Sunday, December 31, 2017

Billy Eckstine: The Evolution of The First Bebop Big Band

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“BILLY ECKSTINE, ..., had a modern, swinging band during the mid-forties. He had been singing with Earl Hines for a number of years when one of his fellow bandsmen, Dizzy Gillespie, suggested to Billy that he ought to go out with his own crew.


It was a sensible suggestion, because Billy, an outstandingly handsome man with a great deal of charm, had built up quite a following not merely among musicians, who admired him as a person and as a singer, but also among a segment of the public that followed the jazz-oriented bands.


In the spring of 1944 Billy left the Earl. He took with him the band's chief arranger and tenor saxist, Budd Johnson, who, along with Gillespie, became one of the two musical directors of the new group. So great was the emphasis upon instrumental music and what was then considered to be progressive jazz that Billy's strong, masculine but highly stylized vocals were often subjugated to the playing of some young, budding jazz stars like Charlie and Leo Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee, Kenny Dorham, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. And for a while Eckstine also featured a timid young girl vocalist with a marvelously clear, vibrant voice. To this day Sarah Vaughan still looks back fondly on her association with the band and credits it for much of her musical development.”
- George T. Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.


Within the mere three years of its existence, Billy Eckstine's band at one time or another featured just about every "modernist" on the scene. A tentative listing of the alumni reads like a real "Who's Who of Bebop!”  It is forever to be regretted that this band had so little opportunity to record [in part due to the Musicians’ Union recording ban then in effect] and that Eckstine was rarely able to convince producers (and audiences) that the real quality of his band was its musical potential. More so, of course, than his own vocals, although these are often of the highest quality.


As the story goes, before Gillespie was to really settle in on 52nd Street in the mid-1940’s, he became an important part of the newly formed Billy Eckstine orchestra. Gillespie and bassist Oscar Pettiford had had a falling out, and while Oscar remained at the Onyx (with Joe Guy on trumpet and Johnny Hartzfield on tenor), Dizzy moved across the street to the Yacht Club with Budd Johnson in tow. On the same show with them was their old colleague from the Earl Hines band, Billy Eckstine, billed as X-tine, thanks to his booking agent Billy Shaw.


Eckstine's, or X-tine's, career was not exactly roaring along. It was decided that he head a big band but, at first, he and Shaw argued about the basic philosophy.


Eckstine was committed to the new sounds and convinced Shaw he wanted Gillespie as his musical director and Charlie Parker, working at the time with Carroll Dickerson at the Rhumboogie in Chicago, as the leader of his reeds. In June 1944 the Billy Eckstine band was born.


BILLY ECKSTINE   


“It was a whole evolvement of something new, aside from the trite ways of doing things. When I started my band we got bad, bad reports on it. Even the William Morris office, they said, "Why don't you just get a band like in the vein of the Basic band and with good vocals of yourself, and you just sell the band on your vocals and things like that." But they didn't stop to realize that I was already hooked into this thing. If you look at some of the early downbeat write-ups,' Christ, they used to pan hell out of me. They said I kept singing, I was running all over the place and wouldn't sing the melodies, which was just a way of seeking at that particular point—you're hearing things also. Now when we all got together, when the different guys got together, I saw the reason why I wanted to sing—well, now we call it "changes" and because it was new usage.


When we recorded "Cottage for Sale" I ended it on major seventh. We had a guy in the control room named Emile Cote, who was a head of the Pet Milk Singers, as the A&R [laughs] man. When I hit that, he came out and said, "Well, I think we got a good balance on that. Now shall we go back in and do the thing?" I said, "Hey, that was it." "Oh, you're not going to end that on that note." I said, "Well, why not, it's a major seventh." Then he gave me the old cliche about Beethoven or somebody giving a lesson and a kid hit the major seventh and then left, walked off, and he had to run downstairs and resolve it. Well, I said, "I ain't gonna resolve it." Those kind of things during that era, and getting to what you've seen, it was a feeling among a nucleus at that time of younger people, of hearing something else. We didn't knock. You see that's the other thing that was so funny about the guys then. You couldn't find one guy, you take Dizzy, Bird, any of the guys that were in my original band, we never knocked nobody else's music.


My God, my band, when I started, the guy that gave me my music to get started was Basie. I went over here to the Hotel Lincoln and walked in there with Basie, and he said, "I understand you're gonna start a band," and I said, "Yeah, man, I ain't got no music." So he turns around to Henry Snodgrass and told him, "Give him the key." I went back in the back in the music trunk and just took scores of Basie's music to help me be able to play a dance. We didn't have any music. The only things that we had in our vein of things was "A Night in Tunisia" that Diz had written. As we kept doing these one-nighters, we were constantly writing. "Blue 'n Boogie" was a head arrangement. We were constantly just sitting down everywhere we'd go and have a rehearsal and putting things together on these kind of things. Little head arrangements and riffs that Diz started or Bird started. "Good Jelly Blues" and "I Stay In The Mood For You"—Budd Johnson wrote that on the same type of a thing. And the little things I wrote—"I Love The Rhythm In A Riff" and "Blowing The Blues Away," they were just more or less—we were gradually getting our music together, but when we started out we didn't knock anybody's music like that. My God, I don't think there was a time that we ever were anywhere where another band was that all our band, if we were off, was not right there listening to them. It wasn't a knock, of putting their music down in preference for ours. It was just another step, it was another step beyond. I guess, possibly the same thing happened back when Louie took his step past King Oliver, maybe, who knows. I wasn't around to pay any attention to music then, but possibly the same type of thing happened then.


Then another very important thing, too. Our music was more studied. Up until that point, you didn't have the musicianship, other than Ellington, Lunceford, like that, where you had some great schooled musicians up there on that stand. But a lot of the other bands, there were a lot of guys who couldn't read a note, even some of the first Basic band that came East. It was a head-arrangement band. When here we came on, in my band and in Earl's band, all musicians, seasoned musicians. But when we came along these were all new usages of chords, new voicings, the arrangers were hearing things, began to write. And another thing that happened, my band ruined a whole lot of musicians who had been bullshitting before. But everywhere we would go with my band, after it was together about two months, we'd look out into the audience, and the young, the real young, was out there going, "Yeah, man." It was hitting that young; it was the music of the young really, and because the young, a lot of them, were in the war in Europe, the widespread popularity never was acquired, never was achieved.

I'll never forget, though, we used to have more problems with the powers that be, the agents. Christ, that's where I had the problem. They wanted me to sing, and play "One O'Clock Jump"; the things that were famous or something of Glenn Miller's or something of Tommy Dorsey's; in other words, let the band copy other successful things and you sing. That wasn't my idea of what I wanted to do. Shit, if 1 wanted to do that I could have gone with—'cause after I left Earl and went back to 52nd Street, I started getting calls from certain bands, different bands like Kenton. They wanted me to come in the band as a vocalist, but I wouldn't go because I said, "Hell, if I'm gonna break up my own band, what am I gonna go with somebody else for when I couldn't make my own successful? And here's some guys who are gonna try more or less to copy what we're starting, and I'm gonna go with them? No way!"


