A significant number of jazz composers and arrangers I know and admire have credited Russ Garcia and his book, “THE PROFESSIONAL ARRANGER COMPOSER – Book 1” with having had a significant impact on their development as writers. I have owned a copy of this landmark, and hugely influential book for decades. I’ve looked through it casually from time to time, but recently, I spent some quality time revisiting the information-rich pages. I also read the Wikipedia entry for Russell Garcia and learned that he was ‘self taught’. (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.) Amazing. Not everyone who teaches themselves is so successful (if you don’t know about Garcia’s accomplishments as an arranger/composer, check out the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Russell_Garcia_(composer)&oldid=1011691281). Don’t be fooled by the self-published look of publication. (The text appears to be typed in all caps on a manual typewriter (younger readers might have to look that one up) and the examples appear hand copied with a music pen.) The contents are solid gold. In my teens my parents gave me Henry Mancini’s “Sounds and Scores”. Those two sources were practical and complimentary. The Mancini book is particularly helpful with orchestration, which the Russo text does not address significantly.
‘Twas the night of Christmas Day
Or was it the night before Boxing Day
That’s a label I’ve never understood.
Is it a day to put presents back in boxes and return them to the store?
Or prepare them for eventually regifting?
Or is it the day when families enter the ring in big baggy trunks and padded gloved and settle all family squabbles. With, of course strict adherence to the rules set out by the Marquis of Queensberry. Actually, I almost typed, “Marquis of Doonesbury”. That could be used if you want to avoid physical contact and you just want to punish your loved ones with bon mots, puns, and sophisticated political satire.
But I’m getting behind myself.
Speaking of behind of myself, did you hear about the butcher in our area who is going out of business? He backed into his meat-grinder and got a little behind in his orders. (ba-da-fish)
Trusting Santa visited your home and was wearing a mask over his beard. Also that he stayed a safe distance from everyone all snug in the beds. Also trust he used the hand sanitizers placed strategically all over the house. Also hope the flue in the chimney was open. Santa has been known to throw a hissy fit when he gets stuck in chimneys. Thank goodness that over the years he has learned to add Jiffy-Lube and WD-40 to his sack of toys. Saved his peameal bacon (we’re in Canada after all) more that once.
It may be too late, but perhaps best practices for gift opening is to wait 2 weeks (quarantinely speaking). Too late? Ah well, there’s be a vaccine along to save the day soon enough. Or we hope…sooon…..enough.
But in the meantime, let us all celebrate Christmas and be grateful for the GREAT and POWERFUL CLAUS. (That was a movie reference for the younger set). In a world in disarray, he (Santa) remains steady and dedicated to the job of doling out joy and happiness. How he manages to be in shopping malls and the North Pole and still finds time to lay some pretty cool stuff on us..on time…every year….is one of the greatest mysteries. And joy he surely brings, in generous amounts. And ours is not to question why or how.
Ours is just to sing seasonal songs with abandon. Drink the egg nog (not the Kool-aid) and muster as much optimism and gratitude as we can. Love our families to the extreme, reminisce a little, watch your favourite Christmas/Seasonal Movie. (Unless it’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in which case, maybe wait for the young ones to turn in).
We have a white Christmas here in Toronto this year. Which looks beautiful while you are sitting inside. But once you don the heavy boots, the scratchy scarf, the over-stuffed parka with the hood that doesn’t rotate when you look to the right of left and the broken zipper. Hey, staying warm is more important than seeing, isn’t it. That is, unless you are at a 4 way stop sign.
Merry Christmas to all.
I’ll start with an understatement: these are difficult times. Reading or watching the news have become risky business in the sense, that starting or ending your day engaged in catching up on things can lead to low mood or a sleepless night. At least that is how it has become for many. It is like a poison is introduced into the psyche. In my case, once the poison starts to take full effect, I need to find antidotes, and quickly.
For me, these include physical activity. Outdoors is preferred at the moment, but once winter comes, this will require more effort and determination (again speaking personally). Walking/running and other similar pursuits, can certainly help. Golf is a guaranteed mood raiser for me – even when I bring my B or C game, which is most of the time.
Here is a list of things I do, or am doing:
- reading (just about anything is good, but my latest read deserves high marks as an antidote: “Squeeze Me” by Carl Hiassen (columnist with the Miami Herald). Heavy and on-target satire of America-during-pandemic that offers belly laughs on most pages.
- listening. As a musician with eclectic appetites, I find the benefits to listening to great music (all genres) are considerable. Single tracks, full length concerts. It is amazing how much music is accessible through streaming (if only this was making the musicians a decent wage). But I have a fine turntable and LPs to enjoy as well. There are still so many that I own that have not been digitized and compressed and bring great joy to the ears.
- Watching professional sports on tv can be exciting and nerves-wracking (Raptors, Blue Jays in my case), but you sure don’t think about a second term for the oligarchic dimwit in the White House while the seconds are winding down in a close game.
- I play chess – and I am mediocre at best. But I love to play this great game with my grandchildren on line. Both are sharper than I am (ages 8 and 13) and a lot of fun to play. The realities of day to day anxiety producing world events just melt away.
- movies and tv series binging – say no more.
- Photography. No matter what camera you own. Go and take pictures of anything that strikes your fancy. Gone are the days, thankfully, of the canisters of Kodachrome 64 with a fixed number of possible images and several hours to days of turn around, before staring at a package of mostly terrible shots while standing at the drugstore counter.
- Shoot and edit video. It’s become so easy. Add music.
- Write a poem. Even a bad poem gets you started and your psyche will thank you for being given a day-pass. Edit or don’t. It’s up to you. (Unless you do this for a living – WHAT!??)
- Zoom or FaceTime with friends. Trish and I sometimes even do this while eating dinner with family or friends. We have great friends in Florida and lord knows when we will see them in person again. But we have lengthy visits with them using FaceTime. I also have two great friends with whom I Zoom once or twice a week. Usually an hour or more. Hardly replaces our every-Friday-hang at a local brewery, but offers decompression – at least 99% of the time!!!
- to be continued.
