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Volume 16 Issue 10 - July/August 2011

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Book ShelfThe Well-Tempered Listener:Growing up with Musical Parentsby Mary Willan MasonWords Indeed230 pages, photos; .95Because so muchof Healey Willan’swork was devotedto the church — as acomposer of sacredmusic, organist, andchoir director — hewas often regardedas a serious, devoutand rather gruffcharacter. But in herdelightful memoir,his daughter MaryWillan Mason gives us another side to thiscomplex, brilliant man, describing just howmischievous, witty and irreverently funny hecould be. She still recalls a benefit concertat the Toronto (now Royal) Conservatory ofMusic, where he taught for many years.“My father walked on stage wearing a frillyyellow frock with my hair ribbon up on topof his head. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hesat down at the piano pretending to be a veryfidgety little girl doing her recital piece,”and performed “The World is Waiting forthe Bunrise.” It was a dig at his colleague,Ernest Seitz, who, she later learned, hadfailed to acknowledge Willan’s help in writinghis popular song The World is Waitingfor the Sunrise.Music was the main topic of conversationbetween Mason’s parents at home. Yether mother, whose considerable musicalaccomplishments Mason describes withpride, had given up a promising career asa concert pianist in their native Englandbecause Willan would not allow his wife towork. “Although they had played togetherin public before their marriage,” she writes,“Dad showed his Victorian upbringing bynot wanting Mother to perform in publicafter their marriage.” Willan’s biographerand former student F.R.C. Clarke quotes afamily friend who described Gladys Willanas “long suffering.” Mason doesn’t go thatfar. But she does remark on their strainedrelationship, and reveals the hurt caused by ahusband and father who, though undoubtedlygentle, respectful and loving, was remoteand demanding.Some of the many pleasures here areprovided by Mason’s childhood memoriesof Toronto in the 1920s and 30s, when awater trough for horses sat outside the RoyalOntario Museum, and the Willan home onInglewood Drive was surrounded by fields.One day she watched as the wooden SundayPAMELA MARGLESschool building originally from ChristChurch, Deer Park was pulled by horsesacross the wooden planks of the St. ClairAvenue bridge to Glenrose Avenue, where itbecame the studio of family friends, sculptorsFrancis Loring and Florence Wyle.Mason, a journalist and actor now in hernineties, is an astute observer with a remarkablememory. She is able to offer insightsinto Willan that no-one else could. Mostmemorable is the scene the evening after hermother’s unexpected death, when Willan satdown at his piano. “He must have playednon-stop for at least half an hour. It wasmusic that I had never heard before, and itwas transcendentally lovely, ethereal. I askedhim what it was, and he said, very quietly, ‘Iwas just thinking of your mother’.”Expert editing, the author’s personalphotos, and a detailed index help make this amemoir to treasure.Rant & Dawdle:The Fictional Memoir of Colston WillmottAs Imagined By William E. (Bill) SmithCharivari Press482 pages, photos; .95There’s nothingstraightforwardabout Bill Smith’slife and career, andhis rambling, chaoticmemoir is nodifferent. It’s notjust that it jumpsall over, provokingeven the author atone point to comment,“You may bewondering where allthis is leading, as indeed I am.” For reasonsSmith never actually explains, he presentsthis memoir as a work of fiction, tellingthe life-story of an imaginary character,Colston Willmott.The life recorded here has been spent inextremes, driven by an obsession with jazz,and fuelled by an irrepressible imagination.But whose life is it? If it actually differsfrom Smith’s — and we suspect itdoesn’t — we don’t find out here.But as merely the author, and not the subject,of this “fictional memoir,” Smith getsto assume the voice of a third-person narrator.The text alternates between his narrativeand that of his fictional doppelganger. It’sa clever device. Smith can call Willmott a“grumpy, doddering, old sod,” and Willmottcan indulge his feelings of self-pity abouteverything from his declining health to theloneliness that possesses him.As he moves into his seventies, Willmotttakes pleasure in his considerable professionalachievements, the books he reads sovoraciously, the musicians he still listensto on disc, like Art Blakey, Miles Davis,Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins, AnthonyBraxton and Albert Ayler, his enduring andrewarding relationship with the woman hecalls Essjay, and his abiding love for histwo daughters, here referred to as Bonesand Giggles.It’s been over twenty years since Smithretreated from Toronto to Hornby Island.But he remains an essential presence onthe Canadian jazz scene as a musician,photographer, record producer, radio host,editor, film producer and writer. This bookprovides a neat counterpart to Smith’sprevious book, Imagine the Sound, whichdocumented his life in jazz with poetry,photos and reminiscences of family, friends,and the extraordinary musicians Smith hasplayed with, photographed, interviewedand recorded. They’re all here — in spirit,if not name. And so is his “old mate andbusiness partner,” fellow Brit John Norris(here called Welman), the founder of CodaMagazine. Together they produced Coda,started Sackville Records and ran the Jazzand Blues Record Centre. Smith was theavant-gardist of the team; Norris, who diedin 2010, the traditionalist.This is such a hilarious, poignant, andthoroughly captivating tale that typos,repetitions and misspellings seem not tomatter. The assortment of fonts used may beconfusing, and it’s frustrating not to have thephotos (many by Smith himself) identified.But better to preserve the rough edges thanrisk toning down and smoothing out thesingularly authentic voice so brilliantlycaptured here.MUSIC LOVERS!The latest hearing aid technology makes it possibleto enjoy musical performances and movies the wayyou used to. Improve your hearing in backgroundnoise and connect wirelessly to cellphones andtelevision using Bluetooth wireless technology.HEAR Torontois an independent hearing care clinic offering:Hearing evaluationsHearing aids /accessoriesHearing protectionWe specialize in products and servicesfor Musicians and Music lovers.Ross Harwell, (416) 484-4327Doctor of Audiology,B. Mus.Perf., M.Sc., Au.D.586 Eglinton Ave. E. Suite 305www.HearToronto.ca60 thewholenote.comJuly 1–September 7, 2011

