Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cab, Alyn and Biographies - C.A.B.

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

“Duke's replacement at the Cotton Club, Cab Calloway’s … scat-jive vocals, epitomized in the "hi-de-ho" call-and-response effects on his hit "Minnie the Moocher," delighted audiences. Calloway had led the Alabamians in Chicago and, later, the Missourians in New York, and in 1929 had appeared in the revue Hot Chocolates, before securing the coveted Cotton Club job. Incorporating a heavy dose of novelty songs and scat vehicles into a more conventional hot jazz sound, Calloway achieved a celebrity—and record sales—to rival Ellington's at the time.”
- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz [New York: Oxford, 1997, p. 130]

“At his very first session - in July 1930, with an astonishingly virtuosic vocal on 'St Louis Blues' – Cab Calloway served notice that a major jazz singer was ready to challenge Louis Armstrong with an entirely different style….

The lexicon of reefers, Minnie the Moocher and Smokey Joe, kicking gongs around and - of course - the fabulous language of hi-de-ho would soon have become tiresome if it hadn't been for the leader's boundless energy and ingenious invention: his vast range, from a convincing bass to a shrieking falsetto, has remained unsurpassed by any male jazz singer, and he transforms material that isn't so much trite as empty without the investment of his personality.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Many jazz historians with a purist and pro-instrumental bias have ignored or dismissed Calloway and his orchestra as musically irrelevant. And insofar as others have dealt with the band at all, they have generally picked their way through its several hundred recordings, snobbishly culling only the instrumental solos as being worthy of comment, usually by Chu Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, and one or two others. This is eminently unfair and historically unjustifiable on sev­eral counts.

First of all, Calloway was a magnificent singer, quite definitely the most un­usually and broadly gifted male singer of the thirties. Second, considering his enormous popularity, and therefore the temptation to cater to the basest of mass tastes, Calloway's singing—and even his choice of material (when all is said and don) is of far higher caliber than any other male vocalist's (with the exception
of Jimmy Rushing and some of the great blues singers of the period). Moreover Calloway, amazingly, even in his most extravagant vocal antics, never left the bounds of good taste. It was as though he had a built-in mechanism that kept him from turning corny.
Third, he was a true jazz musician and as such surrounded himself with a real jazz orchestra, something no other band-leading vocalist cared (or managed) to do. In that regard, though he had every excuse to do otherwise, his perfor­mances—especially in clubs and dances, as opposed to recordings with their absolute time limits—were always liberally sprinkled with instrumental solos and ensembles, more so the more popular he became (in this respect a deliberate reversal of the usual trend).
- Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 [New York: Oxford, 1989, pp. 329-330]

Okay, you can groan if you like, but I worked long and hard to get the title of this piece to abbreviate to C.A.B.

I wanted it to reflect the fun and joy that was Cab Calloway’s life and the pleasure I gained from reading Alyn Shipton’s splendid biography about this too-soon-forgotten figure in Jazz history.

This opening paragraph from Alyn Shipton’s Introduction and Acknowledgements to Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway [New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, also now available in paperback] provides this overview of Cab’s achievements and his significance in American contemporary music.

“Clad in white tie and tails, dancing energetically, waving an oversized baton, and singing "Minnie the Moocher," Cab Calloway is one of the most iconic figures in popular music. He was the first great African American vocalist in jazz who specialized in singing without also doubling on an instrument, and he was also a conductor and bandleader who assembled a series of remarkably consistent hard-swinging ensembles. By always striving to hire the best musicians and arrangers, he took the art of big band playing for­ward consistently from the start of the 1930s to the end of the 1940s. The tenor saxophonist Chu Berry made some of his finest records in the Calloway band, as did trumpeter Jonah Jones, saxophonists Ike Quebec and Eddie Barefield, and drummer Cozy Cole. At its peak in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Callo­way’s was the highest earning African American orchestra and, by virtue of its biggest hit "Minnie the Moocher," also one of the few to have broken through to the general public with a million-selling record. People loved Cab and his antics for what he was, irrespective of color. In later life, Cab transformed into an elegant and sophisticated star of the musical theater, but from the 1930s to the 1990s, he never forgot how to "hi-de-ho," and win over a crowd.”

Alan follows with this next sentence which I’m sure that many of us can relate to:

“Before I began work on this book I had only a scant awareness of the full and impressive range of Calloway's achievements.”

But now, thanks to Alyn Shipton’s detailed research and great skills as a storyteller, one can more fully understand and enjoy the fascinating exploits of Cab Calloway, one of the most creative entertainers in the history of American popular music.

The operative word here that Mr. Shipton’s work brings home to the reader is – entertainer. For when Cab was at the height of his career in the 1930’s and 1940’s, people expected to be entertained by popular music and that’s exactly what they got - and then some - from experiencing Cab and his orchestra of first-rate musicians.

Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway begins by providing a look back at the atmosphere of the times in which Cab’s personality and interests were formed with a description of the Baltimore and Chicago of the first quarter of the 20th century.

Almost from the start, what Ted Gioia refers to as Cab’s “eccentric individualism” displayed itself as he grew into a street smart kid in Baltimore [1907-1927] and a very hip young man in [Chicago 1927-1930] who had a knack for seeing and for being seen.

Aspects of Cab’s nature are on display in all their glory in the following anecdote as shared by Cab’s daughter, Camay, in a 2005 interview with Mr. Shipton:

“When he was in high school he was a show-off. Because he was playing basketball, [and] he was very handsome, all the girls were around him, and before he left school, he got a car, because he had all these little jobs. He played the drums, but he also walked horses, sold newspapers, he was hustling, selling different things around town, so this meant he had enough money to buy a car. He told me how he parked it one day right in front of the school, when they were having this big assembly. As it began, the principal got up and asked if the teacher who had parked out front would kindly go out and move his car, because it was in a restricted area. There was silence in the auditorium, then my father stands up and the whole auditorium erupts, with kids shouting "Go Cab go!" as he walks his very hip walk up the aisle to go out and move his car.” [p. 12]

Always a great adapter, Cab’s vocal style owes much to his sister Blanche’s vocal experimentation as Mr. Shipton explains in his chapter Chicago High Life 1927-1930:

“The time that Cab and Blanche had spent together on the road with Plan­tation Days had given him an opportunity to learn many aspects of stagecraft and presentation from her firsthand…. She was, according to Cab’s grandson Christopher Calloway Brooks, who knew her in old age, "a truly electrifying performer.” Her wild dancing and uninhibited singing were undoubtedly a prototype for much of Cab s own act. She made a conscious break with the tradition estab­lished by the classic blues singers such as Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey who stood forward on-stage and sang over the footlights directly at the audience, irrespective of whether they were being supported by a pianist or a full pit orchestra. Instead, Blanche developed numbers in which she interacted directly with members of her supporting band. Cab was later to do this by encouraging his instrumentalists— and thereby his audience — to shout back verbal responses in answer to his lyrics. The most famous example was to be “Minnie the Moocher" but he also created routines in which he alternated musical phrases with his sidemen such as "The Scat Song." The immediate precedent for this was to be found in Blanche's act. In the surviving early mov­ies of Cab at work, we can no doubt see plenty of nuances directly derived from her vocal and terpsichorean performances.” [p. 19]

Through a rapid sequence of events, Cab climbed to the forefront of the New York entertainment world in 1931 after he began fronting the orchestra [then known as The Missourians] that would replace Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club in uptown, Harlem. Interestingly, Irving Mills, Duke Ellington’s manager would also become Cab’s manager after he began work at The Cotton Club.

Mr. Shipton offers this view of Cab’s rise to “fame and [relative] fortune” in his chapter entitled Cotton Club Stomp, 1930-1931:

“The year 1931 saw Cab using his base at the Cotton Club to begin his relent­less climb to national and then international stardom. Dressed in his white tie and tails, his long straight hair ruffled into a prototype Beatle mop, and con­ducting with an oversized baton, Cab Calloway crystallized his persona as an entertainer at the club. An accurate impression of how he appeared at the time can be seen in the 1934 movie Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho, in which his act was filmed on a mock-up of the Cotton Club stage. He holds the viewer's attention with effortless authority. Singing “Zaz Zuh Zaz," his vocal gymnas­tics are matched by exaggerated gestures, and between the vocalizing he moves spectacularly—running the gamut of jazz dance devices from frenetic movement to slow-drag walking. Indeed his movements drew on the entire lexicon of vernacular African American dance, with allusions to nineteenth-century survivals such as buck and wing alongside comparatively recent fads like the black bottom. His gestures and his vocals were designed to bring his band — and thereby his audience — into the act as well, highlighting the differ­ent sections of musicians, and encouraging them to shout or sing a response to his words.

As he throws his head back and projects his voice, displaying his distinctive perfect teeth, his singing is marked by a complete lack of inhibition, and a freedom that matches the finest jazz instrumentalists of the age. At twenty-six years old, when this film was made, he had used his first three years of working regularly at the Cotton Club to consolidate a stage personality that cut through racial and class boundaries. It turned him into an entertainer who connected with all of American society, not just the African American public who bought his discs, or the well-heeled white pleasure seekers who defied the Depression and flocked to Harlem to hear him in person.” [p. 50]

Some of the insider dealings, trials and tribulations of staffing and traveling with a big band in the 1930’s, particularly with an all-black big band, are graphically detailed in Mr. Shipton’s chapter, Harlem Fuss, 1931-1933:

"Cab was making changes," recalled guitarist Danny Barker. "From 1931 he . . . fired one Missourian of the original band at a time. Rumor says he fired them because when he first joined the band they resented him. [It was] a process: to break up a clique in a band. You get a clique in a band, that's trouble." [p.54]

“It was well known that some 1930s swing bands had influential inner cliques that dictated their entire repertoire and policy, including decisions on who the featured soloists would be, and who was to be marked out for promotion.” [p.55]

“In 1932, the band’s work settled into a stable pattern. It would work at the Cotton Club for several months on end, and then take off for one or two ten-week tours during the course of the year.” [p.69]

One of these tours involving stops at “resorts” in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina broke down terribly.