The New Normal
There are times when I hear people write or say, “When will we find the new normal”. Usually in the context of hoping for an earliest possible end to the current pandemic.
So I start wondering about “normal”. What ‘normal’ are we hoping to resurrect? Being able to go to the grocery store without a mask or without worrying about social distancing? Being able to hug your children or grandchildren? Of course. But will that be the “normal” state of human interaction and activity?
Does the ‘new normal’ include exploding warehouses in Beirut? The elections of tyrants? The ongoing battles to stabilize or destabilize political activity?
Does it include heinous crimes against humanity (pick one). Does it include the creation of a masterwork?
Nothing is normal about human existence. All we can predict is the fact that lives begin and eventually end one way or another. Maybe I should say that everything is normal.
Humans love with passion and hate with rage. Normal.
Humans are selfish and philanthropic to extremes. Normal.
Humans try to believe, to be faithful and hopeful.
Humans are cynical and pessimistic.
When the pandemic ends the ‘new normal’ will be just the same old normal. Greed and love. Kindness and brutality. Hopeful and helplessly discouraged.
But we won’t be wearing a mask. At least not a visible one.
Poison and Beauty
©2020 Paul Read
In a world pulsing with
Poisons, abusive self interest
And colossal self-destructive
Unsurpassed beauty may be found
not just in spring gardens.
And not just in the museums of Paris
Or jazz clubs in New York or Toronto
Or films at Sundance or Cannes
Or concert halls in West Palm Beach or Vienna
Or in the theatres of London
But in the love of family
The words of prophets and philosophers
The discoveries of scientists who
Search the microcosmic and the cosmic
For truths to trust
And shine a light
That scares the bejeezus out of the cockroaches
Who pretend to have our interests at heart.
Why land on Mars?
Why practice hours a day and play for the door
When they can just as easily pay 170 bucks and watch
Billionaires do next to impossible things on ballfields and courts
Or maybe less
To feel the heart and pulse of 19th century masterpieces composed
And played by
working for paltry pittances
Or painters or models posing for promises unkept.
Why squander resources on Super Bowl ads
To entertain the Culturally Starved masses and
Get them to vote for you so you can poison the air
All the while
Hating those you supposedly serve.
Who the hell wrote All the Things You Are?
What the hell is the name of ONE concentration camp
Poisoning and incinerating people
For no unearthly reason
You mean like the billionaires who try to poison us with obfuscation
Who set the traps with cheeses of misinformation?
We will survive
But, in 1000 years there will still be poison
and also beauty
In the Gardens of Spring
The galleries of Manhattan
The jazz clubs and theatres
The discoveries of galaxies and microcosms
My daily activities often begin with reading the news of the day over breakfast or listening to podcasts, watching news – on a seemingly endless cycle- on television. I, and I suspect many others, find it easy to become discouraged. Our species, capable of such great kindness and love and empathy, also succumbs to evil and violent tendencies. It has always been the case. We war, we brutalize and we lie to each other. We scramble over one another to the top of some imagined heap. My great friend, Phil, reminds me there is only room at the top for one, so the gigantic game of “Who’s the King of the Mountain” is foolish…to put it very mildly.
My daily activity includes a generous amount of listening to music, recorded or live. Also, through practicing piano I get to enjoy great music (although, marred by my unintentional mangling pieces I’m learning to play, and sometimes ones that I think I know). Listening to a great recording of a beautifully performed piece of music, masterworks and others) is a time when the best qualities of our species are completely in control. There are no political debates, no cheating, no lying, no violence toward one another. Just pure, unadulterated sound. A slice of heaven, as the saying goes. Perfect mindfulness. I enter a world where I am continuously amazed and moved or excited. The performer(s) are focused on the same thing I am. The sound. The moment. Now. Now. Now.Now…..
How powerful and pure. No deceit. A celebration of human life in its highest idealistic state. Whether the music is tragic, romantic, celebratory, heroic, inspirational, it exists as an expression of the highest of our species ideals. Our better angels visiting.
The power of human imagination is tremendous, when one chooses to use it. For me, this is important and even essential while composing music. You imagine specific players playing in a specific situation and in your inner ear you hear their sound and you can imagine the situation to great advantage (when all your circuits or spark plugs are working well.)
The human imagination can be loads of fun. Today I’ve been imagining, with astonishing success. Astonishing to me that is. Imagine actually being Neil Armstrong, for example. In this example, I start with an experience I know first hand (breathing using SCUBA gear) and then using whimsical flights of fancy, I add props…like putting on a motorcycle helmet (imagined only), and a big bully winter coat with fat mitts. I can hear my voice, not tinny and phone-like as humans on earth were able to hear, but my real voice inside the helmet saying “one small step”, as I put my big fat snow boots on the ash and dust below the bottom step. And then adding the rest, “One giant leap for mankind”. If that’s what he actually said. I know there is some argument about what was actually said. Imagine that. I mean, IMAGINE that was YOU doing that.
And saying….”One giant leap for mankind”.
Then an interesting development can take place. You can start to consider the situation in a real context. What was actually happening? Man’s first footprint on the moon was history with a capital “H”.
But was it? I mean, “a giant leap for mankind”? Maybe it was no more important than the first time a human jumped over a horizontal pole 7 feet off the ground. Unassisted. Or when Beethoven completed the final draft of the 9th symphony. Or when the first West African slave ship came ashore in the southern USA.
Maybe it WOULD have been a giant leap if Neil had found some ash or dust or even a rock up there that turned out to be a cure for all cancers.
Other experiments for the imagination. Imagine being the first person ever to ride a bike. Or set fire to something. Put yourself there. Imagine the astonishment. the sense of achievement. You probably would have wanted to run around shouting your word of choice (assuming eureka hadn’t already been taken, you certainly could shout that – or you could shout eureka anyway). How must have it felt for Wilbur Wright to experience the first moment of lift in the early part of the 20th century? Eureka!!! Bloody hell!!! Holy SHit!. I’m pretty sure the word, fuck was not used back then, but,…maybe?
There have been so many firsts. So many PROFOUND firsts. Some astonishingly beautiful or horrific. Some so destructive that their effects will never die away. Some so magnificent that human life will forever be the richer.
