Free Admission – Excellent Music – 9/23/08

For those of you in New York City or the vicinity, I share with you an invitation to hear Bill Kirchner (soprano saxophone) and Marc Copland (piano) In Concert at The New School Jazz Performance Space on Tuesday, September 23, 8 p.m. [55 West 13th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, 5th floor]

In Bill’s own words:

Marc Copland and I have been friends and musical colleagues for 30 years, and we’ve played together many times in a variety of groups and settings.  Some of the best musical moments of my career have involved Marc, who is one of the most gifted and original musicians I know.

An example:  some years ago we played a duo concert, in which we did a free improvisation that went so well that I was able to transcribe it from a recording and orchestrate it.  It turned out as a very nice piece for jazz quartet and string quartet.  Once in a while, you get lucky.

I have every reason to think that we’ll be lucky at this concert as well.  I hope you can join us.

Brick Fleagel and Luther Henderson

I received an email this morning from Ed Danielson reminding me that today is Brick Fleagel’s 102nd birhday. Happy Birthday Brick. If you don’t know about Brick Fleagel, read what I wrote about him three years ago today  (drat! tempus is fugiting faster than I’d like!) and this email response from Bill Crow.

And if you don’t know who Ed Danielson is, he’s the host of The Morning Beat, KUVO’s weekday morning drive-time program. (You can listen to KUVO online here.) Ed’s been hosting the Denver program since June of 2001 and I have just learned that he regularly makes note of the birthdays of jazz musicians, both living and departed. In his email Ed asked if I knew when Brick died and while I once thought that date was circa 1981, I now think it was more like 1992 because Billie Henderson (Luther’s widow) remember’s Brick’s death as being shortly before the Broadway opening of Jelly’s Last Jam. Memories are suspect, however, so as a biographer I will have to keep looking for a verifiable date.

And speaking of Billie Allen Henderson, a respected actress and director in her own right, I want to tell you that she has established a Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund within the Juilliard School. A smashing evening benefit gala entitled “Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around” will be held on October 6th at Juilliard’s Jay Sharp Theatre. (Read more about the scholarship and gala here on the LHSF site and  here in JazzTimes magazine.)

Gerald Wiggins Memorial Tribute

To read Gerald Wiggins’ bio/obit, click here.

The Memorial tribute for Gerry Wiggins will be

Monday, July 28, 2008
6:30 P.M. – doors open
7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. program
reception to follow on site

@ the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

Theatre Address:
4718 West Washington Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90016

Click here for directions to the theatre>

Conveniently located 1- block east of the theatre, complimentary parking is available at one of our two lots, located on the corner of Washington and Vineyard. Click here for a map>

Postscript: Tempus is Fugiting

For those of you looking to read about Gerald Wiggins, the bio/obit is just below this brief postscript (or click here).

There’s no more powerful reminder of the fleetingness of life, than the death of someone close to you. Well, maybe a brush with death yourself, but my own firsthand experience proves even that message can wear off over time.  DevraDoWrite has been silent for nearly three months, and perhaps it would amuse Wig that his death has spurred me back into action. We became close friends almost 38 years ago; he was on the road playing for Helen Humes and we met in Nice, France at Le Grand Parade du Jazz.  We continued our friendship in New York where Helen would play long engagements at The Cookery in Greenwich Village. In those early years that followed, Wig was a long-term house guest in the apartment I shared with our mutual friend, Ernie who also played piano and worked for the Musicians’ Union. We had two pianos in the apartment and many wonderful parties populated with friends and neighbors including Helen Humes, Tommy Flanagan, Norman Simmons, Richard Wyands, Jerry Dodgion… wonderful music and memories that I will always cherish.

Wig taught me a lot of cool chord changes back when I was still playing piano, but more important was what I learned from his example through the years:

“My name is Joe and I don’t know.” — never speak ill of anyone;

“My name is Jess, it’s not my mess.” — never meddle in someone else’s business;

“My name is Sam, don’t give a damn” — don’t let anyone get you down.

And I watched Wig fight his own demons and win.

Plagued by health problems, these last few years were really hard on him, but he kept rebounding, returning time and again to his family, his friends, and to the piano to create more live and recorded musical memories for his fans. He was well loved and will be sorely missed.

Gerald Wiggins R.I.P.

