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Volume 17 Issue 4 - December 2011

  • Text
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • December
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Mr. Miller’s TalesJ I

Mr. Miller’s TalesJ I M G A L L O W A YMARK MILLER IS probably the !nest author of jazz books thatthis country has ever produced. There. Having stated mycase right off the top, I am pleased to say that there is anew addition to his now substantial body of work. It is called WayDown That Lonesome Road, the story of Lonnie Johnson in Toronto,where he lived for the last !ve years of his life from 1965 to 1970.There might well be a lot of readers who would ask “Who wasLonnie Johnson?”Well, he was born into a musical family in New Orleans, in 1899,and was destined to be a pioneer jazz guitarist, credited with beingthe !rst to play single string solos on that instrument. In his earlycareer he was pretty well regarded as a blues player although hewasn’t happy to be pigeon-holed as such. But he went on to makerecordings in 1927 with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five as a guest onI’m Not Rough, Savoy Blues and Hotter Than That, and in 1928 withDuke Ellington on Hot and Bothered, Move Over, and The Mooche.The book covers in some detail the early career of Johnson, butthe meat of this work deals with the years spent in Toronto and noone is better quali!ed than Mark Miller to tell that story.But in the grand scale of things, Lonnie Johnson is overlooked,like so many other musicians. And therein is a clue as to what makesMark Miller, the author, click.He is drawn to the stories of musicians who made signi!cantcontributions, but have been neglected because they weren’t “stars.”Who else would have so diligently researched and writtenan informative and entertaining book on the life and music ofValaida Snow or an equally rewarding look at the life of HerbieNichols — again, hardly household names. He likes to look forthe overlooked.It came as no surprise when I learned that Miller was researchinga book on Lonnie Johnson’s !nal years when he called Torontohome. It is a fascinating read set at a time before Yorkville becamefashionable and traditional blues and jazz were relatively popular.To those readers who were around in the days of “"ower power”and hippies, the book is a nostalgic trip down memory lane and adetailed study of Johnson’s life in a town where he felt welcome.Another important side of Miller’s life was his time as a reviewerand critic. He was the sometimes controversial jazz columnistfor Toronto’s Globe And Mail newspaper from 1978 to 2005. Hisreviews showed the same insightful and well-crafted standard ofwriting which is now so clearly evident in his books.His views were at times open toquestion with some of his readers,but nobody could ever deny thequality of his writing.Some of those same readerswere of the opinion that Millerhad a de!nite preference forthe more contemporary and“avant-garde” players and aresurprised, for example, thathe would devote the timeand energy to a book onthe aforementioned ValaidaSnow or Lonnie Johnson.A look at the contents ofA Certain Respect ForTradition, a volume of hisselected writings, will infact show a knowledgeMark Miller.and appreciation of a broadspectrum of the music. Mr. Miller does indeedhave a refreshingly open mind to his chosen craft.He eventually elected to give up writing his pieces for the newspaper.By way of explanation he had this to say: “The business of jazz,the media in general and the Globe in particular have all moved innew directions. Their various interests, and mine, simply diverged.”Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, given that nowadays theFRED LUM32 thewholenote.comDecember 1 – February 7, 2012