Who was Gordon Delamont?
A major figure in Canadian music history, Gordon (Gord) Delamont was a great and influential teacher. His list of notable students reads like a Canadian jazz composer/arranger all-star team. Wikipedia lists the following partial list: Peter Appleyard, Gustav Ciamaga, Ron Collier, Jimmy Dale, Hagood Hardy, Herbie Helbig, Paul Hoffert, Moe Koffman, Rob McConnell, Ben McPeek, Bernie Piltch, Paul Read, Fred Stone, Norman Symonds, Rick Wilkins, Maribeth Solomon, among others.
He was also a composer with a unique voice. Regrettably, few are familiar with his music. Wikipedia mentions his “Three Entertainments for Saxophone Quartet” which is published by Kendor Music. While it bears his personal stamp, the composition is not, and let me be clear this is a very personal opinion, his best or most representative work. From my perspective, his three-movement suite commissioned by the Ontario government for Expo ’67 in Montreal is quintessential Delamont. The orchestration is clear, simple, varied and rich. His use of serial techniques, which he taught us, is expertly and musically on display. The melodic lines are strong, the rhythms swinging and the harmonies fresh and engaging. The suite was recorded by a-list Toronto musicians and played on a loop at the Ontario Pavilion in Montreal in’67. Not only did it sound great on its own terms, but it captured a distinct Canadian vibe. It sounded like Canada!
I have been studying Gordon’s work lately and my first task (underway) is an analysis of the Ontario Suite. I will need permission to publish the paper because it contains score excerpts, and also, I need to track down who owns the performance rights. Hopefully permissions will be obtained soon, and I will be able to bring some well-deserved attention to this historically and artistically important composition.
How I Discovered Gordon Delamont and became his student:
When I was in my early-teens I had already been taking piano lessons (in the typical European tradition – largely German and French composers). I hadn’t played much contemporary music and if there were any Canadian composers present in my studies, I can’t remember any. Not surprisingly (as I look back) my teacher, Edith Goldthorpe, offered no opportunities to play music from the American ‘popular’ songbook or jazz of any kind. We marched down the Royal Conservatory path, playing the pieces in their graded curriculum. But Edith, to her credit, did supplement these pieces with a healthy dose of Beethoven, Kuhlau, Czerny and a few others. But my interests had already evolved. I started to hear a bit of Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and then Herbie Hancock among others. These master players were heavily influential, but so were their compositions. I began to really want to write my own music. I listened to lots of ‘classical’ recordings (my dad’s small collection). Also, I had started paying attention to film/tv music composed by Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, and others. Oliver Nelson’s tv music killed me, on top of his jazz recordings. So many of these musicians could play and write as well. And that is what I wanted to do.
So, I started off improvising at the piano. First, I slowly worked out some familiar tunes at the piano using my ear. Then I started to copy a few things I heard on records. My ear improved, and I wrote a few short piano pieces (nothing to write home about, as the saying goes). I was hungry to learn and my parents, recognizing that I was eager and needed help, bought me a copy of Henry Mancini’s “Sounds and Scores”. That was a game changer because Mancini showed score layout, the importance of learning to write and read transposed scores, orchestration both typical and atypical. I started to write out individual parts for some of the scores and I started to write for 3 horns and rhythm section. (I had joined a band by that time). My efforts were well-intentioned but much more training and education were required.
When I was 18, I contacted (the late, great) Doug Riley who I knew as a young and highly successful pianist, organist and arranger/composer. I remember thinking Doug was doing what I would like to be doing, so I asked his advice. He immediately responded. Call Gord Delamont.
Ok, I asked myself. Who is Gord Delamont? Some digging around and I found out that I had been steered to one of the most important and successful teachers in the country. He had published books on harmony and orchestration and taught many of Canada’s most respected and successful jazz musicians. That lead to my contacting him to ask for lessons and he agreed to see me for an assessment. I recall the trip to his home in the northern part of the city and being quite excited and anxious. He was kind, but business-like in that first meeting. He administered some ear tests and we spent some time talking about my musical aspirations and experience. He explained his approach to teaching and also laid down the ground rules for attending my lessons and completing assignments. I was relieved and excited when he said he would take me on as a student. But there was a wait list. In my case, that turned out to be about 6 months.
A bit of context is needed here. I had already begun my undergraduate studies at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. It was challenging and I was learning a lot, but I knew, once I was into it, that I was not going to get instruction in jazz at all. And I really wanted to study jazz composition and arranging. The only answer was to add supplemental studies with Delamont. Prior to my studying at the university I had studied harmony and counterpoint with Canadian composer, Walter Buczynski and had passed the required examinations to qualify for studies at U of T. So, I wasn’t brand new to theoretical studies.
Finally, Gordon called, and lessons commenced. I learned quickly that his approach was going to be very detailed and thorough. He took into account my previous studies but insisted that we start from scratch and work quickly (but thoroughly what I had learned or partially learned from other teachers and in university courses taken to date.
…to be continued.
I’ve started to read Mark Vonnegut’s “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So”. Those who know me well, know that I have had a life long obsession (too strong a word? – probably not) with the work of his father, Kurt Vonnegut. Mark’s first book “The Eden Express” (1975) made a huge impact on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my own battles with mental illness were emerging and Mark’s very personal account of his battle with mental illness resonated in a way I found surprising and, as a result, the book made a huge (and surprising) impact. Mark was initially diagnosed as schizophrenic, but that was later amended to the more user friendly term, bi-polar disorder.
My diagnosis has been cloudy too. I was initially told I was in the “bi-polar sphere” and then later received a more or less descriptively succinct diagnosis. I suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders along with something less well known, called “conversion disorder”. A friend once asked me about that last part and jokingly wondered if it meant I constantly changed religions. My joke about it is perhaps less humorous. I call depression, anxiety and conversion disorder the trifecta of mental illness.
These jokes, as hilarious as they may seem to be, exist to lighten the mood around serious life challenges. Mental illness is no laughing matter. In fact, although it didn’t happen in an obvious way, it cost me a great deal in my academic life and in other aspects of my diverse activities as a performing musician/educator/administrator/clinician. It likely had the least impact on my work as a composer and arranger, but, even there, there were negative consequences.