Gerald Wiggins began classical piano lessons at the age of four. Like most children, he was not wildly enthusiastic about Chopin or Beethoven, but he did display an aptitude for music. What finally got his undivided attention was an Art Tatum recording played for him by his cousin. “When I first heard that record, I thought it was two or three people playing at the same time.” When it was time for high school, Wig was able to attend New York’s High School of Music & Art in Harlem where, because of the abundance of piano students, he studied bass. Wig’s professional career began while he was still in high school. His very first gig was playing piano with Dr. Sausage & His Pork Chops, a tramp band complete with washboard and single string bass made from a washtub and pole. His next job was at Monroe’s Uptown House. He studied by day, maybe had time for a quick nap, and then played from midnight until dawn, only to head straight back to school. Later he got a gig at a club in Greenwich Village that earned him $3 a night, which was good money in those days. After finishing his last show at four o’clock in the morning, more often than not, he might stop off at Reuben’s, an after-hours hangout favored especially by the pianists. It was there, in the basement of a brownstone in Harlem, that Wig got to know his first idol, Art Tatum.

It was not unusual to see Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, or Willie “the Lion” Smith each taking a turn at the old upright piano. Whenever Art Tatum came in, Reuben would line up a few quarts of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Art would drink some, and then set to playing, usually solo. Wig listened intently, soaking up the lessons he’d never get in the classroom. “Art was the kind of guy that if you asked him to show you how he did something, he would, but nine times out of ten you couldn’t do it anyhow!”

After hearing Wig play at Reuben’s, Tatum was impressed enough to recommend Wig for a job with movie comedian Stepin Fetchit. “I did some playing with Stepin Fetchit,” recalls Wig, “but I had to do other bits too. He used me as something of a straight man. We worked a lot, touring all over in lots of one-horse towns, but I was making $50 a week and that was really a lot of money back then.”

It was while working with Stepin Fetchit at the Brooklyn Strand in New York that Wig met Les Hite, whose band was also on the bill. At the end of the engagement, Les’ pianist was drafted into the Army and Wig was invited to join the band. The band was based in Los Angeles, and Wig rode out to the coast with them on the tour bus. Leaving the cold winter snows behind them, they arrived in California on Christmas Day, greeted by sunny 100-degree weather. “I called my mother and said ‘I’m in God’s country.’” No matter how many times work took Wig out of town, no matter for how long, he always returned to Los Angeles. Wig also recorded with Les Hite’s band and was playing on the historic 1942 recording of “Jersey Bounce,” the one with a pioneering bebop solo by Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1943, Louis Armstrong was in Los Angeles and asked Wig to make a cross-country tour with his band. They toured by bus, playing each night in a different town. Everything was going great until they got to the South. Having been raised in New York, Wig was not accustomed to the racial discrimination that was still prevalent in the southern states. “I put in my notice with Louis as soon as we got to New York,” remembers Wig. “Then Benny Carter called me a few days later and asked me to join his band. I asked him if he was going to go south and he said ‘Oh, no, of course not, don’t worry about it.’ Naturally, the first stop the band made was in Macon, Georgia! I got so mad at Benny that I put in my notice. J. J. Johnson and Max Roach had to talk me out of quitting.” Like Les Hite, Benny Carter was also based in Los Angeles and Wig was very happy when the tour ended and they could go back home.

In 1944, while playing an engagement with Benny Carter at Billy Berg’s in Hollywood, the war interrupted Wig’s professional career. Luckily, Uncle Sam turned out to be a jazz supporter and Wig’s two-year stint in the military (1944-46) landed him in Seattle where he played with the 29th Special Service Band at Fort Lewis. The band’s responsibilities included Saturday night performances at the USO, and Wig easily found time to play in the local jazz clubs as well, quickly becoming a fixture in the Seattle jazz scene. Paul de Barros, author of “Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle,” writes about Wig “playing sizzling-fast solos at concerts while reading a book…sheer bravado.”

After his release from the military, Wig stopped off in San Francisco and stayed for two years. The jazz grapevine is notoriously fast, and Wig’s reputation had preceded him. He and bassist Charlie Oden, who had also been in the Army band with Wig in Seattle, played some gigs together, and Wig also joined a group with bassist Vernon Alley, reedman Jerome Richardson, and guitarist Eric Miller.