So it was always a fight, a fight, man. Christ almighty, I'll never forget, they came down to the Riviera in St. Louis. And I was working in there with my band, and the William Morris office sent some schmuck down there to do a report on the band. He came back and said, "There's no love vein in the band." Imagine this guy gonna go dig a swinging band: "there's no love vein in the band." So when Billy Shaw, God rest his soul, whom I loved, when Billy called me—Billy believed in me— and he said, "Hey B, we're getting rapped, and this guy come back here sayin' 'There's no love vein in the band.' " I said, "Well, shit, he didn't check into it. Now me and Dizzy been goin' together for years. There's the love vein" [laughter].


Well you know what he told me to do: "Well, why don't you get a real pretty girl, with a big ass, to sing?" Didn't listen to Sass [Sarah VaughanJ. He's gonna tell me about some chick with a big ass, and here's a girl with the greatest voice that I've ever heard. He never even heard that. Well, that's the kinda shit you went through in those days and on. Man, it just got to the point—I think it discouraged a lot of people. It even carried on over into Diz's band, so Diz's band wasn't successful.


It was musically successful. So was mine. Now it's the "legendary Billy Eckstine band," and some of these same guys that are now calling it a legend rapped the shit out of me. Leonard Feather, he rapped the shit out of me. Every time we'd come in, "the band was out of tune," and the this and the that, and now it's the "legendary Billy Eckstine band."


I don't want this to appear racist, but nevertheless, it's factual. Anything that the black man originates that cannot be copied right away by his white contemporaries is stepped on. It was copied. Shit, Woody Herman, get a load of his things — "Northwest Passage." All those things were nothing but a little bit of the music that we were trying to play. All of those things. All they did was that. Shit, but they got the down beat number one band, yap, yap, yap, all of this kind of shit, but Woody better not have Jit nowhere near where my band was. Nowhere. And I can say it now because it's all over and I don't have to appear egotistical, but he better not have lit anywhere where we were. And that goes for any of them, because let me show you, we would play, and the guys that were in that band will tell you one thing; we played against Jimmie Lunceford at the Brooklyn Armory. Jimmie Lunceford, big star of the thing, and we were the second band. We ate his ass up like it was something good to eat, so much to the point — I'll never forget this, Freddie Webster, God rest his soul, was with Lunceford at the time, and Freddie wrote a letter to a buddy of ours in California, and all he wrote on the letter was, "Did you hear about the battle of jazz?" He says, "Billy Eckstine," no, "B and his band, life; Jimmie Lunceford," in very small letters, "Jimmie Lunceford and us, death" [Laughter]. That's what he wrote on this thing.


Musicians—that's the other thing—young musicians would be around us like this all the time listening, and they knew what we were trying to do. Arrangers started hearing. The technical aspect of the music was grasped first. People who knew something about music right away said, "Hey, this is something else." It's the moldy guys that relied so much on their ear. They didn't have the ear to follow this—it's the same as this Emile Cote that heard this major seventh, he didn't hear that thing resolved where he was waiting for it to resolve. And when I said, "Here's a cottage for sale," and he didn't hear that [sings]. He didn't hear that. All he heard was "da" and he was waiting for "daa."* [*The conventional ending would be the tonic. Eckstine, like many instrumentalists of the time, ended a half step below the tonic.]


That's what he's waiting for. His ear had been indoctrinated into that type of listening. But arrangers jumped on this. You'd be surprised, you know how many free arrangements I used to get? Every town I'd go into, some little young musician who's studying would bring me up an arrangement to play. He is voicing it off of the new voicings, the new thing; nine out of ten of them you couldn't use, but you could see the seeking, trying to, hearing this kind of music which used to inspire us.


And again to get back to the love thing, Diz and Sonny [Stitt], all the different guys will tell you this, that was in the band. We used to get in a town and, man, it was like the bus getting in at twelve o'clock— I wouldn't call rehearsal. The guys would go on to the hall, set up, jam, or Bird would take the reed section, sit and run through things. Just at night, the Booker Washington Hotel, there in St. Louis for Christ sake, when we was working the Riviera, the people used to move out, we'd rehearse four o'clock in the morning. Sit right in the room; the reed section would be there blowing all night. It was a love where everybody was seeking things like that, trying and learning. Sass and myself used to learn things on the piano.


I'll never forget, Diz wrote an arrangement of "East of the Sun" for Sass. We worked out the ending of it [sings]. We'd work out things vocally, because every aspect of music could fit into this. There was a way to do it vocally; there was a way we heard it vocally; a way it was done instrumentally; the way it was done rhythmically: everything had a new concept to it. It wasn't just one trumpet player playing his style which was an innovative thing. Or one saxophone. There was a collective unit of the whole concept. It was the camaraderie in that band. Me and Diz, the other night at the concert,*[*Newport Festival Tribute to Charlie Parker in 1974], we were breaking up laughing at different little things that we used to do in the band.


We still have big laughs, any time we get together—like the other night, Sonny and all of us were up there, and I swear to Christ that you would have thought that some great comic was in. We were breaking up in there laughing, remembering incidents that happened, which then were morbid. Riding these Goddamn Jim Crow cars through the South were these dirty cracker conductors, we all sitting in the aisles and all of this bullshit, in a little car that's got eight seats, and here we getting on there with twenty guys and no room. And now we just sit laughing about it. The different incidents where a guy would say, "Hey, ain't no more room. You all sleep, stay in the baggage car," and we get back in the baggage car and open all the doors, get undressed and lay back there in the baggage car, smelling the hay and shit, traveling. But we can sit back and laugh about these kind of things now. You had to then. You'd have never gotten through it. We said the same statement the other night, Diz and I. You had to make your own fun. You had to make it, 'cause, Christ almighty, this was during the war. We couldn't get a bus because you couldn't get priority then for gasoline.


So the only way, Billy Shaw worked some strings—this was '44—where if I would play for the troops, whenever I would get into the town—if there was an Army camp there—go right out and do a free show for the troops, then they would give me a priority for a bus. But I had to do a certain amount of them every week. Now, if I happened to be booked in such a place where there ain't no Army camps where we are, they look and see that I don't play no Army, they snatched the bus without even telling me. We go out one morning to get the bus, there ain't no bus. Now we got to run and grab all of this crap, look at the train schedule—and there was always an hour, and hour and one-half late, these trains in those days. You know, the troops and things. Jumping on you is the guys with their bass and amplifiers, for the book, and valets getting on these trains with this and what are you gonna do. If you can survive through that, man, you gotta make your own humor. I'm telling you, boy. And arguments, fights with soldiers and these crackers down South, and man you'd get in fights with them all the time. It drove me crazy.


And the guys still stuck it out, 'cause we'd get on the stand at night, regardless of what problem we had during the day, there's our chance to let it out. And, baby, some of the times when we've had the worst problems during the day, we'd get on the stand at night and, man, you never heard a band play like that in your life. We'd be wailing, because now's our chance to relax and do what we want to do. We were just waiting to get to that stand.”