In 2005 I had a major depressive episode and had to go on long term disability from my work in the jazz performance program at the University of Toronto. In fact, I was the department head and my leaving my post for a term caused a tremendous upheaval in the staffing duties of my colleagues. While I was able to recover and teach the second term of that year and all of the following year (2007), my condition suddenly worsened and by the end of 2017 I knew I was headed back to long term disability. In January of 2008, my final official academic duty was to direct the university jazz orchestra in a fund-raising (Free the Children) concert off campus. That event on January 18, 2008 concluded with hugs with students and a wonderfully swinging and magical concert by a great iteration of the U of T Jazz Orchestra. I walked out of the concert hall (Ford Centre for the Performing Arts) and… never went back to the classroom.
In 2008 between the end of January and mid-April I spent 17 weeks as an in-patient in the psychiatric unit (affectionately referred to as F2) at Sunnybrook Hospital. The time there was essential and valuable – not that I would have told you that then.
Put succinctly, I lost my job because of my illness. Sometime in late 2008 or early 2009 I had a meeting with my dean and the department head in the jazz department. I asked them if I would be able to return to full time employment. They had every reason to give the answer they did, which went something like, “We would love to have you return to work full-time, but we need assurances you will not leave again.” Initially, and for some time, I was speechless. Talk about a Catch-22 situation. There was no way I could guarantee my staying healthy. I never was able to be reinstated as an active full-time professor of music, and long term disability lasted until my official retirement date (aged 65) in 2103. Funnily, it felt like a victory to go back on the university payroll at that point, although my income was entirely from the university pension fund.
In addition to my active status as a professor, I lost the friendship and trust of many people. Those for whom I was a first call music festival clinician/adjudicator (a significant part of my career work) stopped calling. At first I was resentful. I felt healthy enough to perform those duties (which I enjoyed on so many levels), but in actual fact, I was not able to do the work as well as I once did. To do the work, one needs to be confident, observant, articulate, empathetic and sharp-witted. I had lost a step (maybe two) in all of those areas. It took some time for me to accept all of this, and to take steps to reinvent part of my working life. As it turned out, I stopped teaching altogether.
Some who I considered good friends, no longer stayed in touch. A lot of it, I think, was (and is) that people don’t feel comfortable or confident in speaking with or hanging with those with mental illness. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from some form of this class of illnesses, the ‘gen pop’ does not understand. Too many people misuse the hurtful and erroneous word, “crazy”. Depression is often dismissed by the uninformed as mere sadness or melancholy that can be dealt with by the patient with greater will power or effort. It’s as though they are thinking, “We all have problems. We all feel sad from time to time. Pull up your bootstraps and tough it out.” Etc. Those misguided, uninformed reactions are understandable if one hasn’t spent time looking at these illnesses carefully. If you have a form of mental illness, you know these are not answers. Many was the time I wished that my ‘trifecta’ of mental illness required wearing a cast or a sling. Those tangible signs of injury are never dismissed as fakery or hypochondriacism. Instead, the black dog visits and is invisible to all but the closest friends and family. To the person whose relationship with the black dog is personal and frightening, his or her appearance brings on the beginning of hours or days or weeks of battle. Sometimes it’s a battle to survive.
I’ll return to Vonnegut before concluding. In 1972, while out on a practice teaching assignment I was lucky to be paired with an ‘associate teacher’ whose first name was Jay. My secondary teaching certificate was in English. My main subject area was music. The week I spent with him and his students was a game changer. He and I talked about Kurt Vonnegut (in those days his name included, Jr.). I may or may not have read “Slaughterhouse Five” at that time. It had been published 3 years older and had made Kurt an instant celebrity and suddenly very wealthy. But I know I HAD read “Player Piano (1952) and “Cat’s Cradle (1963). My associate teacher/mentor, Jay, was one of those people one instantly respects and deserves close attention. He told me, in his opinion, KV was one of the 20th century’s most important authors and that I should read as much of his work as possible. This didn’t just pop out of the blue. We had long discussions during my time as a student teacher. His views on so many things were of tremendous value. I wish I knew his last name. I often think about him.
That experience lead to a lifetime of reading everything by KV that I could find. Not just the novels as they came out (every trip to a bookstore started with a visit to the shelves where Vonnegut’s work was displayed), but any and all short stories and collections of stories. I found audiobooks with his reading abridged versions of “Breakfast of Champions” and short stories like those found in “Welcome to the Monkeyhouse”. The reasons that his work resonated so powerfully with me are numerous and I can only attempt a short list as I type this. His writing had irresistible rhythm/cadence. No sentence was too long or too short. His insights could be hilarious and at the same time leap off the page and deliver a firm dope slap to my brain. He saw the world through the eyes of a visitor from somewhere off-planet. He saw the absurdity of all aspects life with clarity that I still find jaw-dropping. His language jumped away from the English I spoke and read as he came up with new words that seemed to me to be perfectly crafted. “Karass”, “Granfalloon”, and so on.
His writing is like great musical composition where careful and clever repetition plays a crucial part of establishing form. Form is, for me, one of the great challenges in composing. KV’s use of repetition appears within the borders of paragraphs, chapters, and even across the many books he wrote over decades. One example: Witness the regular appearance of the absurdly brilliant Kilgore Trout. Trout is an anti-hero. A failure who is unwittingly famous (at least for Vonnegut’s readers). Or the iconic ironic phrase “And so it goes”.
Morning routines include reading or listening to the news. I DO NOT get my news on Facebook. Is there one reliable source one can trust day after day? Probably not. So I read/listen to/watch an assortment of sources – looking for consistencies and hoping they indicate information I can trust. I often listen to the Morning Joe podcast from MSNBC. Read some of the Globe and Mail, CBC News, some of the New York Times and I WOULD read the Washington Post, the Economist and others, but there is only so much money to spend and only so much time because, believe it or not, I have other fish to fry most days.