Finally, Wig made his permanent home in Los Angeles. He played a long stint in the Turban Room, the club adjoining the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue, Los Angeles’ street of jazz. He also rejoined Benny Carter for a while, but soon signed on with Lena Horne to tour the United States and Europe. While they were in Paris, Wig also recorded two albums for a foreign record label, one with Zoot Sims and the other with Roy Eldridge.

By 1952, Wig was back home once again and busier than ever. He enjoyed the variety of playing engagements with many different artists and ensembles, but he loved playing with his own trio. He spent a lot of time in recording studios, and the name Gerald Wiggins can be found on at least two-dozen records released in the 1950s alone. One of the more historic recording highlights was the session for “Welcome to the Club”—Nat King Cole backed by the Count Basie Orchestra with Gerald Wiggins at the piano, honored to have been asked to sit in Basie’s chair.

Not only was Wig in demand as a sideman to play and record with jazz legends such as Milt Jackson, Art Pepper, Cal Tjader, Benny Carter and others, but during that same period he also recorded several albums as leader of his own trio. Wig’s first trio album, aptly titled “The Gerald Wiggins Trio,” was released in 1953. Wig, along with bassist Joe Comfort and drummer Bill Douglass recorded six standard tunes and two of Wig’s own original compositions. This same trio also recorded “The Loveliness of You” (Tampa, 1956). In 1957 both albums were re-released, the first by Dig Records under the title “Wiggin’ With the Wig” and the second by Motif Records under the title “Reminiscin’ with Wig.” Joe Comfort, who was working frequently with Nelson Riddle at the time, was not always available. On a date with Cal Tjader, Wig had met and worked with bassist Eugene Wright. Eugene may be best known for his later work with Dave Brubeck, but his musical contributions as a member of the Gerald Wiggins Trio were thankfully recorded on two albums: “Around the World in 80 Days” (Original Jazz) came out in 1956 and “The King and I” came out in 1958 on Challenge Records.

Throughout the 1950s, Wig kept up an exhausting schedule reminiscent of his round-the-clock days of high school. Most nights he was working in one club or another, and during the day he was likely to be at a recording session, in a studio working as rehearsal pianist for Lucille Ball, or on the lot of a movie studio coaching actress Marilyn Monroe for those movie roles that required her to sing. In appreciation, Marilyn gave him an autographed picture and the inscription read, “For Gerry, I can’t make a sound without you. Love you, Marilyn.” That photo still hangs on his wall today.

Wig had become well known for his musical sensitivity and his ability to accompany featured artists and singers. Accompaniment is an art form in itself, but Wig says there are some basic principles: “Stay out of their way! Don’t get on their notes; be in the background at all times. With singers I play differently behind each one, because each one sings different; I adapt my style to their way of singing.”

Wig’s reputation as a master accompanist was a mixed blessing; he was never without work, but he had less and less time to devote to leading his trio. Before Wig’s working schedule became completely dominated by tours with various singers, Wig managed to complete two more trio recordings. “Wiggin’ Out,” with Joe Comfort and Bill Douglass was released in 1960 on Hi-Fi, and “Relax and Enjoy It,” with drummer Jackie Mills replacing Bill Douglass, came out the following year on Contemporary Records. He would not have an opportunity to record with a trio of his own again until 1974.

Throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s, Wig worked some of the best singers of jazz and popular music, both male and female: Nat King Cole, Lou Rawls, Ernie Andrews, Joe Williams, Joe Turner, Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Kay Starr, Dinah Washington, Esther Phillips, and Helen Humes, to name a few. Even though the 1960s and 1970s were dominated by singers, that didn’t stop Wig from recording with a diversity of other artists including King Pleasure in 1960 and Teddy Edwards in 1962. And even while touring almost exclusively with Helen Humes in the 70s, Wig squeezed in more recordings including the movie soundtrack for Lady Sings the Blues in 1971, and albums with Joe Pass in 1973, and Harry “Sweets” Edison in 1975.

Wig was on the move so much that you might well have asked, where is Wig? He answered that question with a long awaited trio recording titled “Wig Is Here.” At the time of the recording in 1974, Wig was playing at the Nice Jazz Festival in France with Helen Humes. Wig asked bassist Major Holley and drummer Ed Thigpen, who were both playing at the same festival, to join him and they recorded six tunes for a French label called Black & Blue. One of those tunes, F.B.O.T., was a new version of a tune titled “Strip City” that Wig had written for a movie starring Marilyn Monroe. “It was a song I had recorded with Jackie Mills for the movie Let’s Make Love. They wanted some bump-and-grind burlesque music so we put together a wild thing off the top of our heads.” Wig continued on as accompanist to Helen Humes right up to her death in 1981. It was time for Wig to focus once again on his own career.