[Sources, Ira Gitler’s Jazz Masters of the 40’s, Bill Kirchner, ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Downbeat, Esquire, Jazz Review, Jazz Monthly and Metronome magazine archives, Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era, George T Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed., Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th. Ed, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz.]



Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Interview with Alan Broadbent by Gordon Jack

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


As many of you know, Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend to these pages in his allowance of JazzProfiles re-publishings of his excellent writings. He is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was first published in Jazz Journal November 2013.

For more information and subscriptions please visit www.jazzjournal.co.uk
                                         
© -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved., used with permission.

“Two time Grammy Award winner Alan Broadbent is a sophisticated interpreter of the Great American Songbook. The Los Angeles Times has called him, ‘One of the greatest living jazz pianists’ and if his Live At Giannelli Square (Volume 1) had been reviewed in Jazz Journal I would have voted for it as one of the CDs of the year. His imaginative approach to Solar from the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Solo and among other gems there is a dramatic re-examination of Embraceable You which he calls You and You Alone

We met in April 2012 after his performance at that fine venue the Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking, Surrey which included an informative question and answer session with a large and appreciative audience.

“I studied classical piano at the Royal Trinity College of Music in Auckland, New Zealand and the first jazz concert I attended was in 1961 when I was fourteen. Dave Brubeck’s quartet was in town and I remember being really impressed with Paul Desmond on Tangerine. Of course I bought Time Out and I also went to see the film All Night Long because Dave was in it. He played It’s A Raggy Waltz and in one of the scenes he wore a trench-coat, so I went out and bought one too and wore it to all my gigs. I started to explore some serious stuff- not that Dave isn’t serious – but I discovered Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Bird and all the horn players. Then I heard Lennie’s solo album (The New Tristano) which just blew me away – I loved that music and really studied it which is why I wanted to have lessons with him a few years later.

“I sent an acetate of my recording of Speak Low to Downbeat magazine which is how I won a scholarship to Berklee School of Music for one semester in 1966. I was there until 1969 paying my way after that first semester by working six nights a week in a local club. Charlie Mariano was at the school and he was one of my favourite teachers - he was a great guy. At the time he was into that raga thing and he would sit on the carpet playing his soprano in a small group we had together. Other faculty members were Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi.” (A good example of Pomeroy and Santisi’s work as performers can be found on Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up which also features Boots Mussulli – GJ.)

“The local club in Boston was the Jazz Workshop and being students we could get in for a couple of dollars. I heard all kinds of people there like Bill Evans and Miles and one night Lenny Popkin, a young tenor player sat in with Lee Konitz. I approached Lenny and asked him if I could study with him because Lee had introduced him as a Tristano student. We hit it off and started playing together and it came to a point where he said I should call Tristano. He didn’t seem particularly interested because I was not available for lessons on the days that were convenient to him. Lenny Popkin then contacted Tristano on my behalf and arranged for me to have an audition on a Monday at his home in Flushing, Long Island. He had a little grand piano in his kitchen and he walked around while I played. He was a lovely man and he became a father-figure to me but I was never one of the Tristano-ites – I was more interested in finding my own way.
 
“I was 19 when I started with him, fresh off the boat and I used to talk to him about the difficulties I was having and he was very sympathetic to me. Some of his students would come up to Boston to see me at my hotel gig which was around the corner from the Jazz Workshop. I was going to Berklee during the day and I worked there every night with George Mraz and Jeff Brillinger. The Tristano-ites wanted to sit in but I was expected to do the ‘hotel’ thing of playing bossa novas and stuff like that so they were pretty disdainful of the material. I remember telling Lennie about how inadequate I felt about their reaction and he said, ‘What the fuck do you care about what they think.’

“Lennie liked his students to practice all the scales with different fingers on the keyboard because when you are improvising, you don’t always know what finger is needed at what time. He also wanted his students to learn famous recorded solos like Lady be Good by Lester Young with Basie in 1936. Initially you had to sing it, paying attention to the vibrato and articulation he used and the way Lester bent a phrase. Then you had to reproduce it on the piano. Somehow it became internalised because that type of concentration opened up your ears and your heart in a linear fashion, whereas pianists tend to think mostly in chords. That was something Nat Cole achieved and Bud too, on his good days.

“One of the best times I had with him was just before I went with Woody Herman although Lennie wasn’t happy about that at all. He took me up to his attic where he had a recording studio with a beautiful Steinway and laying on his couch he said, ‘Play for me’. That was my last lesson playing for an hour while he chuckled and applauded – he was right with me all the time.

“Woody Herman must have been looking for a pianist because Jake Hanna and Nat Pierce had been to Berklee asking around and Herb Pomeroy told them to go and listen to me. School was finishing and I needed a gig so I joined the band. Lennie tried to talk me out of it but I didn’t really have a choice because I would have been thrown out of the country. Woody and his manager Hermie Dressel who had taken over from Abe Turchen sponsored me in getting a Green Card.

“I immediately went out and bought the latest Herman album (Light My Fire) which was very appealing to me but we didn’t play that sort of material on gigs.” (The band played officer’s clubs, country clubs and Elks clubs and as Alan told Gene Lees, ‘My first gig was at an army base in Greensboro, North Carolina… and I was appalled. The drummer was turning the time around and some of the soloists were very weak. Steve Lederer who played second tenor with Woody said, ‘You’ve heard of the Thundering Herd? Well this is the worst you ever heard’ – GJ).

“Sal Nistico wasn’t in the band initially but he came in and out from time to time - he was a great guy and we got along really well. Woody always pigeon-holed him into the extreme up tempo things but every once and a while he would throw him a ballad which Sal loved to play.

“After about six months Tony Klatka, Bill Stapleton and I decided to arrange some Blood Sweat & Tears material which was easily adaptable for the band. One BST chart I did was Smiling Phases and the kids went crazy when we played it because it was the popular music of the time.” (Klatka also did a chart on Proud Mary which had been a big hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival - GJ).

“In 1971 the band recorded an album almost totally devoted to my charts (Brand New Woody) and soon after that I was voted The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in Downbeat magazine, which of course didn’t make any difference to my career at all.” (Summing up his time with Herman, Alan told writer Scott Yanow, ‘I loved being part of his band although everything I had learned at Berklee went down the drain because it just didn’t work with Woody’ – GJ).

“I left the band in 1972. I just got off the bus in L.A. because it seemed to be an easy thing to do. I had friends there and I had some fantasy about getting into the film industry. I met Don Ferrara around that time who was teaching at Gary Foster’s studio and also Putter Smith who was introduced to me by Nick Ceroli. I’ve been going out to Putter’s place every week-end for about 30 years to play. He now divides his time between New York and Los Angeles and I will be seeing him in a couple of weeks.

“One of the people who was very kind to me when I first arrived in L.A. was JJ Johnson and I perform his Lament on my ‘Round Midnight CD as a tribute to his memory.

Around 1974 I got together with Irene Kral and we worked together until she died in 1978.

