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Toronto Jazz Band
Toronto Jazz Band

 

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Toronto Jazz Band


The Jazz Story

An Abstract Story about Jazz, from a Jazz Drummers’ Perspective


Where does jazz begin?

Jazz in the Universe (Interplanetary jazz?);
Jazz on the planet (World Music / Intercontinental jazz / Jazz Festivals?);
Jazz on the Continent (North American Jazz?);
Jazz in Canada (National Jazz?);
Jazz in Ontario (Provincial Jazz?);
Jazz in Toronto (City Jazz?);
Jazz in Etobicoke (Municipal jazz?);
Jazz in Royal York Gardens (local jazz?);
Jazz in my parents’ basement (fundamental jazz / jazz beginnings?)...

All jazz begins somewhere...

When you really understand jazz, do you really understand it? If you asked many jazz musicians where jazz begins, they would probably relate a story about the first time they heard a jazz record, or the first time their parents took them to a jazz concert.

Maybe it was being played on a jazz radio station, or maybe you were walking by a room where someone was listening to jazz on a set of walkman speakers? Could the genesis of your passion for jazz be traced back to a jazz LP that was introduced to you by a jazz aficionado?

If you are from a country where certain liberties have been or are currently repressed, were you told: “You cannot listen to jazz!” “You must not listen to jazz!” “Jazz music is the music of the devil!” “Jazz music is forbidden!” “Jazz music is verboten!” “Listening to jazz will land you in jail if you are caught!” “Jazz music corrupts the youth of our country with its promise of free expression and a life without rules!” “Jazz music is the music of gypsy scoundrels!” “Jazz music undermines the morale fabric of our society!”

Sigmund Freud, who would probably have been deemed “the jazziest psychoanalyst of his day,” might have looked upon this repression of expression as a form of “paradoxical intention,” or (as it is commonly known) “reverse psychology.”

In other words; when you tell someone they cannot do something, you may actually be commanding them to carry out the opposite of your command. Some people are contrarians by nature. Tell a contrarian that they cannot/must not listen to jazz, and you might as well lock them in a room with a jazz band and have them listen for hours on end.

Repressive regimes and the dictators that lead them may have actually worked toward driving people toward jazz as an underground movement. Imagine that? In their wildest dreams, do you think these people would have ever guessed that they helped to boost the unconscious desire of their surfs to make room for jazz on the landscape of their mental fiefdoms?

Of course there are many schools of psychoanalytic thought, but one cannot negate the contribution of Carl Jung, who wrote extensively on the (jazzy) topic of “symbols.” Was Jung actually a repressed jazz musician wannabe? After all, his work on symbols was very abstract, and could with a little stretch of the imagination, be construed as an unconscious desire to work with cymbals (Zildjian or Sabian), in much the same way a jazz drummer would improvise the jazz ride cymbal pattern.

Ah, but I momentarily digress, in much the same manor as a “Coltrane-like” jazz tenor saxophonist might when “going off” on a jazz soloing tangent. Certain jazz instrumentalists like the jazz sax players, jazz guitarists, jazz bass players, jazz clarinetists, jazz trumpet players, jazz flautists, jazz violinists, jazz tuba players, jazz piano players, jazz drummers, and of course jazz kazoo players, symbolize (cymbolize?) a certain degree of freedom, in that they do not have to perform under the same dictatorial constraints as the classical musician.

Although just as developed from the perspective of technique, the jazz artist can soar above the music, much like an Air Canada Jazz plane would fly amongst the clouds. Whereas the classical musician, not versed in the voicing of jazz chords, jazz scales, jazz history, and the spirit of jazz would find themselves handcuffed to a piece of jazz sheet music, devoid of the “jazz,” and without any soul (jazz); the jazz performer often finds themselves in a state of “jazz euphoria.”

Jazz euphoria is a resultant stage, brought about through the seamless jazz fusion of time, chords, harmonies, rhythm, melody and feeling, melded together like the way water takes the shape of the container it is free to be contained within.

Jazz euphoria is also known as “groove, feel, in the pocket, and swing” As the song says: “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing!” All jazz that swings is good jazz. It may not be to your particular taste in jazz, but that’s OK, because if you don’t like this “jazz bus” there’ll be another one comin’ in ten minutes.

So “take five” and get your jazz pumps on. Hot jazz, cool jazz, fast jazz, slow jazz, New Orleans jazz, New York jazz, Chicago jazz, Acid jazz, soft jazz, loud jazz, easy listening jazz; and my favorite: “Big Band Jazz,” will get your toes tapping, and fingers snapping.