Wig was just as busy in the 1980s. From jazz parties to clubs to concert halls and outdoor amphitheaters, from California to New York to Europe and Japan, Wig was working everywhere at everything. And he did work occasionally with a few singers. Once again he was too busy to devote much time to his own group or to record on his own, but he did make several recordings with a lot of his musical friends: Linda Hopkins, Gerald Wilson, Maxine Sullivan, Jimmy Witherspoon, Scott Hamilton, Red Holloway, Clark Terry, and again with Joe Pass.

One of the most memorable recordings for Wig during this period was “Digital Duke,” the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington with J. J. Wiggins on bass. Wig’s son, now known as Hassan Shakur, followed in his father’s footsteps at an early age. By the time he was thirteen, “Jay Jay” was playing professionally and recording with the Craig Hundley Trio. He left to join the Ellington Orchestra and now plays frequently with Monty Alexander. Between then and now, some of Wig’s happiest gigs have been collaborations between father and son.

There was no slow down in the 1990s, but Wig did find time to record two albums of his own. These two recordings are perhaps the most personal and self-revealing to date. “Gerald Wiggins Live at Maybeck Recital Hall” (Concord Records 1990) is a solo album for which Wig’s close friend and fellow pianist wrote the liner notes. “He doesn’t just play a concert,” wrote Jimmy Rowles. “He uses the approach of telling his story…” The second album, “Soulidarity” (Concord 1995) is the only recording featuring Wig’s 1990s trio with Andy Simpkins on bass and Paul Humphrey on drums. “We share one musical soul which inspired the title,” explains Wig. This trio was special.

Describing the trio’s performance at Lionel Hampton 90th Birthday Party and Benefit Concert, Los Angeles Times writer Don Heckman wrote “The trio of Gerald Wiggins on piano, Andy Simpkins on bass and Paul Humphrey on drums was superb, playing a set that defined the manner in which jazz can be simultaneously imaginative, elegant and swinging.” It is not often that a jazz club performance gets a lengthy review (25+ column inches) in The Hollywood Reporter, but this trio did. Sadly, Andy died in 1999 leaving his two cohorts, along with the trio’s friends and fans with this one recording and many wonderful memories of live performances.

Many honors and accolades have been, and continue to be, bestowed on the Wig. He has been honored by the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers. By proclamation of Mayor Tom Bradley, the citizens of Los Angeles have celebrated Gerald Wiggins’ Day, a day topped off by the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s annual awards event with Wig as the main honoree. While somewhat reticent about his own accomplishments and honors received, Wig has always been a willing participant when it comes to honoring others. Such appearances include UCLA’s Duke Ellington Centennial Celebration, the University of Redlands’ Tribute to Jimmy Rowles, the Joe Pass Memorial Tribute sponsored by the Musicians’ Union, an all-star tribute to Benny Carter at the Hollywood Bowl, and the Los Angeles Music Center’s extravaganza Salute to the Songs of Johnny Mercer featuring Michel Feinstein, Charlayne Woodard of Ain’t Misbehavin’ fame, and others. Wig was also among the few players selected to play at tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, and at the Dorothy Chandler Performing Arts Award ceremony honoring George C. Wolfe, director of Jelly’s Last Jam.

Wig was always extremely generous in sharing his time and his talents with fellow musicians, especially the younger ones. Washington Preparatory High School honored Wig at one of their annual Jazzin’ at the Prep festivals to make public their thanks for his steady support and gift of time. Wig was also a mentor for jazz students at Santa Monica College. He loved to share his knowledge with aspiring and seasoned performers alike. Young pros such as pianists Benny Green, Eric Reed, and bassist John Clayton have felt free to call on Wig for advice. Clayton even recommended his bass students to study with Wig, proclaiming him to be “a one-man jazz history lesson.”