“In 1976 I recorded with Don Menza and Frank Rosolino who was a wonderful guy and we really hit it off. He was one of the greatest trombone players who ever lived but he was playing third trombone in the pit in Las Vegas. Supersax sometimes used him but Conte Candoli got most of their work and anyway you’re talking about $35.00 at Donte’s playing your heart out all night. It’s been that way and always will - even in New York City there’s no money. Somehow we all have to figure out how to make sense of the jazz life.

“I worked quite a bit with Jack Sheldon who was hilarious. He could tell the same joke every night and I would just fall apart.” (One of his regular opening lines on a club booking was, ‘It’s so long since I had sex, I can’t remember who gets tied up!’ He also just happened to be one of the all-time greats as a trumpet and vocal soloist - GJ.)

“I worked a lot with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West over the years and one of our CDs has my string arrangement of Tristano’s Requiem which turned out very well. We were on the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood’s movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil accompanying Alison Krauss who is a real darling.” (She is also a superlative singer and fiddle player in the Bluegrass and Country field with Union Station – GJ). “Clint of course was a friend of Jack Sheldon’s and I remember he once flew Jack and I in his private plane from a golf tournament because Jack had a gig in L.A.

“Charlie, Billy Higgins and I did a one-nighter with Chet Baker at a club called Hop Singh’s in the late ‘80s and it was very special. There were only four people in the audience and one of them was my wife. He was the real thing - playing and singing beautifully. I remember that I was feeling good and each phrase I played I could hear Chet sitting behind listening intently saying, ‘Yeah, man’ and being very encouraging. I was in heaven but he disappeared into the bathroom after the first set and never came out again.

“In 1992 I recorded with Scott Hamilton and strings which is a favourite album of mine. He doesn’t read but we just had to play the arrangement through once for him and he got it - he can go directly to his heart because the notes aren’t in the way.” (In 1998 Alan was part of the small group along with Pete Christlieb and Larry Bunker accompanying Diana Krall on her fifth album – When I Look Into Your Eyes which Billboard nominated as one of the top ten jazz albums of that decade – GJ). “I saw Pete recently and he is thinking of packing everything up and moving to Portland. All the studio work he used to do doesn’t exist anymore and there are just no gigs.

“I’ve already mentioned some influences but I must include Nat Cole who was the bridge between the ornamental approach of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum to the horn-like, single line bebop style that Bud Powell introduced. The rhythm is in the line itself and not in the left hand. Arrangers who are important to me would include Johnny Mandel, Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Holman.

“As far as free jazz is concerned it can be fine if it is handled by musicians who are aware of form and musical development.  I don’t like meandering music but when Tristano did it with Warne and Lee it was something pretty special. I’m not familiar with much of Ornette Coleman’s music but he is a real composer. His tunes are not just off the cuff dilettante stuff – they’re really musical so I have to respect that.” (At the Watermill Alan performed a well received version of Coleman’s Lonely Woman – GJ). “I listen to a lot of contemporary orchestral composers like John Adams and Elliott Carter - I would rather listen to them because I know there’s an intelligent structure.

“My wife and I had been living in Santa Monica for the past 30 years but we decided to move to New York last year. We have a twelve year old son and he is at that point where he is either going to become a boy-surfer or we can give him some New York culture. When I get back to the States I have one gig booked out in Pennsylvania with Putter Smith but I do have some writing work on hold. I get a joy out of the sound of an orchestra as long as I am given reasonable leeway for how I want to do it”.

Jazz Times has called Alan Broadbent, ‘One of the major keyboard figures today’ but despite being nominated for seven Grammy Awards since 1975 he once told writer Graham Reid, “This is the only profession I know where you can be internationally famous and broke!”

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

As Leader

Another Time (Trend TRCD-546)

Away From You (Trend TRCD-558)

Live At Maybeck Recital Hall Vol.14 (Concord Jazz  CCD4488)

‘Round Midnight (Artistry Art 7005)

Every Time I Think Of You (Artistry Art 7011)

Live At Giannelli Square Vol. 1 (Chilly Bin Records 35231 82422)

As Sideman

Woody Herman: Brand New (OJCCD 1044-2)

Irene Kral: Where Is Love (Choice CHCD 71012)

Bob Brookmeyer: Olso (Concord Jazz CCD 4312)

Charlie Haden: Quartet West (Verve 831673-2)

Scott Hamilton: With Strings (Concord Jazz CCD-4538-2)

Diana Krall: When I Look Into Your Eyes (GRP 304)





Friday, December 29, 2017

Ed Bickert: Part 1 - The Mark Miller Interviews

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


At the request of a couple of internet Jazz buddies, I’ve assembled the following information on guitarist Ed Bickert, although, I must say, that it didn’t take too much urging to develop a blog feature about him as Ed has always been among my favorite Jazz musicians.


Ed is based in Toronto, Canada and is a fixture on the Canadian Jazz scene in both big band - he was a long-standing member of Rob McConnell’s Boss - and a variety of small groups. He’s an under-the-radar- guy in that he doesn’t call much attention to himself that is until he starts playing.


The following quotation is from the Paul Desmond chapter in Gene Lees’ Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s  and pretty much sums it up about Bickert:


“‘I’ve heard about Ed Bickert,’ Paul said.  ‘Jim Hall told me about him.  Jim says he’s one of the few guitar players who scare him when he sees him come into a room.’”


There’s some repetition between the three articles that form Part 1 of this piece, all of which were written by Mark Miller over a span of approximately 10 years, but I wanted to maintain the integrity of each essay before subsequently editing them into one feature on Ed at a later date, one that will also include the views of him by his fellow musicians that will form the second part part of a profile on Ed.


By way of background, Mark Miller has been a writer — journalist, critic, author, historian —and photographer in the field of music, specifically jazz, for more than 35 years. He is the author of 10 books and served from 1978 to 2005 as the jazz columnist for Canada’s National Newspaper, "The Globe and Mail." He has also written for "Coda Magazine," "Down Beat," "The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz," "Encyclopedia of Music in Canada," "Saturday Night" and several other popular and scholarly publications.





ED BICKERT by Mark Miller, Downbeat, May, 1976


"When my name comes up for the first time, especially in the United States, people automatically assume I’m a young whippersnapper


Whippersnapper? in Toronto. Ed Bickert is now known as the 20-year overnight success It has been 24 years, in fact since he first arrived in Toronto, fresh from Vernon, British Columbia — 30 years since he first picked up a guitar


"My dad was in some sort of country dance music. It wasn’t the Nashville-style country music, just an assortment of square dances, polkas, old-time waltzes and the odd standard that he could pick up on. There was a guitar lying around the house. My older brother played a bit and eventually showed me a few grips. And I learned a lot of things from meeting other guitar players out in the small towns.


"Hearing certain things on the radio got me interested in jazz. It was more interesting than the simpler music I'd been playing with my father The only break we had to hear jazz was late at night There was a program from San Francisco: the disc jockey was Jimmy Lyons. I'd be up when everybody else had gone to bed, with an ear to the radio ..