So. I guess a solution in this “Who(m) can you trust Era?” everyone should be conscientious in rooting out reliable source(s) of information. I don’t think I like the word, ‘news’, anymore. I do like the word Journalism.
The Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and have started posting articles about the Faculty’s history. Today this article concerning the beginning of the Jazz Performance Degree Program in 1991 was published and brought back many memories. I was hired that year to design a new jazz curriculum, hire faculty and became Director of Jazz Studies. For many years prior to the formal jazz degree program starting, Phil Nimmons had been teaching jazz courses. When I was hired in 1991 we kind of moved in together in an office we shared for many years. Maybe 1991-2008. Thankfully, this shared office arrangement worked well, or maybe I should beautifully. We knew each other for years before that, but in’91 our relationship blossomed into one of the great friendships of my life. Phil and Noreen Nimmons and their family treated me and Trish Colter (my wife) like family. There were many great events and adventures (golf trips and other holidays) with the Nimmonses over the years. I am so grateful to have worked with Phil all those years. We are 25 years apart in age, but we never seemed to be aware of that. Conversations would often start with phrases like, “People our age…”. The part time faculty we had over the years was tremendous. All were working A-list jazz musicians with a special knack for teaching along side us. And the students who attended while I was there were inspiring and exciting to be around (most of the time :)) Many of them now teach at the Faculty and so many went on to do great things in music in Canada, the USA and elsewhere. /PR
I listen to music a lot, particularly at this juncture of my life (retired??). My listening habits are extremely eclectic but recently I’ve been listening to a lot of French music. Durufle, Faure, Dutilleux, Jolivet and many more, including, of course, Debussy and Ravel.
I first heard the Maurice Durufle “Requiem” while a music student in the late 1960s. The version I fell in love with first was a beautiful vinyl LP which had recently won the Grand Prix du Disque. (Hope I spelled that correctly). The version recorded was chorus and full orchestra. There are recordings with just organ and chorus that are beautiful as well. Also recordings with chorus and chamber orchestra. Over the years I have acquired three different scores. I imagine the cut-down versions were provided so that the piece can be performed without undue concern for financial realities.
What I’m attempting to convey is that this striking performance and recording remain in my top 5 (or less) favourite recordings. I have studied the score and listened to this and other versions countless times. Many of my friends think of me as a jazz aficionado. But nothing moves me more than this composition. Nothing.
I do battle constantly with a variety of disorders, to a very significant degree in the past 14 years or so. I ingest a large number of various meds each day, but nothing has a more positive effect on me than listening to music. I am so grateful to live in a time when I can hear such a mammoth array of recordings whenever I want. A far cry from my meager collection of a few records I had back when I discovered the Durufle Requiem. Listening to this recording never fails to lift and stir my soul. It makes me wonder, even though I am an atheist, if there is in fact a grand plan of some kind. I have heard it said that God is love. If there IS a GP (grand plan) then the Durufle Requiem expresses, for me, absolute and unrelenting LOVE.
Millions upon millions of people are raised by adoptive parents. In most cases, this is readily accepted and life unfolds with one’s adoptive family as if the adoption never happened.
I was adopted in 1948 (70 years ago) and that fact was never a secret. My adoptive parents, Marg and Ted, had zero insecurities about that. I am grateful to be able to have lived my whole life knowing the facts.
As lucky as I was in having been adopted by a loving family, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some children start asking questions about their ‘real’ parents early and then, in many cases, let it go. In my case, I let it go until my late teens. Somewhere in there, maybe when I was 18-19 the voice in my head repeatedly said “Who are you?” “How did you get here?” What happened to my birth mother and father? What was there story? And so on. It was existentially significant enough that I had to get professional help in my 3rd or 4th year university. Late teens, early 20s were not the easiest of times. They aren’t easy for people without birth-family questions too. But I knew my questions were, and would continue to nag me, and be a part of my life story that would not simply vanish in the shadows as days passed.
At that time I didn’t know much at all. I knew that I had been born in Grace Hospital in Toronto and, yup, that’s pretty much it. I let it go for a long time, but when my own daughter had surgery in the mid 1980s, I realized a family medical history would be worth some research. My parents shared that the adoption had been arranged through Children’s Aid. 1n 1995, my daughter was 19 and I started to feel a bit more pressure to find out what I could as I knew she eventually wanted her own family. So I contacted Children’s Aid.
They couldn’t provide more than general, anecdotal information. I did learn that my parents were quite young, had named me David Bruce _______ (last name not provided on the form). Their document indicated that my parents were quite young and in love. They had intentions to marry and have more children. (Maybe I had siblings!)
At that time you could sign into a registry for children and parents. If they indepentedly registered, the CA would arrange a reunion. CA knew a lot about this process. The counselor I talked to said she had seen some remarkable meetings over the years. Mother’s and daughters meeting for the first time in 18 years and would be wearing similar clothes, glasses, and groom their hair the same way. This, I thought, was amazing. it IS!!
Not all reunions work out well. There are all sorts of complications in all families. I have know people who met their birth-families and the relationship never went very far. For hosts of reasons.
Several years ago, I became aware that Ontario had changed its laws pertaining to adoption disclosures. I could apply for my birth certificate. (Also my mother’s death certificate – which I did later). And I did so immediately. Receiving it was a bit of jolt. There was my mother’’s full name, the address where she was living at the time of the adoption. And my full name. BINGO. (No, my name was not Bingo….)
What was possible then had not been possible for very long. I had Google and Ancestry and FaceBook). First, I tried a simple search for my mother’s name. Another BINGO. The first page of Google results listed an obit for Marian Elizabeth Xxxxxx (just unique enough to help zero down the results). That lead to her obituary and a listing of relatives (close and distance). I discovered her last name had changed many years ago when she married my step-father, They had a child.
My mother and my father had 3 children. Me, then a year later, a sister and 2 years after that a brother.
It took 23 years for me to move further forward. Hundreds of reasons. But among those were fear of the unknown and also, I had no idea how I would manage a second family structure while working full time.