Wig has spent a lot of time with historians, both amateur and professional, who want to document the histories of jazz and in so doing perpetuate the art form. The book “Central Avenue Sounds” contains a chapter by Wig, and UCLA conducted extensive interviews with Wig as part of their Oral History Program focusing on Central Avenue, a section of Los Angeles that was as important to jazz as New York’s 52nd Street. The Hamilton College Jazz Archives also includes footage of interviews with Wig along with other jazz greats. Wig was always a willing and invaluable resource for students, researchers, and authors who wanted to learn the facts from someone who was there.

Despite his appreciation of history, Wig was never one to live in the past. Until these last few years his schedule was jam packed with lessons and live appearances. Wig and his wife Lynn especially enjoyed the jazz cruises and parties where they could catch up with musical buddies and mingle with Wig’s fans. They even saved memorabilia like the Triangle Jazz Party program book where the musicians—John Bunch, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Butch Miles—all signed each other’s copies as if it were their high school yearbook.

In addition to the nightclub and concert appearances, the jazz parties and cruises, Wig was likely to pop up in delightfully unexpected locations. Several years ago one of Wig’s high school teachers happened upon him at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center where UCLA had invited the trio to play as part of the Westwood Jazz at the Hammer series. Wig’s teacher wrote him a note telling him to “keep spreading joy by spreading the music around.” She commented on “what a diverse group the music had pulled in…a wonderful, elderly Filipino gentleman taping a foot in open-toed sandals, nearby attractive couples of all ages and colors, and beautiful kids running around and stopping to listen and move to the rhythms…”

Jazz reviewer Kirk Silsbee wrote of “the kind of heads up creativity that has become a hallmark of Wiggins’ playing as an accompanist to singers, as a band pianist, as a leader of his own trio…The kind of synchronicity among musicians – in time, dynamics, and musical lane changes – only comes from years of interaction.” Wig has been a mainstay in jazz for more than sixty years, and his influence remains strong in the hands of younger players including Benny Green and Eric Reed.

“The Wig” died this morning in the hospital.

Jazz Org Lament

Come birthday time people often look in the rear-view mirror, and my husband is no exception. John Levy is just a few days shy of celebrating his 96th birthday. Happy as he is to awake each day, to drive about town (and out of town, too), to listen to live music (Sonny Rollins at Cerritos Center this past Saturday was especially wonderful), I am aware that it must be fairly depressing for him to consider the vast numbers of people he has outlived, including one son and almost all of his best friends, Joe Williams and Cannonball Adderley among them. The collection of obituaries that we cut out from the newspaper grows way too quickly. Yet I think there is something that saddens him even more — having lived all these years hoping to see some change, when little if any change has occurred.

I can think of two interrelated areas of concern, things about which he might even have prayed for change. The first is racism, inextricably linked to the social class-ism from which our culture suffers as we watch the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class all but disappear. The second cause for lament is the state of jazz – which maybe alive, but is not well. The music survives almost against the odds. The media prefers “smooth jazz” and supports amateur contests in lieu of paying talented professionals who have honed their craft. And let’s not even discuss the launch of white pop singers under the guise of jazz . (We call them ‘chanteusees’.) Jazz clubs that once existed all across the country have vanished, jazz promoters have limited budgets requiring artists to fly around the country on multi-leg journeys, and even the jazz organizations want the artists to appear for nominal sums, if not for free — “it’s good exposure” or “you’ll sell your CDs” being the all-to-familiar pitch. Even worse is the pay-to-play syndrome, which is pretty much the scenario even at the IAJE convention (International Association of Jazz Educators). And speaking of that particular organization, today we read a piece online (Woe is IAJE) about what appears to be the organization’s demise. After reading it, John shook his head and said, “Nothing’s changed.”

Both issues are rooted in struggles over race, power, and money. Here’s an account of one of John’s many attempts to “organize” the jazz people; this particular episode (excerpted from “Men, Women, and Girl Singers”) took place 33 years ago this month.


On April 6, 1975, the World Jazz Association met for the first time. Our goal was to promote jazz music and musicians on a global scale. Jazz seemed to be the only genre without a national organization. The first bone of contention was who would run such an organization—the businessmen or the musicians? A compromise was reached with the selection of Paul Tanner as president. He had been a professional musician and was now a jazz educator at UCLA. I too fit the description of both musician and businessman and I was officially elected as chairman of the board.