As Mr. Shipton explains: “Although Cab and most of his men had previously toured the South and Southwest in some combination or another, it was a shock to return there after the high life they had enjoyed in Manhattan. … Most of the musicians who made that tour had stories of the privations the band endured. … In these adverse conditions, Cab came into his own as a leader [helping to militate and mitigate the unpleasant conditions]. … The result was that Cab forged a bond between himself and his men.”

In his next chapter Zaz Zuh Zaz, 1933-1934, Mr. Shipton describes how Irving Mills became Cab’s new manager and sent the band on a 1933-1934 European Tour [with mixed results], takes us with Cab on a series of crisscrossing tours of the United States [On The Road Again,1934-37] during which Cab was to become a national sensation and then moves on to provide in-depth descriptions of the time spent on the Calloway Band by its two most famous Jazz soloists: tenor saxophonist Chu Berry [Chuberry Jam 1937-39] and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie [Dizzy Atmosphere 1939-1941].

All death is dreadful and untimely, but what made tenor saxophonist Chu Berry’s even more so was his relatively young age [33] when he lost his life in a car accident, his closeness to everyone in the Calloway Band, especially to Cab, and the fact that Chu’s brilliance as a musician was transforming Cab’s music into a full-fledged Jazz Orchestra.

As Mr. Shipton notes: “It was the tragic demise of one of the greatest saxophone talents in Jazz, and also the man who had been a key element in the gradual reform of the Calloway band, consolidating its position as a genuine Jazz orchestra at the highest level.” [p.159].

Turning to Doc Cheatham, Cab’s lead trumpet player for many years, Mr. Shipton goes on to reinforce the view that by the early 1940’s the band was looking to reinforce its Jazz credentials: “He [Cab] had to change the band, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to scream for the rest of his life.” [Doc Cheatham, Guess I’ll Go And Get The Papers, p. 46; Shipton, p.135].

During his first decade in the business, Cab had always tried to maintain an excellent band with fine soloists and imaginative arrangers and this was to become even more the case in what Mr. Shipton describes as Cruisin’ with Cab, 1941-1948.

The irony for Cab’s band is that the better it became artistically, what Mr. Shipton describes as the “more assured and confident sound of the band,” the sadder it was when this artistry was undermined by a variety of factors that came into existence in the decade of the 1940s.

Of course the main force at work during the first half of this decade was World War II.  But domestically, Cab had to also contend with many other pressures and stressors, all of which are ably described in detail by Mr. Shipton. For example:

“This and the other records made on July 27 were to be Cab's last commercial discs to be cut until January 1945, owing to a long-running dispute between the AFM and the record industry that began on August 1, 1942. In pursuit of a levy for musicians to compensate them for the loss of sales incurred through the proliferation of jukeboxes, the union forbade its members to record. The result was an unintentional but seismic shift in the record industry in favor of purely vocal records, because singers were not included in the ban. …

Cab, on the road with his huge entourage, selling out theaters, and still able to broadcast with the band over national radio networks, decided to stick with his existing record contract and wait for a settlement. It did not suit him to make purely vocal discs and abandon the show he had built up over so long, and which he was managing to retain more or less intact despite the draft. As things turned out, Columbia (one of Irving Mills's stable of labels) was one of the last firms to settle with the union, and so in 1943-44, apart from a handful of V-Discs made for American troops overseas, the band s only commercial recordings were done for movie sound tracks. This fitted Irving Mills's long-term strategy for Cab, which was to continue to build him into a star who was never dependent on just one form of mass communication. Consequently Mills started the process of intro­ducing him socially to the who's who of Hollywood with the aim of making him a crossover film star, thereby repeating his success with both the white and black public on radio, record, and stage. [p,164, Emphasis mine]

The result of Mills’ strategy for Cab was that he would make a number of important films in the 1940s including Cabin in the Sky, Stormy Weather and Sensations of 1945 that would establish him as a film star. This stardom then made it possible for Cab to crossover into other forms of entertainment when social and economic factors following the end of WWII essentially put an end to most of the big bands.

During this period, Cab’s band would feature a new theme song, “Gerald Wilson’s modernistic Cruisin’ With Cab, along with a host of excellent Jazz soloists including trumpeter Jonah Jones,  tenor saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Ike Quebec bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Cozy Cole. The band played it last gig in July, 1948 at the Roxy Theater in New York.