"I’d listen to anything that had guitar on it.  One of the early things I remember was Nat King Cole's trio with Oscar Moore. I used to enjoy his playing, and some very early Les Paul when he was playing more jazz-styled things. It’s a style not too many people know about.” Indeed Les Paul seems to have been a singular influence in the Canadian West, evident in the playing of other prominent guitarists like Gordie Brandt and, according to legend, Lenny Breau. (see Caught in the Act, db July 17, 19 75) "Guitar players at the time were listening to things like that because the music available for listening was limited. You had to take what they had in the stores, and Les Paul seemed to be one of the things you heard. For instance. I missed out completely on Charlie Christian because those records weren’t available in my hometown.”


"When I was m my late teens, I had a strong desire to get to play, really, the best jazz I was capable of playing. I had to move out to some large city. Occasionally, some bands would come through from Vancouver. I’d always try to hang around and talk to them. I got the impression that Toronto was the place to go.”


In the mid-'50s, jazz musicians in Toronto gathered at Melody Mill and the House of Hambourg There. Bickert came to the attention of saxophonist Norman Symonds and trombonist Ron Collier, two men known now primarily as composers (Collier, in particular, for his work with Duke Ellington), but active then as leaders in something of a third-stream bag. Associations with clarinetist Phil Nimmons and reedman Moe Koffman followed On the Canadian Scene, Ed Bickert had arrived.


He "arrived' again, more recently, courtesy of an introduction to the larger jazz world from Paul Desmond ("I consider it Ed’s album, really." the saxophonist said of Pure Desmond. He’s never recorded in the United States before, and I wanted people to hear him). Bickert explains the circumstances "I had known Jim Hall tor a number of years, and he mentioned me to Paul. Jim wanted to do more of his own thing and Paul wanted to get together with another guitarist for the sake of recording and just playing. I guess he was interested enough to get this Bourbon Street engagement started. It worked out fine. [By way of background in terms of Jim Hall wanting to “do more of his own thing,” Paul and Jim had recorded 5 LPs together in the late 1960s for RCA.]


The immediate result of a two-week gig at the Toronto club was a plan for Pure Desmond. For all the praise that he has received, though, Bickert isn't entirely pleased with his contribution to the album "That's probably always the way it will be, because I don’t play nearly to the level that I want to or think I can in a recording situation. I've never felt at ease in recording studios To some extent. Desmond’s next project, a "live" recording from Bourbon Street, should have made Bickert feel a little more comfortable. "That was part of the idea, but being aware of recording all the time hampered things. Maybe that’s the result of the studio thing, where you are more conscious of playing without mistakes than playing with any sort of expression."


That s a revealing remark from a man who was, not so long ago, the premier studio guitarist in Toronto. "Studio work was something a lot of people, including myself, were interested in because it was a prestige thing. It showed that you weren't fooling around. Now, I can't really get into the things required in studio work, the usual mixture of rock, country, and folk. I'm not anywhere near that kind of stuff. I've gotten away from it mostly because I'm trying to do something more with my own music.”


Bickert is characteristically modest about his own music. "I don't really feel I've come up with anything original in my playing, either as a guitarist or as a musician. Just listening to some basic things like Duke Ellington and (a little later) Miles Davis and other people like Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock is bound to have some effect and show itself in my playing sooner or later a phrase here, a couple of notes there, a change, it’s a combination of so many things I ve heard over the years.”


"I can't help being influenced by what I’ve heard Bill Evans do. He takes a lot of fairly standard things and plays them so that they are, to my ears, pleasant. I hate to use that word; but I guess I ve got to admit that’s where it’s at for me.”


More often than not where its “at" involves Don Thompson, bassist with what has come to be known as Desmond’s Bourbon Street Quartet (with Gerry Fuller on drums) and the Bickert trio (with Terry Clarke on drums). Don is also pianist with Bickert in duet and in Moe Koffman s current quintet, and vibist/leader on a classic Canadian broadcast recording. Secret Love, which features Bickert on guitar.


A recording of the two together, and others by Bickert’s trio, may or may not be forthcoming. He explains that it's simply a question of doing it, but "I think to myself, or I say when I'm asked, that if I ever get a chance to do a recording, without too many restrictions, that I’d be really glad and hope that I could come up with something a little better than the run-of-the-mill things you hear done by a lot of guitar players these days. But the opportunities do come up and I can't seem to organize what I really want to do when the time comes. It’s a case of too much deliberation and not enough self-confidence. Obviously “overnight success,” however long in the making, hasn’t gone to Ed Bickert’s head.[This piece was written in 1976. A few years later, Ed would enter into a contract with Concord records and make some recordings “without too many restrictions” that are among his best efforts.]


ED BICKERT IN A MELLOW TONE, by Mark Miller, Downbeat, November, 1984


An hour before he would play a rare jingle date, a day before he would fly to California for appearances at the Concord Jazz Festival with Canadian tenor saxist Fraser MacPherson and Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, and a day after he had heard the latest on the local hotspot Bourbon Street's apparent slide into obscurity, Ed Bickert sat back on a bench on the lobby of Toronto's McClear Plate recording studios, talking calmly and smoking cigarettes.


As he recounted a 30-year career as Canada's premier jazz guitarist, the other musicians on the date arrived one by one. It began to have the look of a Boss Brass call. Nine of that band's members filed in — Jerry Toth, Ron Hughes, Bob Leonard. Rick Wilkins, Ian McDougall, Bob Livingston, Guido Basso, Steve Wallace, and Rob McConnell himself— along with three ringers, Vern Dorge, Ralph Bowen, and Bob McLaren.


Wilkins was the leader this time. The chart was in a Glenn Miller-ish vein that sent McConnell back to the car for his mutes. Bickert, meanwhile, had left his Telecaster at home — yes, the rock guitarist's instrument, from which Bickert draws some of the mellowest sounds in jazz —and instead had his hollow-body Gibson L5 out of the closet to play a little four-lo-the-bar rhythm guitar.


It has been a quiet time for jazzmen and studio musicians alike in Toronto. Some of the other players at McClear Place were fairly bitter about the situation — about the economy, about the rise of the synthesizer and the demise of the working musician — but Bickert is not one to raise his voice on any subject. He speaks quietly and generally keeps his confidences; when he opens up, his comments are moderated by a dry, self-effacing sense of humor that softens any sharpness. He too feels the walls closing in, but Bickert, at 51, has had doors open internationally even as they seem to have been shutting at home.


It might not have worked out any better if he had planned it this way. But Bickert is no careerist. Other Toronto musicians would have made much more of any one of his accomplishments over the last dozen years — the association with Paul Desmond during the altoist's last years, the work with vibist Milt Jackson at home and abroad, the accumulation of good impressions that he has made backing other visiting jazzmen in Toronto, the unique harmonic concept that has inspired reverent talk among fellow guitarists the world around, the leading role that he has played in the Boss Brass' emergence of late, the various recordings that have culminated in a contract with the California label Concord Jazz. . . .


