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Volume 6 Issue 9 - June 2001

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Theatre
  • Festival
  • Musical
  • Wholenote
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  • Quay

CovER STORY: A TOAST TO

CovER STORY: A TOAST TO Mm Jim Galloway UG), Guido Basso (GB) and Phil Nimmons (PN) in Conversation JG: Sitting here with Guido Basso and Phil Nimmons, shall I say, veterans of the Canadian music scene - Both: Veterans, yes , 1 JG: And we are drinking a toast to Moe, and I wanted us to reflect a little on Moe Koffman who, as we know, passed away within the past few months. It's coming up to festival time and we are having a tribute to Moe June 27 in the Nathan Phillips tent, and you, Guido, are playing on it. GB: That's with Russ Little JG: Appropriate, since Moe·~ last public performance was on the same stage at last year's festival . ... Both of you knew him very, very well, better than I did. PN: I was thinking when I really first met Moe ... GB: Before I first moved to Toronto ... PN: I'm trying to remember whether he did any playing, (in Nimmons 'N' Nine), I don't think so. Jerry Toth was the saxophone player in the band. My contact with him at that time probably would have been in the studios. It wasn't until later on that I made contact with Moe playing in Nimmons 'N' Nine Plus Six, when he subbed for Jerry, but that would be a few years later. I'm trying to remember if there are any anecdotes - I always remember Moe, right from the beginning, really dedicated and committed to really learning how to play his horn, and sort of a consummate musician; Even at those times, I think you could detect that he was going to have some classical chops. His musical intent seemed to suggest that - and, of course, over the years I've always admired his great bebop playing, which is something I can't do. So anybody who can do it, ,I have to admire. I can't play Dixieland and I admire you, you can do that, Jim . . JG: I call it traditional. PN: Well, right away, I gave my age away!" (Gentle laughter round the table.) GB: Well, with Moe, when I first - well, when I was living in Montreal, of course, I'm a Montrealer originally, and I'd 32 wholenote JuNE 1, 2001 - JuLv 7, 2001 watch the. Jack Kane show - and both Moe Koffman and Jerry Toth were part of that band - two fabulous alto players, who had practised and practised to learn the doubling instruments. The bands in those days when I first came here, which was the early sixties, the studio scene was just - those were the golden years of the studios. PN: Mind boggling when you think about it GN: And most of the time the bands wete comprised of musicians who were jazz oriented - guys who loved to play jazz music, guys who · loved jazz music, but, in order . to make a good living, you'd have to, you know, have to go where the work was .. The studio scene was very lucrative and Moe was, besides being a fabulous musician, he was a· great business man. · JG: /think that's an interesting point to bring up. · GB: You know what I mean? PN: We used to really kid him about that. Terribly so, you know. GB: He was as good at handling business as he was at mastering his instruments. PN: He worried a lot, too. GB: Oh, sure. He was a worrywart, no question about that. I mean, he had nothing to worry abm1t, because first call would be Moe Koffman, because· Moe, yott could depend on Moe to read the chart, not only that, play it in the style that the music was written and he'd play it on alto saxophone, doubling on flute, piccolo, clarinet, and the flute family, I mean also the G flute, what do they call it, the alto flute. He was impeccable, a standard that many youngsters were influenced by and mariy mu~icians all over Canada were very much influenced by Moe Koffman. He said he had to work hard to play the way he did. It did not come as naturally as it does with some other musicians. He made it work because he practised like a concert artist. He practised five hours a day. He practised all the instruments every day. Even if he was busy working, he would still find time to practise and practise and practise. He was a practise freak. To have Moe play a dixieland thing on clarinet was easy for him, you know. He would just do it. He knew the concept and ... PN: Traditional GB: Traditional, yes. GB: He would just do it - we'd say, Moe, we want you to sound like Johnny Hodges on this - and he would - we want you to sound like Charlie Parker and he'd do that. There was nothing that he could not do. You'd have a hard time finding someone to fit his shoes. Jerry Toth, of course, and Moe in the saxophone section, and you would have nothing to worry about - everything was covered. And Bernie Piltch, also. And we've lost all these wonderful alto playing, doubling musicians - we've lost them all. Sure, there's a new crop coming out now, but they don't seem to find the . opportunity •o perfect their doubling chops, because there aren't that many occasions for them to do that, JG,: And right to say that they bring a different concept to the music? PN: Well we live in different times - different influences, .different dynamics. GB: We've always been influenced by the 'pop' market in a certain way - JG: And it by jau.. GB: True, and now, if you're looking at the youngsters, well R & B and Rock 'n' Roll - the saxoppone players are really into that.. that's what they listen to, as well as jazz. So you get more of a fusion kind of player, rather than a particular direction, which was like Moe - jazz." JG: I think it interesting that both of you and Moe were able to combine, and combine successfully, studio work with playing jau.. Because all three of you were considered, and are, wonderful jau. players, and not everyone who spends his life in the studio holds on to that. GB: It's true that it can taint you a little bit, because you're playing a variety of music and it's a bit taxing on the brain. However, that would be work and where we'd get our musical kicks would . be to do jazz gigs, playing in bands like Rob McConnell, Phil Nimmons; Ron Collier, too, had a jazz band at that time and so we all belonged to one band, or two or three,. to maintain our sanity, our musical sanity. PN: Paid for the monkey on our back. GB: That's right. (laughing). But it was always nice to sit in a studio band \vhere you had enough jazzers in the band to give the studio orchestra that feeling of a jazz band. In the phrasing, everybody would phrase in a jazz style and it would be wonderful. There was no question about how we were going to phrase this - it was only one way and that was the way we thought it should sound, which was, I guess, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. We had heard all those bands and so we would always try to attain that level of phraseology in order to . make it sound better. So even if you wound up with a lousy piece of music, having those guys on board would make that piece of music swing and sound a helluva lot hipper than what it was intended to be." JG: You kriow, maybe, touching on what you just said there, a lot of readers of WholeNote are into classical music and maybe it's worth explaining a little bit how the same notes on paper are played differently by a jau.er. GB: Yes, Phil, do you want to start on that one? PN: Well, I was just going to add a little bit to the fact that you were saying how we still maintained the jazz element, so to speak, speaking very loosely, or paraphrasing you very loosely, but starting in where I come from, Vancouver, when I first started to play out there, and this is mainly with the CBC, the people that we dealt with at the Corporation, it seemed that they had an interest in jazz, themselves, the people that were hiring you, so it always seemed to be a part of something that we were doing. And also it seemed, when I came to Toronto to study and then stayed, eventually, in the fifties, the same thing seemed to take place, so, in other words, we had people, even although we were in studio orchestras, some of the people that you