Jonah Jones recalled what happened next:

“He cut the band down to about seven pieces, me on trumpet, Keg John­son on trombone, and two saxes, Hilton Jefferson and Sam 'The Man" Taylor. There was Dave Rivera on piano, Milt Hinton on bass, and Pan­ama Francis on drums. That lasted for a while. Then he finally cut it down to four pieces and I was the only horn in the band. . . . There were three rhythm, and myself. . . . He was a wonderful director, he loved to direct, so even with the quartet he was directing us. He still changed clothes all night.” [p.182, Mr. Shipton’s 1995 interview with Jonah Jones]

Mr. Shipton’s Porgy, 1949-1970  opens with this description of the state of the big bands by the early 1950’s:

“Cab was not alone in facing the problems of maintaining a big band at the end of the 1940s. Of the most famous African American leaders, a few managed to keep their full orchestras afloat by rebalancing their repertoire. Duke Ellington, by subsidizing the band from his royalties, largely avoided such compromises. Lionel Hampton kept a smaller, but still sizable, band going by appealing to a different public. He adopted rhythm and blues techniques of style and presentation, which included Billy Mitchell playing the tenor saxophone on his back and fellow tenorist Gene Morris dropping to his knees during his solos. By contrast, Benny Carter was forced to dissolve his regular band in 1946. Despite the unexpected death of its leader in 1947, the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra struggled on a bit longer, but folded at the end of the decade following Ed Wilcox’s unsuccessful attempts to keep it going. ‘The Twentieth Century Gabriel,’ trumpeter Erskine Hawkins, scaled back his big band gradually, ending up with a quartet in 1953.

In January 1950, Count Basie was forced by rising costs and diminishing bookings to cut his regular touring group back to a septet. This small group became an octet when Basie s long-term guitarist, Freddie Green, rehired him­self, on the grounds that he'd given so much of his life to the band he was in no mood to be fired. Basics octet, with Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, and Wardell Gray among its members, and Neal Hefti writing the charts, used considerable ingenuity to compensate for the size of the band, and consequently made some of the best music Basic ever recorded. These discs sit interestingly at a stylistic crossroads between those made by his original Kansas City big band and the more forward-looking orchestra he was to lead in the 1950s.

Unlike Basie’s, the music that Cab recorded in 1949 is definitely not the most distinguished part of his legacy. It both mirrors his depressed personal state of mind, and also shows him searching for a new role as a popular entertainer. …”[pp,183-182].

Many of the musicians who climbed off the band buses went to work in smaller combos that played the Jazz club circuits; some formed into show bands that played cocktail lounges and the Las Vegas casinos; some got “day gigs” and resorted to playing the occasional weekend casual for weddings and private parties.

However, in the 1950’s and 60’s, those with good music reading skills initially found an abundance of work in the movie and television studios in Los Angeles and the Broadway theater and television studios of New York. In both cities, recording commercials and jingles for radio also offered steady work, as did cutting [the then new]long-playing albums as a recording orchestra contract player behind pop hit singers like Patti Page, Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney.

The Broadway stage was a very lucrative place to be when it was in vogue in the 1950’s and 1960’s and, after scuffling for a few years, Cab was to put his marvelous skills as a “crossover artist” on display there in productions of Porgy and Bess and Hello, Dolly!. He also took his Sportin’ Life Porgy and Bess characterization on the road in a one-man show that toured Great Britain.

As Mr. Shipton observes of Cab at this point in his career:

“The years in Porgy and Bess had given him the opportunity to develop a far richer and more flexible sound, which was to be the hallmark of his mature years….” [p.205]

Cab’s career was also helped along by television appearances on Person-to-Person with Edward R. Murrow and The Ed Sullivan Show and he gained a measure of financial security from performing as the halftime act for The Harlem Globetrotters basketball team which was then owned by Abe Saperstein whom he had known since the 1920s “when Cab was learning his trade in Chicago.” [p. 207].

The final two decades of Cab’s life are covered by Mr. Shipton in The Hi-De-Ho Man 1971-1994. During this period we find Cab literally struggling to get out of the house and in front of an audience.

As Mr. Shipton explains:

“Most of the marriages that came out of the era of the old Galloway band, such as those of Milt and Mona Hinton, Danny and Blue Lu Barker, or Dizzy and Lorraine Gillespie, were similarly long lived, but all of them had a compa­rable element of tension between the pull of the road (or the studios) and the hearth. Dizzy always longed to be home, but as soon as he had been back in his New Jersey house for a couple of days, he was planning his next escape, because as his road manager Charles Lake put it, "he didn't know what to do with himself when he was at home for any length of time.”

Cab was much the same.” [p. 213]

Cab’s creative urges found expression in a variety of settings including made-for-movie television episodes, a revival of the Broadway show The Pajama Game and a number of appearances at international Jazz festivals.