Instead, the guitarist has moved at his own pace. There's still something in Bickert of the young man who arrived in Toronto at the age of 19 fresh from the farming community of Vernon, British Columbia.  It's not just the light drawl in a resonant voice; it's this more leisurely sense of the passing day, and these relatively modest horizons. Were it not for the greater haste of other musicians in Toronto with grander ambitions and lesser talent, and were it not for the probing questions of those who would have wished much more for him by now, he should be quite comfortable.


"Left to my own devices," he said, leaning back with legs crossed, "I like to relax. I do need some sort of push to get going."


When Edward Isaac Bickert, a country lad of 12, picked up his older brothers dobro for the first time, The Guitar, historically, was just coming out of a period of transition. The year was 1945. The electric guitar was an established fact, thanks to recordings a half-dozen years before by Charlie Christian, as was — incontrovertably — the instrument's potential was a solo voice in jazz. There was much for a young guitarist to absorb.


Life for a young guitarist in Vernon, however, was much simpler. The Bickert family had moved west from the province of Manitoba, where their youngest son was born in Hochfeld, near the U.S. border, on November 29, 1932. They established a small chicken ranch in the soil-rich Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, worked the orchards, and ran an old-time dance band for Saturday night functions up in the hills. His mother played piano, and his father was a fiddler. "We'd take up a collection," Bickert remembered of his first country gigs, "so we'd get $3, $4, $5 in change, each."


Whatever they played in the hills, there was a certain amount of jazz in the family's record collection at home. "A lot of it was big band music," Bickert recalled, "Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman. . . . And there were a few small groups, like Les Paul, who had a neat little group with a couple of guitars, piano, and bass, and the King Cole Trio, with Oscar Moore and then Irving Ashby — I was really taken with the way the guitar sounded in that group. As far as any hard jazz was concerned, there wasn't a lot available, certainly not on record, in my hometown."


His introduction to jazz, then, was to its most popular manifestations. Charlie Christian was one man whose influence did not extend to Vernon, or anywhere else in Canada for that matter. Django Reinhardt was another. A list of the guitarists whose styles did come to bear on his playing in the next 10 or 15 years would include Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, Johnny Smith, Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, and Barney Kessel — the Christian line more or less, but without Christian.


There were a few other musicians in Vernon. Bickert acknowledged, "ex-professionals who'd come from somewhere else and had been involved in some jazz playing, or maybe dance bands of one sort or another — which is getting close, I suppose. The ones I met opened up my ears to new sounds and new ways of doing things." There were also other guitarists around, older men who traveled through the Okanagan Valley with dance bands out of Vancouver to the west and the Alberta resorts to the east. And there was the radio, specifically Jimmy Lyons' show from San Francisco.


Under these influences Bickert had matured as a musician by 1952 to the point where he could make the unusually bold step to Toronto. It took him a week in a '35 Chevy; at that, he might never move so quickly again.


Of the new kid in town, just 20, Bickert recalled. "I knew quite a few tunes" — the pop songs of the '30s and '40s that still constitute his repertoire today — "and I think I had quite a good 'time' feeling. Maybe better than I do now: playing the kind of music I'd been playing, my main function was to be a timekeeper — I didn't have that many hot licks down. And I didn't have that much experience, so it was just through meeting other musicians at jam sessions and such, that one thing led to another."


It didn't take very long. Initially he took a job in radio, as he had during his last year in Vernon, but by the end of the decade he was working for many of Toronto's most prominent jazz figures: trombonist Ron Collier and reedmen Norm Symonds, Moe Koffman, and Phil Nimmons. In the following years, though, the best of his generation went into the studios, playing first for radio and tv, and then for the fledgling Canadian recording industry. Bickert went with them, becoming the city's first-call guitarist. But the music began to change and his interest waned.

"I've very few connections with this kind of thing now," he observed from the McClear Place lobby. "If it happens that the people I work with in the jazz world have something in the studios, I might get in on it."


The news, now a day old, about Bourbon Street, was not good. Another policy change, the second over the summer months, had reduced Canada's most famous jazz room to just another Toronto cabaret. In its heyday, Bourbon Street had been Bickert's avenue to the international scene.


Through his years in the studios, he had kept his hand in with various Toronto jazz groups, flutist Moe Koffman's popular band foremost among them. He still plays in this group, one of two standing commitments on the Toronto scene, along with the Boss Brass. His own groups are highly informal, especially since his partner through the 1970s, bassist/pianist Don Thompson, took up with George Shearing in 1982.

Again, Bickert might not have planned this better: as the studio calls decreased in the mid - '70s, the invitations to play behind visiting soloists at Bourbon Street increased. The list over the years has been varied but formidable: altoists Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, cornetist Ruby Braff, flugelhorn player Art Farmer, the late trombonist Frank Rosolino, the tenor/ trumpet team of Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache, vibists Milt Jackson and Red Norvo, and several others.


Recordings followed with Desmond, Rosolino, Braff, and Hamilton/Vache. Desmond, who came out of semi-retirement on fellow guitarist Jim Hall's word of Bickert's harmonic sensitivity, took his entire Toronto rhythm section on the road for some of his final concert performances. Jackson, incredibly, got Bickert out as far as Japan in 1979.


By the Bourbon Street era, of course, the Bickert style was fully formed. It is not to diminish his solos, which are models of succinct melodicism, to suggest that the Bickert identity lies in the chords that he plays. They pulse with a soft glow as he pulls at them gently, a technique of plucking rather than strumming developed in the late '50s to meet the requirements of composer Norman Symonds, the Third Stream writer who employed Bickert in place of a pianist and then threw all sorts of odd, concert hall, keyboard harmony at him.


Bickert’s note selection is impeccable, his hearing acute. (Said one Toronto musician recently. "Ed Bickert, man, he can hear the paint peel.") He has listened to pianists — to Bill Evans, he has said, and to Red Garland, early Herbie Hancock, and others — and he developed his unique harmonic approach intuitively, "just by experimenting on my own, trying to find the nice chords that you get on a piano, realizing that I don't have as many notes to work with, and picking out the important ones. I'm sure that someone who knows his theory and harmony could do this very nicely without much experimentation, they would know which notes would give you what sound. I don't know that, so I've got to do it my way, listening and trying to find a grip on the guitar. Someone who got me thinking about this was [the late] Lenny Breau, because he had that talent for finding a couple of really important notes just to augment a chord."


Desmond was suitably amazed by his guitarist's gifts, and the two men played wonderfully literate jazz together. Looking back, Bickert most appreciated Desmond's encouragement — "just the fact that he enjoyed the way I was playing" — and his choice of tunes, those great pop songs which were fine by me."

Jackson's funky elegance, on the other hand, brought the guitarist out of himself. Bickert apparently liked what was revealed. "If I could play the guitar the way Milt plays the vibes."he remarked, in a rare burst of enthusiasm. "I'd be pretty happy."

He caught himself. "Well, maybe not completely and forever, but for a lot of the time."


A day after his return from the West Coast, Bickert was looking a week ahead to another concert with Vancouver tenorman Eraser MacPherson, this one at the Edmonton festival known as Jazz City. Their Concord appearance together had gone well enough to be recorded, and that release, together with duet and sextet albums with Rob McConnell, will keep Bickert represented on the international market.