would be working for, their inclination would be to have pieces of music that would be jazz oriented. So that there was even a certain amount of satisfaction, even as· studio musicians and a lot of that, I think back to the arranging that went on with a lot of people at that time was all very demanding and satisfying to you musically as an instrumc;!ntalist, or as a sideman; as we used to call ourselves. It was very satisfying · musically. I think even when we went out and played dance jobs, playing in Stan Patton's band, was a kick, even if I only got an eight bar solo, you know. GB: When it came to phrasing, though, when jazz players read a piece of music, they tend to want to swing,· so the notation could be very. simple, but out of that . simple notation, you have to find a way of articulating it in a way that it does swing. The difference between jazz-oriented players and classically trained players is that classically tr~ined players read the notes exactly the· way they are written, and so in order to try and get the most out of classical players, composers and arrangers - I'm talking about jazz . composers and jazz arrangers - figured out a way of writing the music in 12/8 instead of 4/4, to give it more of that - what do they call it. .. PN: Swing eight notes, the rolled eighth notes. GB and JG in unison: The rolled notes, yes. have this rJiing written in 12/8', and then, of course, they're using the same charts when they show up someplace where we are playing and we can't make that thing move at all, because it's a different language altogether in 12/8. And so you sit there for a moment and you study it and you say, 'Oh, that's all it ineans - it only means (and here we have another vocal rendition from Signor Basso). Pow! That's all it means! Well, why didn't they write it that way? (More laughter.) PN: It's a very interesting thing, 'though, because I, until I started to teach a few years ago, never thought about it, we just did it. We've only had to say, well, how does this happen, and, of course, the technical explanation is that you take two eighth notes that make up a quarter note, but those two eighth notes, to swing them, they sound like part of an eighth note triplet, the first eighth note being a quarter note and the second eighth a triplet of that three eighth note, so to speak. And even if you dotted eighths and sixteenths in a swing chart, they are played still the same way as I've described, as an eighth note triplet .... Of.course, when you have shot notes, the up beats, the offbeats, they're in a different position and as the tempo gets slower, they get much harder for people who don't know how to swing. It's an interesting thing and, I think it's something - you try very hard to teach and .. I'm being a little hesitant, because I'm not always successful in getting people to swing. And even people who come into the jazz prograffime, to have that feeling that it's just so much a part of themselves all the time. It can be a very elusive factor, I · think. And, of course, now that we have latin style, we are playing straight eighth notes, which gives an entirely different feel. Some classical instruments, like the violin, for example, is an awkward instrument, it seems like technically moving the bow, to make it swing, I mean, to do this, it's almost like it's rigid, in a sense. There are very few people, violinists, I think, that really can swing. JG: When you listen to those albums that Grappelli made with Menuhin, it's night and day, because Yehudi just can't swing." PN: Oh, gosh yes, Although Perlman comes pretty close to it and I've always dug Joe Venuti in that regard." JG: Eddie South. GB: And, of course, Jean-Luc Ponty, . . . But, you know, getting back to Moe. There's no question about that, I mean, the last concert we did at the jazz ·festival last year with The Boss Brass, Moe had definitely used that as a target. He was practising then and he got himself really in great shape for that concert. ..... The unfortunate thing is that Moe had been a workaholic all his life, practised hard, worked hard and because of his business acull).en, and all that stuff, he wound up with Live Ent as contractor of all those Broadway shows that came to town. There were times when he had three orchestras working at three different musicals in three different theatres and he was hopping around like· a madman. But he loved that. He loved the paperwork, he loved all that stuff, but then finally when Live Ent folded, the only show that was left was 'Phantom of the Opera', he was counting the days for when that would close, so that he'd have total freedom and he would get back to the Moe Koffman Quintet. He sold his house that he had lived in for 28 years and moved up to his beautiful home near Mansfield and I think the move was stressful-- to get out of a house where you have lived for 28 continued, next page No1ionof Gvitor Workshop At this point Guido illustrated what he was saying by singing a phrase. Unfortunately, the limitations of print deny the . reader this pleasure. GB: Now, if you write that in 121 8 it confuses the living daylights out of me, but if you writ~ it in straight 4/4 and give me a bunch of eighth notes, I'll make them roll. Know what I mean? And so that is the difference conceptually of getting a bunch of jazzoriented musicians to play music that's written in 4/4 and straight eighth notes, they'll make it work. But we've been caught sometimes where we'd get a chart from some singer who's been touring and doing concerts with symphony orchestras. Well, they've figured, 'Well, we want it to swing, so we're going to COURSES OFFERED Acoustic Classical Rock Slues Jazz Bass Drums Ke~board JuNE 1, 2001 - JuLv 7, 2001 wholenote 33

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