Of Cab’s career during this period, Mr. Shipton writes:

“His voice had developed into a fine musical theater baritone, capable of projecting forcefully into all but the largest of theaters, and his abilities as an actor grew at the same time. Now—as he approached his seven­ties—he was standing still artistically, and reverting to an ever-diminishing repertoire of his own most famous songs, most of which he could probably sing in his sleep.” [pp.219-220].

I doubt that many of us would want to join a touring company at the age of seventy, but then, none of us are Cab Calloway for that’s exactly what he did as described in the following excerpt from Mr. Shipton’s book:

“When he reached the age of seventy, he was fortunate that the growing vogue for African American stage musicals came to his rescue, and found him a new platform for his talents. In 1978 he joined the cast of the touring ver­sion of Bubbling Brown Sugar. The show was set in various fictitious Harlem nightclubs, and it was crafted by its author, Loften Mitchell, into a pacey sequence of songs, dances, and comic turns in the manner of a Cotton Club revue. Prior to Cab's arrival, the music contained in the show had altered slightly as it ran through 766 performances on Broadway, according to the talents of the available cast. Fundamentally, however, the repertoire was built around songs associated with Cab, Duke Ellington, Count Basic, Fats Waller, and Eubie Blake.” [p.220]

After sharing some amusing stories about Cab’s role in the movie The Blues Brothers Mr. Shipton offers this description of the final decade of Cab Calloway’s life as a performer:

“By the mid-1980s a new pattern had emerged. Cab and his new band would tour the United States and Europe in the summer festival months, they would take to the road again for short tours in the spring and fall, and he would otherwise pick and choose between individual engagements. Some of these were nostalgic, such as the memorial tribute to Ira Gershwin at the Gershwin Theater in August 1983, in which Cab sang a poignant version of "It Ain't Necessarily So," in mem­ory of Porgy and Bess's lyricist. Others were reunions with old friends, such as the all-star Songwriters' Guild event in January 1984 at the Palace in Manhattan, where Cab starred opposite Peggy Lee.

Particularly in Europe, on his summer tours in the 1980s and early 1990s, Cab's reception was terrific. This was not least because he was one of the few really high-profile survivors of the Cotton Club days who was still touring, and audiences hungered for an authentic link with the past. Louis Armstrong had died in 1971, Duke Ellington in 1974, ….” [pp.226-227]

There was not to be another decade as Cab Calloway died from complications of a stroke on November 18, 1994.”

Here are some thoughts that Mr. Shipton puts forth as an assessment of Cab Calloway’s storied career:

“… there is a wider legacy of Cab Calloway. Through his movie appear­ances in Stormy Weather and The Blues Brothers, we can see him in his pomp, and in his mature prime. In countless records, we can chart the extraordinary influence he had on jazz singing. With the reissue on CD of virtually all his work, it is possible to appreciate the sheer scale and consistency of his recorded achievement within the world of jazz, let alone his additional musical theater discs of Porgy and Bess and Hello, Dolly!

At a time when only Louis Armstrong had managed to bridge the gap between African American jazz and popular entertainment, Cab began by following in his footsteps and surpassed him. From the clubs of Baltimore to the cabarets of 1920s Chicago, and on to the mob-run Cotton Club, Cab ultimately transcended racial, class, and national boundaries. His music brought the storytelling traditions of African Americans to a huge public through his tales of Minnie and Smoky Joe, and his catchphrases became familiar the world over to several generations from the 1930s to the 1990s. With his straight hair and light complexion, he might have decided to pass for white, but he was always, uncompromisingly, a black artist.

Not being an instrumentalist like Armstrong, he initially achieved all this primarily as a vocalist, heard across America as he hi-de-hoed from the Cotton Club. His early triumphs like "St. Louis Blues," "St. James Infirmary," "Nagasaki," and "Minnie the Moocher" brought call and response to the fore­front of everyday entertainment in the 1930s. But these songs also set a tem­plate for the singers who would come afterward, from jump-jive vocalists such as Louis Jordan to more surreal entertainers such as Slim Gaillard, in whose work we find the early seeds of rap and hip-hop. In his films and recordings with the Cabaliers he sowed the seeds for doo-wop, just as pieces like "Calloway Boogie" looked forward to rhythm and blues.” [p.223]

It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living and that the unlived life is not worth examining.

Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway offers the best of both of these worlds: Mr. Shipton’s very thorough examination of a life well-lived, that of one - Cabell Calloway [1907-1994].

Mr. Shipton’s accomplishment with this biography of Cab can also be viewed as being in the best tradition of what E.E. Carr suggested when he wrote: “The historian is an inveterate simplifier. He tidies up the infinite variety of events in order to make them intelligible.” [Times Literary Supplement, June 3, 1977].