It's just as well. He doesn't get out there much in person, at least not on his own, although singer Rosemary Clooney had him in her ensemble recently at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel, and he'll be traveling with Moe Hoffman's quintet early next year when it tours the West with Dizzy Gillespie.


There are always work permit problems for a Canadian musician who wishes to work in the U.S., even a musician with Bickert s reputation. Moreover, he said, sounding a familiar refrain, "I'm not a self-starter. That's the main problem. I haven't done much to drum up some business for myself. I would certainly welcome any chance to play where people would enjoy the music, to play with some other musicians, to be working somewhere other than Toronto." Without knowing quite where, or how, to begin, he seems to be aware that changes may be in order at one level or another.


"At the moment, if I were going to do more on my own, it would be more of the same. That bothers me a bit. I'd like to get something a little different going. I'm not sure what, and it's an immediate concern because I'm supposed to do another record for Concord soon, and I don't want to do another one just like the last one. I don't know whether I should try to play with some different guys, or trv to find some different material, or a different way of handling it. I've talked to Don Thompson about this. He thinks I should be playing something on records a little more modern than I have been. Which I can do, up to a point...."


The Bickert fan, however, need not fear. "What for me might be a bit of a departure, may not sound that much different to the listener," the guitarist suggested.


"I haven't really heard that many of the newer guitar players. Some of the few that I've heard, who are more up to date, like John Scofield, I enjoy. Ralph Towner ... I can't name too many. Some of it I enjoy; some of it I just appreciate. At the same time I don't think that I can start trying to play anything close to that, as far as being more modern, more sophisticated, or more assertive. That's partly because I don't have the background in harmony and such that some of the younger guys do. It's partly because I'm in that age bracket, I suppose, where you get settled into something. And it's partly my nature. I'm not an aggressive kind of person: the way I play's like that, too." db


ED BICKERT CHAPTER IN BOOGIE, PETE & THE SENATOR by Mark Miller (Nightwood; First Edition edition (January 1, 1987)


“His timing might have been a little better - generally it is impeccable - but Ed Bickert captured the essence of his own artistry one night late in 1981. The occasion was a Stephane Grappelli concert. The place, Massey Hall.


Bickert and bassist Dave Young were opening the evening for the great French violinist. Pausing between tunes, the guitarist started on the usual introductions.


"Can't hear you," interrupted a voice from the hall.


"Well," Bickert replied, coolly and without apology, "you'll just have to listen, because ! don't talk loud."


It has been noted probably too many times before: Bickcert’s is an art of understatement. "He's had to live with thai word," observed a Toronto critic, "the way Raquel Welch has had in live with the stares of men."


Not that it is inaccurate - this, after all, is the musician who would, in an already somnambulant set by the vibraphonist Red Norvo, take the ballad Emily as his own feature and make it the quietest piece of all.


No, "understatement" is merely incomplete. It reduces to a single quality - and single attitude, really, a complex, personal approach approach to jazz. It does not accommodate the kind of vivid harmonic colour that Bickert finds in the traditionally limited palette of the guitar - the kind of chordal extensions that, by judicious selection and elimination, he creates with just three or four notes and that, with a gentle touch, he gives a soft, pulsing glow It does not accommodate the supremely melodic qualities of his solos; their harmonic sophistication notwithstanding, their direction is essentially linear or rather, naturally linear, full of graceful movement and bluesy inflection. Nor does it accommodate his sensitivity to changing situations: it is a different Ed Bickert who swings freely behind Milt Jackson than the one who nudges Red Norvo along, a gentler spirit who accompanied the late Paul Desmond than the one who pushes Rick Wilkins.


Ultimately, it may speak only to the fact that all of these qualities together form a dynamic of their own, one that - subtle though it may be - needs no further emphasis. Far be it for Bickert to add what is unnecessary. Still speaking softly, he backs into the admission that, yes, he has what has become "a recognizable way of playing... a style, I suppose you could call it."


He talks out of the left corner of his mouth with a slight drawl that matches what Paul Desmond once noted was a resemblance to the Marlboro Man. ("His face," another writer began, taking up the image, "lean and bracketed by deeply etched vertical lines..." Bickert, however, smokes a different brand. Constantly.) His delivery would seem hesitant if it weren't so relaxed, with a "well" or an "I suppose" to pace the bolder assertions. He speaks much as he makes music, controlling the space around his statements, keeping them clear, unencumbered and to the point.


"The way I play," he once explained, sounding just a little apologetic at the time, "is the way I am as a person. I'm not an aggressive, adventurous type; I'm very traditional in a lot of areas of my life. I think that's pretty much how I play”


Like the man, and like his music, his career has been modest. Always in control. He is Canada's preeminent Jazz guitarist, an original whose unique harmonic vision has made him a man of some influence. Internationally, his work with Desmond, Jackson, the Boss Brass and, lately, the Concord Jazz stable, stands him in the '80s second only to Oscar Peterson as the country's most celebrated jazz musician. Yet such lofty distinctions have come to Bickert on his own terms; ever aware of what is comfortable and what is not, and moreover "not wanting to take a chance of things not working out," he simply played the music of his choice in the manner of his choosing and has been singularly reluctant to make himself heard by any other means.


In a career of more than 30 years, his most assertive move was the first one at 19, from Vernon, British Columbia, to Toronto, in a '35 Chevy. But once settled, forever settled, it seems, and the world has instead had to beat a path to Bickert's Scarborough door.


It was in 1952 that Bickert up and left Vernon behind. Taken there at the age of two, he picked his older brother's dobro guitar at 11 and played country music in the Vernon area of the Okanagan Valley with his father, a fiddler, and mother, a pianist. “Not country music as we know it today from Nashville," he would be quick to say years later, "just the kind of music that people in the country danced to: polkas, Viennese waltz-type- things, foxtrots, one-steps, two-steps, schottisches and I forget what else. "


By 1952 he had worked his way up through a couple of guitars and a couple of amplifiers; he had heard Oscar Moore with Nat King Cole on the radio; he had heard the "pre-machinery” Les Paul on records; he had not heard Charlie Christian at all; he had hawked the guitarists who played in the dance bands that travelled through the valley from Vancouver and found among them |azz players like Ernie Blunt and Gordie Brandt;i he had decided on a similar career for himself.


His resolve almost deserted him once he reached Toronto. “I was really taken aback by the guitar players I heard,” he once recalled. “I thought, “Well, I’m not ready for this!’ So I didn’t play at all for a couple of years. I worked at [radio station] CFRB as an engineer, and while I was doing that I gradually got a little fired up about music, met some musicians, played some sessions..."


Bickert, already in character, waited until he had the promise of steady work with reedman Jimmy Amaro (Sr.) at the Silver Rail before he left CfRB in 1955. After hours, he worked with Amaro's pianist, Norm Amadio, at the House of Hambourg, and began to make the acquaintance of the visiting musicians who would carry his name across the border. Bickert himself followed for the first time in 1956 as a member of an Amadio quartet that appeared at Birdland in New York. It was an ill-fated venture the band's bassist, Bob Schilling, died during the trip - and Bickert's ambitions narrowed immediately.