The next challenge was to build alliances with other existing organizations. I can’t speak for any other WJA members, but it was never my plan to actually merge with any other group on an operational level, or even to take over a function that another organization was fulfilling. On a trip to New York the following month I met with some New York jazz organizers. It was a fiasco. They were convinced we were trying to upstage them and get our hands on whatever funding sources they had. They had fought hard to build their organizations and raise the funds to support their salaries and programs. The fear of losing their positions blinded them to the possibilities that might be afforded to a larger coalition, a coalition whose size would command recognition. When I left that meeting I had serious doubts about our prospects for success, but it was too soon to give up.

Not so much because I was the chairman of the board but because of my experience working with artists and producing shows, it was up to me to supervise the arrangements for WJA’s first in what was supposed to be a series of national fund-raising projects. The first major event was the November 14 concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I was the hands-on producer of this concert that featured Stan Getz, Les McCann, Bob James, Quincy Jones’ Big Band, and Randy Crawford singing “Everything Must Change,” a song written by Benard Ighner with an arrangement by Quincy. Joe Williams was supposed to appear as well but got snowbound in London. The show was recorded live and paid for by Bob Krasnow at Warner Brothers.

The proceeds from the recording were to go to WJA, but during the sound check on the day of the concert Stan Getz and Bob James reneged on their agreement. They refused to sign the recording contract, and the record couldn’t be released. Sometimes that’s what you get when you trust someone’s word. I probably could have taken them to court and won because they had “received consideration,” from our verbal contract. By that I mean that we had already paid for them to fly to Los Angeles to participate in the project. But I didn’t think the fight would be worth the cost or effort. Luckily, the box-office receipts alone spelled success for the concert itself, and the fund-raiser came out ahead on the financial balance sheet.

Unfortunately the WJA, as an organization, was not a success. For some reason, the jazz community has never been able to pull together for a common goal. There are a multitude of little jazz societies sprinkled across the country that advance the status of jazz, but they are mostly at a local level. True jazz lovers run them, but these people lack any real industry experience outside their own local landscape. Then there are a few more professional organizations, such as the International Association of Jazz Educators that helps preserve the history and perpetuate the jazz art form. But to this day, what doesn’t exist is a professionally run national organization to promote jazz, jazz musicians, jazz education, and jazz awareness on a national if not global level—something on a par with the Country Music Association.

Throughout the years there have been a few serious attempts to form an organization, and WJA was one attempt. But these groups fail continually. Why is it that other genres—country music, classical music, even gospel music—have been able to get it together and we haven’t? Sadly, I think the answer is a matter of racial conflict and power. Country and classical performers are mostly white and gospel musicians are mostly black; consensus is easier to come by. The world of jazz artists, on the other hand, is completely mixed. Add to that difficulty the fact that the business of jazz—the record companies, radio stations, distribution companies and the like—is controlled by whites. Those that have the money have the power, and they aren’t going to share it. Even among smaller organizations that enjoy some degree of success, black or white, you won’t find much cooperation for fear they’ll lose whatever it is (usually funding) that they’ve gained to this point.


The end is near?

For many years now I’ve heard and read of the imminent death of jazz, and this video of Giant Steps played by a robot notwithstanding, I don’t think jazz is ill, let alone dying. However, I do think that the end of the world could come first. John keeps telling me that there’s going to be a real revolution, with average folks taking to the streets, and he may be right. But before that happens, people will have to open their eyes and admit what’s happening. They will have to stop blaming THEM, and take stock of what WE have done, what WE have allowed, and what WE can do about it.

It’ll never happen to me…oops.

I used to back up my files regularly. When I started blogging I even saved text files of my posts, separate from the database in which the blog software stores my text. Then I got lax, or lazy, and stopped backing up files and seldom saved blog notes. Oops. Now something happened to my data and my last post has disappeared without a trace. I can’t even remember what I wrote. I know it was about another blog titled Jazz My Two Cents Worth and I know I recommended it to you because it’s on my blogroll. I remember perusing some of the earlier two-cents musings and quoting a snippet, and of course highly recommending the interview posted with my favorite Nightingale, Carol Sloane. And I wished her a happy birthday, too. Hopefully my original post was more finely crafted than this hasty recap. (Bob, if by any chance you happened to have saved the text of my original post, please send it to me and I will re-post.)