The book is fully indexed, contains a bibliography and a listing of Cab Calloway’s recordings. Copies can be ordered directly from Oxford University Press at

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Red Rodney: Jazz Master and Mentor

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

“I don't play like I played back in the early days with Bird. I play like today and that's what these young musicians help bring to me. I give them roots and traditions from fifty years of playing this music.  They weren't around when this music was born, but they had quite a bit of experience playing it because any Jazz musician has to go through the Bebop era.”.
- Red Rodney

“The warmth of Red’s solos, his impeccable ensemble work, the culmination of his vast experience and his highly original way of playing puts his name among my list of favorite modern Jazz trumpet players.”
- Joe Segal, owner, The Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL

“Red turned his life around and ended back on top of the Jazz heap where he belonged. The Jazz life back in those days wasn’t an easy one. Too many of the cats checked out early or ended up broke or broken. Thank God every once in a while one of the guys managed to put the pieces back together again and go out on an up.”
- Joel Dorn, Jazz record producer and DJ

No one really masters the art of playing Jazz.

But trumpeter Red Rodney played it well enough over his 50-year career to be accorded the respect of - a Master [in the literal, not the aristocratic, sense].

And, during his later years, he also mentored a number of young musicians in the precepts of modern Jazz.

Yet, neither of these distinctions – Master or Mentor – were assured, for as the eminent Jazz writer, Gene Lees, points out:

“By all accounts, Red Rodney ought to have been dead.

Instead he was flying all over the earth in glowing good health, leading a quintet whose members were often a third his sixty-seven years, playing better than he had ever played, and enjoying what one critic called ‘one of the most celebrated comebacks in jazz history.’

‘In fact,’ Red said, ‘the odds were against my coming back and doing anything.’

They certainly were. Heroin was the elixir of bebop, but few of those who succumbed to its blandishments in the 1940s and '50s are using it today: they have either quit, like Red, or they're dead. A few, like Art Blakey, maintained their habits with such aplomb that they managed to reach a good age before dropping of other causes. By and large, dirty needles, self-neglect, improper nourishment, sojourns in the slammer, and all the other concomitants of heroin addiction took a devastating toll. Red Rodney is almost able to say, with Job, ‘And I only am escaped to tell thee.’
Red is briefly portrayed in the Clint Eastwood film Bird, which attracted both high praise and a bored condemnation in the jazz community.

They've never made a good movie about jazz, you'll hear it said by those who have not bothered to notice that they've almost never made a good movie about music—period. Red is listed in the credits as being an adviser on the film, but his advice, he says, was limited largely to telling the young man who plays himself how to hold the horn and stand. There is a scene in which the Charlie Parker character upbraids him for having taken up heroin. Some­thing like that happened in life: Bird, according to accounts I've heard from several musicians, urged his proselytes not to follow him into drug use. Few of them paid attention to his admonition; they paid attention to his example.

The question of drug use among artists is a complex one. You cannot say you have examined a question until you have entertained all sides of it. I believe we have reached the limits of what the mind now can do and arc trying to exceed them….

Loren Eiseley in The Immense Journey compared the human mind to a telephone switchboard that you encounter in a small motel. The motel has only a dozen or so rooms, but the circuitry is sufficient for thousands of rooms. The expansion of the brain and the brain case occurred compara­tively quickly in evolutionary time,
Eiseley reminds us. What is all that extra circuitry for? Will we some day learn to use it?

I suspect that it is this yearning for the balanced function of intellect and feeling, what Blake called the marriage of heaven and hell, the recurring suspicion that it can be achieved and that there is something more somehow, a something we glimpse occasionally and fleetingly through mist, a sublimi­nal flash of a divine future, that has drawn men such as Charlie Parker and Bill Evans into heroin. …

… Certainly no one can speak of drug addiction with a greater depth of experience than Red.

On the other hand, we should not dwell only on that aspect of his life. This is, let us keep constantly in mind, a brilliant musician, a gifted man. One of the protégé’s of Charlie Parker, for three years a member of Bird's quintet, standing night after night beside Bird's horn and hearing its out­pourings, Rodney was one of the first white bebop trumpet players. Red is uninhibited about discussing his past, and he is frank about it when young musicians ask him about it in music clinics.” [Gene Lees, The Nine Lives of Red Rodney, Cats of Any Color: Jazz, Black and White [New York: DaCapo, 2000, pp. 91-93, excerpted].

Red began playing music at the age of ten when his Dad gave him a bugle and enrolled him in a drum and bugle corps in Philadelphia, PA. His first trumpet came along a few years later.

Red quickly developed the trumpet “chops” [skills] to serve as a substitute in a variety of big bands that came to Atlantic City, many of whom had lost musicians to the World War II selective service draft.

After the war, he was a member of the CBS radio orchestra based in Philadelphia and led by Elliott Lawrence.

“…. It is hard for people born after that era to grasp the range and creativity of radio's role in American musical life. Today it is a force for decay and debasement, but it wasn't in those days. In addition to all the remote radio broadcasts of the big bands and the various commercial net­work broadcasts that featured Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, John Kirby, and many more, and even full symphony orchestras maintained on staff by NBC and CBS in New York, various local stations had studio bands of their own, some of which were heard nationally through network hook­ups.