I was concerned that if I searched for and found my birth family, they would find my appearance intrusive. Family lives can be complicated enough without discovering you have a sibling (who is seventy!!). I also feared (at least a bit) that they would reject me (like most I’m not a fan of rejection). BUT…having said that, the strongest emotion I felt was that I would like to meet my bio-mom and say ‘thank you’ for making a brave and difficult decision making it possible for me to have grown up in a loving and supportive family.
After all this, the research launched into ‘hyperdrive’. I kept coming up with dates and names that matched. There were photos on FaceBook pages where I could see the owner of the page and also their friends (many of whom were family members). Click, check, click, click, check.
At some point I checked out my brother’s FB homepage. John had photos of members of the same family on his site, but the big kicker is that other photos showed someone who looked a lot like me. BINGO. (No, my name is still not Bingo!!)
So I was very, very sure I was on the correct path.
But what to do? Who do I contact and, more important, what would I say? I decided to contact my brother. He and I were the closest in age since my sister (born a year after me) had passed away from cancer. I painstakingly crafted a message (FB Messenger) to my brother to see if he would find my story a fit as far as family was concerned. Really, my goals were small. I wanted the family to know I existed and had a had a good life. I thought there would be an email exchange or two, but my newfound family reacted by becoming very excited. No one questioned the veracity of my story. John and I look surprisingly alike. We have the same facial hair and there are similarities in our voices.
He wrote back nearly immediately. Yes, the family knew about me. My mother had apparently been trying to find me later in life. Meeting her would have been unimanigeably sweet, but she passed away in 2002 at age 72. My brother, John, was over the moon happy, and suggested a FaceTime call. In short order I was talking to my new sister-in-law and then my brother screen-to-screen. Four years younger, a little taller than me, but the similarities in appearance and mannerisms were astonishing.
…to be continued.
In 1966 I entered university at the age of 18. I have such clear memories of feeling close to my friends in those days, but there was a real and exciting feeling of closeness with ‘the movement’. We were going to affect change…serious social change…’ I was not involved in any serious way…I was too busy also trying to figure my life out then. Navigating the world of late adolescence. Girls, drugs,music, bell bottoms, long hair (with requisite headband). As well as feeling lost, isolated and wary of the future…normal stuff. BUT…there was a very strong scent of optimism in the air. We felt we were a part of positive change. Whether it was civil rights, anti-war demonstrations, etc, it was a feeling that we needed to love each other more, to be more accepting of our differences. Remember?
I am so impressed by the students in the US who are taking a stand and demanding change in particular with respect to gun regulations. The voices of youth are powerful and always will be (new voters after all) In the 60s, I really feel that whatever small changes were eventually brought about by our ‘movement’ were caused by optimism, courage, determination and a certain nearly sublime stubbornness. The 16-25 year olds of 2018 present hope for positive change. My post is offered as strong support for the work and the courage of the young people who have stepped up to the plate. Hopefully, more and more will join. And I’m not just talking about gun laws. The rise of populism world-wide is so far away from what was being dreamed of back in our day. My hope is that young people don’t buy into it., (populism, negative nationalism) And that they help rediscover a path where lying, bigotry, and putting one’s own interests above all else is not tolerated.
One last word on this…I’m not speaking here to the youth of any one country, although foremost in my mind is my own country. In Canada, and particularly in Ontario where I live, there is a chance that populism is gaining ground. The conservatives have elected a Trump mini-me in Doug Ford as their new leader and polls have indicated this unqualified, inarticulate fool will become our next premier. I hope that young Ontarians as well as young people everywhere find the will for positive change and to find a sense of unity and optimism like the sense we old farts had back in the day. And to push back against the corruption, greed, and dishonesty that is so prevalent. Ironic that so many of those who had such idealistic, determined views in 1968, may be the ones most responsible for our present day gloom.
The great Canadian trombonist, arranger, composer, educator, Terry Promane sent me an email this morning which mentioned the terrific book, “50 Years at the Village Vanguard”. I’ve read it and re-read many parts of it since it came out, as it references some of the most enjoyable,artful,and instructive (and SWINGING) music of my lifetime.
When the “Presenting Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra” (1966) came out on vinyl I was in my first year of university music studies. One of my mentors at the time heard the album and referred to Thad’s writing as “warmed-over Basie” (yikes!) and s/he was dead wrong and recanted shortly thereafter. As noted in the book, none of those involved foresaw a 50 year-long weekly gig at the Village Vanguard nor the tremendously influential writing and playing it produced.
I caught myself wondering a moment ago if 50 years from now (it won’t matter to poor old dead me), the Village Vanguard will still be standing. If there will be a Monday night big band. And if the music of Thad, Bob, Jim and others will still be performed regularly. There will be new writers by then and new sounds….but the music this band has made and is making right now has an eternal quality to my ear. Is that because I’m just feeling nostalgic? Of course I am, and that has to be part of it, but I find nothing trivial here. No ‘hit parade’ transience.
In the 20th and 21st century we (I realize that word begs discussion) continue to revere – and rightly so – music created in Vienna, for the most part, by a host of composers. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Mahler, and so on. Great art. Period. Our lives are enriched and anchored by the music they created. Earth is a better place to be because of it.
Like Vienna in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, New York has been unusually important in music’s history. While reading Jan Swafford’s wonderful biography of Beethoven, I was struck by the similarity of musicians’ lives in the Vienna of the late 1700s-early 1800s and that of those writing and performing music in the New York City of today and many past decades. Beethoven was one of 300 A-list pianists then in Vienna, a city that had, purportedly, 6000 piano students. Work was hard to come by and there were simply too many musicians living there for the amount of employment opportunities available. Beethoven was at the top of his profession as a performer and was becoming more and more well known as a composer. An aside: at one point in his life he played solo piano in cafes to make ends meet. Can you imagine having a few beers or an espresso while some guy named Beethoven played in the background? Did people talk while he was playing? Or did they just do that during the bass solos? (I know…tired old joke…with more than a ring of truth.)
One attempts a fool’s errand in forecasting that any particular jazz composer or another will be recognized and remembered far into the future. Although, I suspect that the music of Duke Ellington isn’t going to fade anytime soon. But it seems that SO many composers in the jazz sphere cite Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer and, more recently, Jim McNeely as important influences. I find their music spellbinding and am moved, amazed and feel my spirit lifted whenever I hear it.