Editor’s CornerDAVID OLDSAt time of writing I am about toofficially enter summer mode, whichfor me means less cello playing andfewer classical pursuits, and more timespent with my folk instruments — guitars,mandolins and accordion. I am pleased tohave found several new releases which fitthis summer sensibility. The first is Europa,which features local guitarist/vocalist/songwriter George Grosman and his bandBohemian Swing (www.georgegrosman.com).The disc takes us on a whirlwind tour ofEuropean capitals with original songs suchas Budapest Café, Sarajevo Waltz, The Thiefof Bucharest, London in November andCole Porter’s I Love Paris. AccompanyingGrosman on this adventure of love, loss andremembrance areviolinist JonathanMarks, trumpeterIan MacGillivray,accordionist FabriceSicco, uprightbassist Abbey LeonSholzberg and ahost of guest artists.Despite occasional moments of naïveté andpolitical incorrectness the project is a cleverand compelling portrait, presenting storiesalmost as film vignettes, giving us both thelighter and darker sides of some of the greatcities of the world. You can catch Grosmanand Bohemian Swing in a live performanceat The Rex on July 10 at 3:30.A little further afieldis the primarilyinstrumental ensembleThe Black SeaStation, which grewout of the North EndKlezmer Project inWinnipeg. Foundingmembers MyronSchultz (clarinet), Victor Schultz (violin) andDaniel Koulack (acoustic bass), all alumniof the seminal klezmer band Finjan, arejoined here by Toronto-born renaissanceman Ben Mink (violin, mandolin, mandocello)and Moldovan accordionist NicolaiPrisacar on the rollicking TransylvaniaAvenue (www.blackseastation.com). Theself-described “combination of originalcompositions influenced by traditional stylesand traditional songs set with contemporaryarrangements” very effectively conveys theband’s respect of tradition while placingthem firmly in the 21st century. Highlightsfor me include the food oriented My Dinnerat Schwartz’s and At the Café Sambor andthree Romanian melodies combined to makeNine-Eight, the concluding Trance SylvanianWaltz (with Sabarelu) and March of theShikker with guest vocals (well, mutteringsreally) by Geddy Lee. Although the band’sonly summer concert date was in June at theWinnipeg Jazz Festival, I’m hoping they willtour again soon — perhaps a return visit tonext year’s Ashkenaz Festival?If you are readingthis on the firstday or so afterpublication you maystill have time toget down to MetroSquare for what isbound to be one ofthe highlights of theTD Toronto Jazz Festival — a performanceby the original members of Bela Fleck andthe Flecktones on June 30. Fleck’s banjo-ledquasi blues band is in fine form on theirlatest release Rocket Science (EOM-CD 2133www.eonemusic.com) with Howard Levyon harmonicas and piano, Victor LemonteWooten on electric basses and Futureman(Roy Wooten) on “drumitar” (a synthesizerof his own design) and acoustic drums andpercussion. All of the tunes are original — inmore ways than one — with Fleck and Levytaking most of the writing credits, but aparticular treasure is Futureman’s The SecretDrawer, surely one of the most eclectic“drum” solos in the realm of popular music.Other favourites include Fleck’s GravityLane, Falling Forward and Bottle Rocketand Levy’s Joyful Spring. If you miss theirlive performance this disc will go a long wayto explaining what all the fuss is about.Of course theToronto summermusic scene doesnot exclude classicalmusic andthis year we haveseen the additionof the Capital OneBlackCreek SummerMusic Festival with its eclectic offeringsrivalling those of Luminato. But thebackbone of the classical summer remainsthe Toronto Summer Music Festival whichgets under way with a gala performancefeaturing Kirill Gerstein at Koerner Hallon July 19. While the festival’s theme thisyear is “Beethoven and the Romantics” andGerstein’s repertoire for the concert reflectsthis — Beethoven’s last sonata and Liszt’siconic B minor — I was pleased to find thatthe 2010 Gilmore Award-winning pianist’sinaugural solo album Liszt – Schumann –Knussen (Myrios Classics MYR005) alsoincludes some 21st century fare. The discbegins with Schumann’s Humoreske , aweighty work belying its title. Gerstein’sperformance brings out both the thoughtfulmelancholy and the moments of whimsyinherent in the work. Oliver Knussen’sOphelia’s Last Dance was commissionedby the Gilmore Foundation for Gersteinin conjunction with the 0,000 GilmoreArtist Award. Based on earlier fragmentsintended for but not used in his ThirdSymphony (1973-74), Ophelia’s Last Danceis a 2010 reworking somewhat reminiscent ofDebussy at his most contemplative, but withan expanded tonality firmly rooting it in themusic of our own time. Gerstein’s personaltake on the Liszt sonata is very effective,beginning in near silence and then burstingto life to hold our rapt attention for the nexthalf hour. I expect the audience at KoernerHall will be similarly enthralled.we welcome your feedback andinvite submissions. CDs and commentsshould be sent to: The WholeNote,503–720 Bathurst St., Toronto ON M5S 2R4.We also encourage you to visit our website,www.thewholenote.com, where you can findadded features including direct links to performers,composers and record labels, “buybuttons” for on-line shopping and additional,expanded and archival reviews.—David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comJuly 1–September 7, 2011 thewholenote.com 61

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