The Elliot Lawrence band was one of these. Though it is little men­tioned in big-band histories, the Lawrence band—Lawrence in recent years has been a conductor of Broadway musicals—was notable for intelligent, advanced arrangements. One of its writers was a young Gerry Mulligan.

‘I got Gerry in that band,’ Red said. ‘We stayed a year. That was the first I heard jazz.’

‘The studio band was a day gig. I would go around to the Down Beat club at night. It was the modern jazz club in that town. Bebop was starting to be played there.

Dizzy had worked there two years before as the house trumpet player. His mother Lived in Philly, and Dizzy lived in Philadelphia for quite some time. I didn't know who Dizzy Gillespie was, though. I went up there and tried to play. The piano player was a guy named Red Garland. I knew Exactly Like You and Body and Soul and that's it. And Red Garland said to me, “Young man, if you want to play with us, you're gonna have to learn some new tunes. So if you come in early tomorrow, I'll go over some with you.” How sweet.

‘Next day I came in early and he taught me how to play the blues and he taught me I Got Rhythm. I didn't know what the changes [chord progressions] were. I had no idea. All by ear. And I played in that band, a quintet, with a tenor sax­ophone player named Jimmy Oliver, who's still living in Philly.’

‘There was a streetcar conductor who used to stop the streetcar and run upstairs and sit in on drums. His name was Philly Joe Jones. He had the 11th Street run, and that's where the Down Beat was. The cars would be blowing their horns, people would be yelling, “Get that damn streetcar moving!” They finally fired him, so he wound up working at the Down Beat. …’

"There was a big night coming up. Gene Krupa's band came to town with Roy Eldridge. I'd already heard Roy on a big hit record, Let Me Off Uptown. I thought, 'Wow! That's sensational!' But it didn't have any attraction to me yet. That wasn't the Harry James tone. It was different. I thought it was sensational, but it didn't mean anything to me. Then I realized. Oh yeah. Roy Eldridge came to the Down Beat. Dizzy Gillespie was coming. And they were going to have a jam session.

That was the night that Dizzy made me think, “Oh my God.” I heard that Roy was great, but Dizzy was new. It was apples and oranges. You couldn't compare them.
That night Dizzy showed us—we were very young; I was eighteen years old—the way to go. I even thought in my head, “You know, if this guy didn't play such weird notes, he'd be great.” Roy played the notes that I could understand. Dizzy was playing harmonically things that I'd never heard.

Three weeks later, I realized they weren't weird notes.

There was my influence.

Then I started listening heavily. I tried to play like Dizzy, which of course I couldn't do. The notes that he made were sensational. The fire, the time that Dizzy had! He's truly one of the greats of the instrument.’

I was always pretty lucky, Even back then I had my own sound. Like it or not, it was me. You could always say, “Well, that’s Rodney. But Dizzy’s influence was already set.’ [Lees, Ibid, pp. 95-97, excerpted]”

Gerry Mulligan went on to join drummer Gene Krupa’s big band as an arranger in January, 1946. Later that same year, Red also became a member of the Krupa band. Both were 18-years old!

‘Gene embraced anything new. Nothing frightened him. And he had what was really the first white name bebop band. He tried, he did it, he let it happen. He let the young guys do what they had to do. I remember he billed me as the surrealist of the trumpet. I didn't know what the hell it meant. I had to go to him ask, “What does this mean?”’

But 52nd Street was beckoning.

“I wanted to come to New York and really become a full-fledged jazz player. I left the band at the Capitol Theater in New York. It was a difficult thing, because of Gene. I loved him. To the young ones he was like a father. He was never an employer or a boss. Never. He was so good. I've never met one like him. I loved Woody equally as much. But they were different.’ [Lees, Ibid, p. 98]

After scuffling around New York for most of 1947, Red landed a gig with the Claude Thornhill band where Mulligan was once again on the arranging staff, this time with the likes of the great Gil Evans.

From there he went on the Woody Herman band where Shorty Rogers joined him in the trumpet section. Shorty was also one of Woody’s chief arrangers and he would assign trumpet solos to Red and not to himself.

Red’s ongoing love affair with bebop resulted in his leaving the Herman band to hang around New York with his friends and fellow trumpeters Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro [“Fats was far ahead of all of us.”]

Then in late 1949 he became a member of Charlie Parker’s quintet and stayed for three years.

Following his departure from Bird’s group, “I stayed in music and I stayed a junkie.”

It was more a matter of Red being in and out of music for the next twenty years, mostly out due to being incarcerated for his heroin habit or running from the law as a result of various schemes he got caught up in order to support his drug habit].By some miracle, Red survived it all.

In 1976-77, during what would become his last imprisonment at the federal prison in Lexington, KY, Red was “rediscovered” by some knowledgeable Jazz fans led by Vince de Martino, a professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky.