I recently interviewed the great bassist, composer, arranger, John Clayton for a blog (posted Feb 1, 2018 on the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers website. I asked him if Thad Jones had been an influence (I already knew what his answer would be) and he said, “HUGE”. (my caps). There isn’t time or room to list all of the writers I know who have found Duke, Thad, Bob, Jim to name four that come immediately to mind, profoundly influential. How did I not include Gil Evans? And of course there is Marty Paitch, Gerry Mulligan, and so on. List making is always a failed enterprise.
But back to my musing about the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones orchestra (now the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) and its past importance and potential impact on future audiences and musicians. There was a time when no one knew how long the music of Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Mahler or Bela Bartok would be remembered. As years go by we gain clarity about which work can be considered a masterpiece and the ‘importance’ of one musician or another. After 50 years, I think I’m ready to make a guess that the music coming out of the Vanguard on Monday nights will have far reaching impact.
Get the book. You’ll love it.
When my early musical training was at its peak (1965-1973) I was listening to a lot of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band, Oscar Peterson, and many others. I though the Hanna/Fontana band was pretty cool. Under my father’s influence (his record collection) I listened to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington. And because of a friend of mine I also listened to Henry Mancini’s soundtrack recording for “The Pink Panther”. Some great musicians on that one (Plas Johnson, Dick Nash, and others). I adored Bill Evans “Trio 65” and tried to play some of that – I wasn’t that successful. Although I did pick up a few voicings here and there.
But I listened to hardly any John Coltrane (as a leader) except for the Ballads album. No Charlie Parker, no Dizzy Gillespie, No Dexter Gordon or Hank Mobley. That came along as time went by and I became obsessed with bebop and more modern styles.
So that is what I tried to play. (Maybe one might not start right away by emulating Oscar, I guess – requires huge hands, incredible technique and stamina. But I tried anyway. And I couldn’t believe how that music SWUNG).
Eventually my writing started to develop and I took formal lessons in harmony and counterpoint with Walter Buczynski, and starting in 1967, I studied with Gordon Delamont, who painstakingly took me through a slow paced and detailed course in harmony, voice leading (with a modern twist) and eventually melody writing, counterpoint, 12 tone technique, and arranging.
Somewhere along the line I read or heard two very important pieces of advice: “Don’t fall in love with what [everything] you have written”. And “Don’t get stuck in the past. Or someone might say, “Do you really like your writing, or do you like the way people are writing nowadays?” OUCH!!!
The messages were clear. Don’t get stuck with current and past practices. Listen to, and accept/embrace change”.
Today I listen and try to learn from as many musical sources as I can. Everything has continued to evolve, as it has all along the way. I’m certain that it is important to hear, and absorb current music. And important that I bring my own aesthetic in contact with it. What comes out when you take all your past knowledge and training, all your listening to older styles of music (thousands of them) and marry it with what I hear as current directions (at least those that appeal to me).
I recall vowing in my early twenties that I would stay current. I wouldn’t get stuck in the music I heard when I was in my teens through to my twenties. Harder to do than to say.
SO I am trying to listen and study the melodic practices of contemporary composers. And RHYTHM. Harmony isn’t as much in the foreground as it was for me at one time. I’m less interested in voicings than at any time I can remember.
Also, forms. AABA, ABAB, ABCA and so on were relevant and remain relevant, but there is so much new thinking. So much more freedom.
I am not making this up.
It is 10:12 a.m. as I start to write down these thoughts. I’ve been sitting in this spot pretty much continuously since 5:40 a.m.. I’ve been listening to music (headphones connected to an iPad) and marvelling at, and moved/excited by, the artistry of many. It’s easy to keep track because of the operating system on my ‘device’. Here’s the list of what I have been listening to – although not in order: Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye, Angela Hewitt, Rob McConnell, Duke Ellington, J. S. Bach, Carn Davidson 9, James Brown and Gustav Mahler. I didn’t plan this amazing journey. One thing led to another. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you. I own several of the CDs I listened to, but don’t own every one. However, thanks to the streaming service I use, I find it incredibly easy to listen to just about anything that pops into my head- for about $12 Canadian a month.
An email from the Toronto Star came in while I was listening (at 8:18 am) which led to my checking out a collection of “25 Photos Worth Remembering” which have appeared in the Star during the past 125 years. I wound up multitasking (listening to music at the same time).
I visited Facebook briefly, then checked out FanSided (Who started capitalizing letters in the middle of words?) for some Toronto Blue Jays news, and renewed my digital subscription to National Geographic Magazine (iPad edition). At some point this morning I added a book I’ve wanted to read on my Kindle Paperwhite. No, I didn’t start reading it right away, but I could have. Such restraint!!
Mmm…I just glanced at a pop-up note on my screen. I have received 13 emails since I started writing – most of them from lists from which I’ve repeatedly tried to ‘unsubscribe’. I really don’t know how to stop the digital flood.
Again, none of this is made up!
Oh, and while I was on Facebook (for about 5 minutes), I saw ads that popped up in the middle of the post I was reading from a website where I purchased ONE item a long time ago. Data harvesting gone amok.
It is 10:41 and I just answered the phone from a telemarketer who has been calling repeatedly for months (we never pick up thanks to caller id). I answered the phone, and explained to the person (who was just making a living – not trying to annoy me) that we already subscribe to their service and ‘please take us off your phone list’. She was polite and apologized. Nice!
Clearly, the pace of life is putting me at risk of contracting emotional whiplash. The deluge of data is tremendously distracting as well. You see, when I awoke early this morning I thought I would spend some time on a composition I’ve been working on. I guess that will happen later today, but first let me finish this blog and then…time for a nap.
Where do you get your news? Mine comes from a few ‘outlets’ that I choose to read or listen to or to watch. I generally read newspaper articles (none of them on paper!), usually in the morning. After that there is a steady stream of ‘notifications’ that pop up on my ‘devices’ throughout the day. They lead me to websites, social media…occasionally…and podcasts.