mainstream media have by and large abandoned coverage of jazz. Inthe last few years more than half of all arts journalists were eitherdropped or moved to other positions. On the other hand there arearts blogs now competing for attention online by the hundreds ofthousands. But the lack of arts coverage in conventional newspapersspeaks volumes about where we are culturally right now.When asked to name some of his favourite musicians the listranged from contemporary bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons to Jelly RollMorton’s Red Hot Peppers via Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monkand Gil Evans – it was a Gil Evans recording that !rst opened hisears and mind to jazz – showing a healthy open-minded approachwhich is re"ected in the subject matter of the ten books he hashad published.Looking at the evolving nature of the music, Miller sees a futurein which jazz will be seen as a small period of time in the overalldevelopment of improvised music in which melody, rhythm and amelding of musical in"uences from other cultures played an essentialpart and after which the texture of jazz changed radically, evolvingand reinventing itself while still retaining its creative force.If there is a tougher way of making a living in jazz by playing,then it surely is surviving as a writer about jazz. It is also a lonelyoccupation with no instant feedback from an audience, no applausefor a well written chapter or a well-placed turn of phrase.The loneliness isn’t necessarily a hardship. Some writers enjoy thesolitary working life and I suspect that Miller !ts the description.But that sits quite comfortably with his personal life in which headmits to enjoying tv, sports and the company of friends.He might also have included his interest in photography, but sincehis next project is likely to be a book of his own photographs, perhapsthat now goes into the “work in progress” category, eventuallyto become book number 11 in the ongoing tale of this Miller.As always, happy listening and, I might add, enjoy some reading.(In fact, you might want to start with a short excerpt from the prefaceto Mark Miller’s Way Down That Lonesome Road. You will !ndit in at the end of The WholeNote BookShelf on page 74.)Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader andformer artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. Hecan be contacted at jazznotes@thewholenote.com.I N D E X O F A D V E R T I S E R SAcademy Concert Series 55 Gallery 345 51Aldeburgh Connection 86George Heinl 22Alexander Kats 69Grace Church on the Hill 38All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church 47 Grand Philharmonic Choir 60Amadeus Choir 45Hamilton Children’s Choir 60Amici Chamber Ensemble 26 Hannaford Street Silver Band 7, 53Amoroso 77Heliconian Hall 64Annex Singers 41Hymn Society, Southern OntarioAradia Ensemble 4Chapter 67Associates of the TSO 56I Furiosi 42ATMA 5J.A.M. Global Arts 39Attila Glatz Productons 49John Greyson 69Aurora Cultural Centre 47,87 John McNab 39Bach Children’s Chorus 41Jubilate Singers 67Canadian Opera Company 27 Junction Trio, The 54Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra Kindred Spirits Orchestra 44, 6946Larkin Singers 57Choirs Ontario 70L’Atelier Grigorian 75Christ Church Deer Park Jazz Vespers Leon Belov 7032Liz Parker 70Church of St Mary Magdalene 41 LIZPR 68City of St Catharines 61Lockwood ARS 70Civic Light Opera 34Long & McQuade 33Classical 96 85Long & McQuade / New Horizons 31Cosmo Music 31Mary Lou Fallis 69Counterpoint Musical Services 67 Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall 3Dukes of Harmony 67Metropolitan Community Church 48Eglinton St George’s United Church 43 Mississauga Symphony 45Elmer Iseler Singers 17, 36 Mooredale Concerts 51Ensemble Polaris 48Music at Metropolitan 58Exultate Chamber Choir 46Music Gallery 13Figgy Pudding Chorale 43Music Toronto 9, 35, 37, 51, 52Musicians in Ordinary 50Nathaniel Dett Chorale 15National Academy Orchestra 68New Music Concerts 15, 43, 56Nocturnes in the City 68Norm Pulker 70NYCO 55Off Centre 59Ontario Philharmonic 46, 59Orchestra Toronto 36Organix 86Orpheus Choir 19Our Lady of Sorrows 38Pasquale Bros 67Pattie Kelly 70Pavlo 29Pax Christi Chorale 35Perlman & Farrugia 50Peter Mahon 17Queen of Puddings 38Ray Isaacs 28Richmond Hill Centre for thePerforming Arts 24Rose Theatre 23Royal Conservatory 11Scarborough Philharmonic 52Sheila McCoy 70Sine Nomine 44SinfoniaToronto 39Soundstreams 57St Marks’ Presbyterian Church 32St Michael’s Choir School 40St Philip’s Jazz Vespers 32St Thomas’ Church 47St Stephen in-the-Fields AnglicanChurch 69Steve’s Music Store 29Sue Crowe Connolly 70Syrinx Sunday Salons 42,59Tafelmusik 2Talisker Players 56Tallis Choir 41The Singing Voice Studio 67The Sound Post 30Toronto All-Star Big Band 33, 40Toronto Centre for the Arts 23Toronto Choral Society 44Toronto Consort 19, 55Toronto Masque Theatre 48, 58Toronto Mendelssohn Choir 38Toronto Opera Repertoire 27Toronto Operetta Theatre 50Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra 25, 54Toronto Symphony Orchestra 54, 68, 88TorQ 37U of T, Faculty of Music 21Univox Choir 42Via Salzburg 40Victoria Scholars 44Wychwood Clarinet Choir 43Yamaha Music School 70December 1 – February 7, 2012 thewholenote.com 33

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