"The whole thing was overwhelming for me," he remembered, "going to the 'big, bad' city, and seeing what the 'big time' places like Birdland are really like. You hear about these places tor years and you imagine something magical and wonderful, but when you go there, they're funky and beat-up. Around the same time as we were there. Duke Ellington's band, Horace Silver's band, and Sal Salvador were all playing. And here we were, the hicks from Canada, coming down to try and play stuff that we, for the most part, had taken from American records. It was kind of ridiculous. Of course, to have Bob die there — the circumstances, and all the rest of it - was a real shock. It took me a long time to get over that."


Back home at the House of Hambourg, and not soon enough, the guitarist played a prominent role in a productive period for jazz in Toronto, the late '50s. Several musicians began to move toward major, jazz-related careers with Bickert at their side some or all of the way.


He was a member of the ensembles led by composers Norman Symonds and Ron Collier when they were exploring the third stream idiom, and it was Symonds' extended harmonic and textural vocabulary that demanded of Bickert a different approach to the guitar- first to cope with the composer's written three and four-note chords "not like any basic chord I've heard before" - and then to develop a right-hand technique with flat pick and three fingers, to pluck each note simultaneously rather than strum them in succession. Although the guitarist's work with Collier's quintet on a 1957 CBC recording of Symonds' Concerto Grosso reveals some familiarity now with Charlie Christian, or at least some ot Christian's many followers, it is tempered with that meticulous sense of measurement and space that is already Bickert's own.


He was with Phil Nimmons soon after the clarinetist's tentet began its long association with CBC radio in 1957. And he was with Moe Koffman for the flutist's recording of Swinging Shepherd Blues that same year; Bickert was still with Koffman for a new version of the hit in 1973, and he remains to this day in the flock, even as his own cachet in jazz has far surpassed that of his most frequent employer.


As a result of his work with Ron Collier, Bickert was hired in the mid-50s to help "update" the rhythm section of the Howard Cable Orchestra that played for "Showtime" on CBC TV. Studio work was not something he sought out, he once noted of the activity that would dominate the next 15 years of his career, although, he admitted, "it was something that a lot of people, including myself, were interested in because it was sort of a prestige thing - it showed you weren't just fooling around."


Clearly not fooling around, Bickert settled into a busy, it sheltered career, hidden not only in Toronto, but largely in Toronto studios, his ambitions in jazz adjusted though apparent not entirely lost. "If I had a chance to sit in for one occasion with any group in the world," an emboldened Bickert suggested in 1957 to a Globe and Mail reporter, "I'd like to try Oscar Peterson’s.”


Eventually, the chance would come "People like Oscar Peterson to Stan Getz would say, 'Oh yeah, we've got to get together and do this or that.' And I'd say,'Yeah, I'm interested.' And that would be the end of it... It's like someone saying, ‘We must have lunch sometime.’”


Peterson called in 1980, and it was a very light meal, indeed - a CanCon, The Personal Touch, of pop songs by Canadian songwriters ranging from Sheldon Brooks to Gene MacLellan, recorded with Canadian musicians for Canadian release.


By then, though, several U.S. musicians had also employed Bickert's talents, and to much better ends at that. Paul Desmond was the first, in 1974, and the three recordings that the two men made together. Pure Desmond and two live sets from Bourbon Street in Toronto, were effectively the guitarist's formal introduction to the international jazz scene. The subsequent rise in the same quarter of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, of which Bickert had been an important member from the band's beginnings in 1968, substantiated the guitarist's emergence.


The time was excellent. Bickert had left the studios a few years before "a mutual parting," he would say later - as the range of styles demanded of him there outstripped his own interests. "The odd time I get called to do something where it befits my ears, like playing a Freddie Green kind of rhythm in a big band for a jingle or a record date. And occasionally someone gets a date that, there again, could be done by any one of a dozen guys, and maybe he decides I should have it for the sake of hating a job. I've certainly made of point of not getting into situations that I don't think I'm suited for, and I think most of the people who are hiring know that."


From the early '70s on, he instead divided his time between George's Spaghetti House and Bourbon Street. Moe Koffman's quintet has remained his first priority at George's, where he has also played for Rob McConnell. Don Thompson and Rick Wilkins and with the younger guitarist Lorne Lofsky. The visiting leaders who requested his services during the Bourbon Street era that ended in the mid-80s with the club's demise included Jackson and Norvo, Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Ruby Braff, Frank Rosolino and the Concord All Stars.


Rosolino and Braff made recordings with Bickert, Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke in 1976 and 79 respectively; Jackson coaxed the guitarist to Japan - a coup, surely - in 1979; and the Concord musicians invited him to their festival in California after recording an album under his name at Bourbon Street in 1983. He made a second Concord Jazz album later that year, a third in 1985, and he has appeared on others for the U.S company by Rosemary Clooney, Eraser MacPherson and Benny Carter.


His own Concord Jazz releases. The Ed Bickert 5 At Toronto Bourbon Street (CJ-216), Bye Bye Baby (CJ-232) and I Wished on the Moon (CJ-2K4) bring the total to 11 since 1975. There were two live trio sets, one from George's for PM Records (PMR 010) in 1975 and one from The Hague, Holland, for Radio Canada International (RCI 503) in 1979. There were two albums with Don Thompson, one of guitar/bass duets (Sackville 4005) from 1978, and the other, Dance to the Lady, of guitar/ piano duets (Sackville 4010) from 1980. There were two more collaborations. Mutual Street (Innovation JC 0009) with Rob McConnell, recorded in 1982 and '84, and a quartet album with Lorne Lofsky (Unisson DDA-1002) in 1985. And there was one MOR set for the Canadian Talent Library in 1977 - his least revealing record with his most revealing title, I Like to Recognize The Tune.


The tunes, generally, are the great pop songs of the '30s and '40s - from Hollywood and Broadway, from the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart or Hammerstein, Carmichael, Mercer, Allen. . "A big part of that," he once observed, "is familiarity. It seems as though I have to know something really well before I can mess with it at all ….  I learned an awful lot of songs between the ages of 10 and 20; it was a kind of magic thing to be able to learn songs, to start playing some of the chords that go with them,and at that age of discovery, a lot of things made a deep impression on me...


“So I identify with the older tunes, which are from a more sentimental era. And maybe that's how I feel about playing. Perhaps I’m just reacting to a lot of the things that have been going on over the past few years. Pretty things are out. It has to be hip, energetic and  sometimes just straight-ahead angry.


“It’s probably a reaction to that," he concluded, sounding all apologetic, because a lot of that is just not part of my personality.”


To be continued in Part Two - Ed Bickert - The Views of Other Musicians

On the following video montage, Ed is joined by fellow guitarist on Charlie Parker's A-Leu-Cha with Neil Swainson, bass and Jerry Fuller, drums.