Decades ago, I saw only one newspaper per day, and when I lived with my parents it was the newspaper my father chose out of the two then available in Toronto. He bought the Toronto Telegram – a conservative publication compared to the Toronto Star, which had liberal leanings (I wouldn’t say they were overtly left-wing). It didn’t matter much to me then because in those days I pretty much read the sports pages only. I couldn’t wait for him to arrive home around 6 pm Monday to Friday so I could read what I chose to read.
So it seems choices are made and are important when it comes to the news we ingest everyday. I choose my sources based on my interests, values, political leanings, and the quality of the writing and what I perceive to be the intelligence and insight of those who appear on this or that television panel. I want my sources to have been fact-checked and edited with skill (editing is becoming a a lost art). Since I’m retired I have WAY more time than I had 10 years ago to read, watch, and listen to news. So I choose to read such publications as the Toronto Star, the Economist, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBC News, and NPR. Favourite podcasts are The Axe Files (David Axelrod), The Daily, Fresh Air (NPR podcast), Morning Joe, Blue Jays Talk, As it Happens, Tavis Smiley, Here’s the Thing, The Moth, Classical Performance Podcast and the list goes on. I’m not much of a television watcher except for sports and news broadcasts including CNN, MLB, and CBC Newsworld. I list all of these sources as they indicate what gets through my personal FILTER. The list reveals that I am a liberal, I enjoy political commentary, the arts and baseball and you could draw other conclusions.
BUT, can I trust my sources? Am I getting ‘the NEWS’ everyday? Journalism has evolved tremendously in my lifetime. What I remember is that most articles I read ‘back in the day’ were more fact and information based. If you were interested in opinion, you read the editorial page. I think news outlets (any media) are completely saturated with opinion and commentary. Panels of experts appear everywhere. Remember those folks who could use a forked stick to find water? We don’t need water finders so much as B.S. finders. Maybe such devices could have a red light that comes on when one hears suspect information. I think my B.S. finder would glow nearly constantly when hearing politicians interviewed or quoted. And it doesn’t matter which country. (Do they EVER answer a question directly?)
Today, representatives from FaceBook, Twitter and Google are meeting with the United States Congress to discuss their roles in conveying the news. I heard a clip of one respondent, I believe it was someone from FaceBook, who said (I paraphrase), “We are not a newspaper. We are a platform people use to share information…blah, blah, blah”). It’s time for social media ‘officials’ to wake up to the fact that people DO use their platforms to get their news – on nearly infinite numbers of subjects. Social media CRIMES exist. We need to adapt to the massive changes to social interaction occurring now and recognize that without some form of regulation and enforcement of minimum standards of conduct we are putting our future and the future of our children and grandchildren at great risk. Demand to know the source of information if you see a suspect post/article/email, etc..
I don’t pretend to know what should be done about all of this, but I am yearning for (calling for?) a return to “innocent until proven guilty”, “just the facts, m’am, just the facts” and the reinstatement of all professional editors (thoroughly vetted and accredited) to their rightful place. Editors are WAY more important than columnists. No one can run very fast on loose gravel.
I would also like to see social media regulated with the same rationale as anything else. We don’t allow humans to drive until they are 16, vote until they are a certain age, and there are host of other ways socieities protect themselves from self harm. I think there should be definitions and laws clarified or created that apply to the dissemination of hate – in any form. When someone deliberately lies to further there own agenda or to cover up wrong-doings, I think they should be held to account. Yes, holding individuals to account happens – sort of – some of the time – but it is so unsettling to see misinformation dismissed with a wink or a chuckle. (A certain Secretary of State calling a certain President “unconventional”, dismissing that observation with a wry grin, implying that misdeeds and lying are harmless). There is far too much of “the ends justify the means” as far as I’m concerned.
Behind all of this is my fervent wish to have confidence in the information I receive. I want news…NOT spin. Read more
Welcome to my new, and perhaps not your typical, website. As you can see if you’ve visited before, this site has been renovated recently. My thanks to Lucie Frigault for her expertise, good taste, patience and time on this project. This is my third site dating back quite a few years. Lucie has designed and programmed them all.
I am retired from academia (41 years of teaching between 1970 and 2013) and I haven’t played in public for about 3 years. My last gig was really fun – a 3 city tour with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra . So WHY a new website… I continue to be obsessed by music making and other creative pursuits, and have turned my primary attention to studying and composing/ arranging. I also have been learning lots about the world of DAWs, Sample Libraries and what a ‘mockup’ is (I’m trying to learn how to make a good one). One of the great things about ‘retirement’ is that I now have time to turn my attention to these things. I have been trying to fill in the many gaps in my skills and knowledge. Loads of fun.
Some people develop the urge to write a memoir later in life. This site is, in a way, my response to this urge. I’m sharing new projects as I finish them, but I have also posted recordings of compositions and performances of work from the past. Also I have some paintings, photos, and videos. I’m an amateur in these areas, but an amateur in the literal sense of the word. Some of the site content is rough around the edges, but I share it anyway. Before I leave the planet I feel like moving forward as fast as I can, and also reflecting on and sharing what I have done over the years. I suppose this is taking a bit of chance, but…why not. If, later on, I have a change of heart and find something particularly embarrassing, I can always quietly remove it. Ain’t WordPress fun?
If you feel inclined, I’d love for you to say hello. You can use the CONTACT page and add your email address if you like. If we don’t know each other, please introduce yourself and tell me what you are up to. You can also reach me by Twitter (@daerp1) or Facebook. I’m no longer on LinkedIn.
On a couple of pages you will see photographs taken by Marie Byers. They are the portraits seen on the home page and the “About page”. She is an exceptional photographer and has photographed many musicians. Her work can be seen, in one case, at the Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill in Toronto. This a highly respected jazz venue in our city and she has taken pictures of those of us who have performed there. Her photos, behind and beside the bandstand are rotated on a regular basis.
Also there are many photos taken by Don Vickery, who is one of our country’s great drummers. He is, as is apparent, a first class photographer. There are also some photos by Alastair Kay, one of Canada’s most respected and accomplished trombonists, and photographers, Denise Grant, and Diane Aubie.
I hope you will enjoy what is posted here.