Who knows? If you are now a jazz piano player, maybe your inspiration to play could be traced back to the first time you listened to: Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Bernie Senensky, Chick Corea, Tony Padalino, Art Tatum, Hilario Duran, Kenny Wheeler, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bill King, David Braid, Eric Boucher or Bill Evans.

If you play jazz saxophone, you were probably inspired by: Johnny Hodges, Illinois Jacquet, Sidney Bachet, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Frank Foster, Joe Lavono, Michael Brecker, Eric Marianthal, Bob Berg, Bob Brough, Michael Stuart, Pat Labarbara, Don Menza, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Jim Galloway, Alex Dean, Mike Murly, Moe Koffman, Super Sax, or Paquito D’Rivera. Bill Clinton???

Now before we go any further, keep in mind the initial question that I asked you at the beginning of this abstract: “Where does jazz begin?” Have you made the investment? What investment you ask? The sound investment required to truly gain an understanding as to the “beginnings of jazz.”

The investment in jazz is akin to the investment in higher education: “The acquisition of the educated mind will lead to the philosophical perspective of “nothingness.”

Nothingness is the beginning of understanding. Education, particularly in jazz, will clear any unfounded notions, cognitive distortions, factual inaccuracies, and misguided perspective. To answer the question: “Where does jazz begin?” one must clear the mind of the aforementioned, to make room for the jazzy concept of nothingness.

Does this not answer the question: “Where does jazz begin”?

In 1964, I thought jazz began when I first heard Buddy Rich and his Big Band. A couple of years later, I also heard the great “pop” horn bands: “Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears.” I thought both of those bands played a very jazzy form of pop or rock music. I was temporarily confused: was this jazz or rock? The lines were blurred. (At least for me)

Danny Seraphine, the drummer for Chicago, and Bobby Colomby, the drummer for Blood, Sweat and Tears, both struck me as great jazz-fusion-rock drummers that could effortlessly cross musical boundaries with the greatest of ease.

Even Ringo; that’s right Ringo Starr, the drummer with The Beatles, had a certain “swing” to his playing. John Bonham, the monstrously good drummer with Led Zeppelin, built a lot of his drum solos around the basic rhythm of jazz: the triplet. Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones is a self proclaimed jazz drummer!

Stevie Wonder played most of the instruments; including the drums, on the albums he made in the “60’s & 70’s.” If you listen carefully to the way he played his shuffle beats, you can easily trace the beginnings of Rap, Hip Hop, House, and a whole variety of other styles he influenced. Stevie is the essence of jazz in all he does!

At the risk of alienating all of those DJ’s and Hip Hop Artist’s that were probably born sometime in the 80’s (which is probably the worst period in music history), and weaned on a constant diet of electro-pop, I have to ask the question: “When and why did they drop the “C” from the word: “Rap?”

Ah but once again, I digress!

Listen to Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Joe Morello, Philly Joe Jones, Joe Jones, Max Roach, Louis Bellson, Butch Miles, and you will hear the essence of jazz: the triplet. Did jazz begin at the triplet? Classical music contained triplet rhythms, but it didn’t swing. So… where did jazz begin?

When I was too young to drive but old enough to sneak into jazz clubs, I used to take the bus and the subway from the suburbs in Etobicoke where I grew up, to Toronto’s downtown jazz clubs to hear Terry Clarke play.

Terry was my all-time favorite jazz drummer. (To me, Terry still ranks up there with Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and Garry Novak) When he played, not only could I feel the triplet pulse – I could literally see it!”

To this day, Terry is one of the most in-demand jazz drummers in history, having played with everyone from: Toshiko Aikioshi, Jim Hall, Oscar Peterson, and Don Menza, to winning a Grammy Award with The Boss Brass. To my knowledge, Terry is the only drummer in history to be awarded the “Order of Canada,” from the Governor General of our great country!

To this day, I still drive out of my way to hear Terry play. Years ago, when Terry left the Toronto jazz scene to move to New York, for the “Big Apple Jazz Scene,” I used to call Terry and leave messages on his machine asking him to call me to let me know where he was playing.

Each time I went to New York to check out the jazz scene, I used to ask all the “heavy jazz players,” if they knew were Terry was playing, and he always seemed to be “on the road” when I went down to NY on my search for jazz. (I guess there is a fine line between being a “fan and a stalker. :-})

Have you heard Terry play? Are you familiar with any of the jazz CD’s that exist outside of your current world? Do you believe the best investment you could ever make is the investment in your education? If so, do you think the concept of “nothingness” is attainable?

Is this where jazz begins?

I think I’m going to take my drum, and beat it!

 


 

 

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