964 by Phil Nimmons-led groups and "At The Garden Party" with seven tracks from that Toronto locale done in 1978 by Ed Bickert and Don Thompson (bass) and four previously unreleased tracks, with Terry Clarke added on drums, from December 1976. From Effendi we have reedman Michel Cote's "Lapon Baleze". "Reunion" by the Effendi Jazzlab band and "Big Band" by Joe Sullivan's orchestra. From Ambiance Magnetiques there's "10 Compositions de Jean Derome", a beautifully recorded trio outing with Jean, Normand Guilbeault and Pierre Tanguay.
In the vocal category there's Caroline Nadeau with French versions of things like "Boplicity", "Doodlin'", "Tunisia" and "'Round Midnight" and material from the pens of Diane Tell and Charles Aznavour. Johnny Scott's "Easy Living" has the leader doubling tenor sax with Geoff Lapp, Paul Johnston and Dave Laing. Three arrived from the West Coast, "Everytime We Say Goodbye" by Renee Doruyter joined by a trio including pianist Lorne Kellett, "How My Heart Sings" by Kate Hammett Vaughan joined by pianist Chris Gestrin and Andre Lachance and others, "Compositions by Musicians" (Jazzlink), a dozen tracks by former Montreal resident Lorraine Foster with Miles Black on piano on items like Gerry Mulligan's "Ballad of Pearly Sue" and Dave Frishberg's "I Want To Be A Sideman" and "Practically Naked" by Stevie Valance, who livened things up Valentine's Day here at Upstairs and, from Toronto, "Cactus Flowers" by Sheila Jordan student Yvette Tollar assisted by people like pianist Dave Restivo and drummer Daniel Barnes. Barnes has his own "Culmination" where he's joined by a variety of musicians including Mike Murley, Kelly Jefferson and Kevin Turcotte. Bassists are represented by some wonderful 1969 "live" Montreal material by Michel Donato with Brian Barley, Alan Penfold and Claude Ranger and Steve Haines Quintet's "Beginner's Mind", on John Snyder's reactivated Artists House label. The Occhipintis have been busy; bassist Roberto has "The Cusp" that features Phil Dwyer, Hilario Duran, Turcotte and Hugh Marsh, while guitarist David is joined on "Intersection" by Murley, Andrew Downing and Terry Clarke. "The Hallmark Sessions" contains some 1961 material recorded by a young, 21 year old Lenny Breau with Rick Danko and Levon Helm. Tenorman Bob Brough switches to soprano on one track of "A Decade of Favorites" that features people like Mike Downs and Bob McLaren on a collation of Bob's favourite tracks. Trombonist Ian McDougall latest sextet recording is "Night In Vancouver" which has Bob Taggart (on saxophone), Ron Johnston, Oliver Gannon and Lachance while the trumpet of Guido Basso is heard along with Lorne Lofsky, Joey DeFrancesco and Vito Rezza on "One Take" [Alma]. In the piano field Brian Dickinson's "Soul Mission" features the superb Jerry Bergonzi with Jim Vivian and Ted Warren, David Braid debuts as a leader on "Sextet Live" which has Murley and John McLeod, Steve Wallace and Terry Clarke and Ron Davis is featured on "Solo, Duo, Trio". Drummer Sandro Dominelli is joined by the likes of trumpeter Bob Tildesley and Restivo on "Café Varze Jazz" spotlighting the compositions of Ron Varze. The soundtrack of the film "Jack Paradise" was written, in the main, by James Gelfand and features locals like Dawn Tyler Watson, Aron (not Erin) Doyle, Ron DiLauro, Donato and Jim Hillman. Pianist/composer Louise Denson, now living in Australia, has "Clean Start" with Helen Russell impressive on bass.
© Len Dobbin 2003
Montreal, Quebec, Canada