Grammy Kudos

Quite a few of my friends won Grammys today during the pre-telecast. Congratulations to:

“Oscar Peterson – Simply The Best”

op.jpegA free-admission memorial concert for Oscar Peterson was held at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto this past Saturday, January 12. People began queuing up before dawn, and when the show began shortly after 4pm, I dare say that all 2,630 seats were full and hundreds of fans had been turned away. John and I were among the privileged.

The presentation, titled “Oscar Peterson – Simply the Best,” was broadcast on Canadian Radio, and I’m told that streaming audio will soon be posted online. Canadian television host and journalist Valerie Pringle was mistress of ceremonies and she set the stage, so to speak, for listeners at home. First she described the huge video-projected picture of smiling Oscar looking down from center stage — his smile was remarked upon by almost everyone who spoke. Then she identified the lonely piano set off to the side, stage right, as Oscar’s Bösendorfer, and next to it a huge poster of Oscar waving to an audience with one hand, while his other hand held tight to the hand of his then five-year-old daughter Celine.

While many jazz fans maybe aware of Oscar’s humanitarian interests and fierce beliefs in justice and equality, many might be surprised at how many political friends he had. These people were not just fans, they were actually break-bread friends of long-standing. Oscar was a Companion of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of Ontario, the most prestigious official honour in the province given in recognition of the highest level of individual excellence and achievement. Two friends, who were also fellow members of The Order, on hand to speak eloquently in memory of Oscar were The Hon. Bob Rae, former Premier of Ontario, and Phil Nimmons, Canadian jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader, and Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at Univ of Toronto.

I’m not well-versed in Canadian protocol, but I’m pretty sure that the highest-ranking official on stage was Haiti-born Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, flanked by a uniformed attendant who escorted her on stage, placed her papers on the podium and stood behind her at attention until she concluded her remarks which were lengthy and alternated between English and French, then he gathered her papers and followed her off stage.

Quincy Jones reminisced lovingly of his early days and antics with Oscar, and the audio taped message from Stevie Wonder was sweet, but perhaps the most touching verbal tribute was given by Oscar’s youngest daughter Celine, now a poised young lady of 16. She spoke of her dad as only a daughter can, remembering the giggles he could evoke from her by donning her high-heeled shoes and an item or two of her apparel, and reliving her myriad travels abroad as she joined Oscar on tour, eating the best foreign foods and hanging with dad and his friends after concerts, long past-bedtime and into the wee hours of the morning.

The first music to be heard on the program was from Oscar himself — a video clip of the Oscar Peterson Trio with Niels Henning Oersted Pedersen on bass and Ulf Wakenius on guitar. Surely a tough act to follow, but the quartet with Monty Alexander (piano), Ulf Wakenius, Dave Young (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums) truly rocked the house.

Other musicians paying tribute include Hilary Kole (singer billed as Oscar’s protégé), Audrey Morris, a jazz balladeer from Chicago, and Montreal entertainer Gregory Charles. Herbie Hancock wished Oscar well on his next voyage and serenaded him on his way with a solo meditation on “Maiden Voyage.” Nancy Wilson, accompanied by Monty Alexander, sang “Goodbye” (Gordon Jenkins):

I’ll never forget you
I’ll never forget you
I’ll never forget how we promised one day
To love one another forever that way
We said we’d never say

Nobody who I have ever loved has left,” Nancy said. “They are always here.”

The tribute ended with a Oscar’s “Hymn to Freedom” featuring renowned soprano Measha Brueggergosman with the combined forces of the Faith Chorale, the Nathanial Dett Chorale and the University of Toronto Gospel choir all under the direction of pianist and CBC Radio host Andrew Craig.

Although I never felt that I knew Oscar well, I did have slightly more than a passing acquaintance and I was especially honored when he asked me to write the liner notes for the recording of his commission “Trail of Dreams: A Canadian Suite.”

There is an identifiable Oscar Peterson sound, recognizable but not categorizable. His original style does not fall easily into any specific idiom and he likes it that way. “I just do what I do and I don’t categorize myself in one category or another.” He is even reluctant to accept the title of composer. “Well I don’t pretend to be Berlioz or Haydn or Ellington,” he demurs…

I was not on hand when the suite premiered on April 11, 2000 in Roy Thompson Hall, but it felt fitting that I was there, in that very same concert hall, to pay my respects.