Vince, with the help of a sympathetic warden at the federal prison, got Red into teaching a Jazz theory class and into some closely supervised, local gigs.

In 1979, Red made parole and from 1979-1994, the year of his death, Red entered into the “mentor” phase of his life.

As Gene Lees describes it, “at this point Red's life changed completely. The woman's name was Helene Strober. She was then a buyer of women's wear for the 2000-store Woolco chain, which meant she had a great deal of power in the garment district of New York, that crowded and shabby area, not far south of Times Square, of narrow streets and double-parked trucks where workmen push carts full of dresses hanging from horizontal poles along the sidewalks from one establishment to another. It is incredibly busy in the daytime, bleakly deserted at night.”

Red tells it this way: ‘She had her natural mother instinct. Here I was in trouble, just getting out of it. She saw that I was really trying. She watched it very carefully at first. By the time we were ready to get married, she knew everything was fine. After the half-way house, I planned to get my own apartment. But I moved in with Helene. Out of a flophouse to a gorgeous apartment.

My first gig was in a restaurant called Crawdaddy's at the Roosevelt Hotel. It was only a trio gig: piano, bass, and me. An old publicist named Milton Karle, long dead, who had Stan Kenton and Nat King Cole, got me the gig. And on piano I hired Garry Dial, who was then twenty-three. That was the beginning of a long association. We worked there five or six weeks. We did good business, because Helene had the place packed with garment center people. The job was 6 to 11; they'd finish work and come over. The manager wanted us back quickly. …

My chops were good. I started working. I went to a gig in Florida and we bought an apartment in Boynton Beach. Ira Sullivan had the house band in the place, Bubba's, in Fort Lauderdale. I spoke to Ira. I said, I’m sup­posed to go into the Village Vanguard. Why don't you come in with me?' I talked him into it. He never traveled.

So we had a band together for almost five years, Rodney-Sullivan. Garry Dial on piano. We had Joey Baron on drums for a while. My favorite kid, man, he was sensational. I started recording quite a bit, some for Muse, some for Elektra Musician, for Bruce Lundvall.'

The association of Sullivan and Rodney was to produce a series of memo­rable albums. [Lees, Ibid, pp. 116-117, excerpted]

‘By now, I've been back in the music scene for twelve years and what I hope is the next thirty or forty years. My sights are squarely set on making the best music I can make, embracing ail of the newer forms of jazz that specifically fit my style. I'm not going to take anything that sounds like snake-charmin' music and fit that in, because it doesn't fit in.

So that's what's happening to me now. I'm enjoying a nice run of success. The music I'm involved in, I'd like to say it's bebop of the '90s, but it's even a little more. I think I'm leaping into the twenty-first century, using the new electronic instruments, but being me. We're playing jazz and using those instruments as colorations. I don't want to do what other experimenters have done, even though they've been very successful, like Weather Report. And they're very good. I just don't want it that way….

Having been with Charlie Parker did me a world of good. But what I did before is not what I'm working on and how I'm getting my work today. Life isn't lived yesterday. If I had to live through yesterday, I think I'd commit suicide. I look back at all these things and say, “Oh my God! How could I have done that? It's not me, it's a different person.”

Yet, when I look at it realistically, all I can say is, “Well it was me.” I'm very proud that I could overcome this. I didn't expect anything.

I've seen so many very fine players never come back: lose their health, lose their ability to play, lose their careers, then lose their lives.

This in a sense was not planned. It was hoped-for. I didn't expect to accomplish this much.’” [Lees, Ibid, p. 119]”

“In the early evening of Friday, June 18, 1993, Red performed in a two-fluegelhorn duet with Clark Terry in a huge tent on the lawn of the White House, during a conceit presented by President Bill Clinton. He played magnificently. That was the last time I saw him.

A few months later, he told me on the telephone that he had an inoper­able lung cancer for which he was receiving chemotherapy.

Red died on a morning in May, 1994.” [Lees, Ibid, p.121]

The following video tribute to Red features an audio track that was made in 1991. The tune is by Red's long-time associate, pianist Gary Dial’s and is entitled In Case of Fire. Red’s quintet at the time included Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, David Kikoski on piano, Chip Jackson on bass and Jimmy Madison on drums. Chris takes an absolutely breath-taking solo on this cut. He was all of 20-years old at the time! Red was certainly some mentor.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ed Bickert: Part 2 - The Views of Other Musicians

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

“One of the many charms of Ed Bickert's guitar playing is that he can be enjoyed on so many levels. Bickert provides music that is seemingly simple, yet deceivingly complex - an amalgamation of swing and bop-based lines, tonicization, moving inner voices, chord substitution, and more.

Entire courses in music schools could be devoted to Bickert's use of passing chords, contrary motion, and deceptive resolution within his chord solos. Many of the voicings Bickert uses just don't get used by a lot of other guitarists, save perhaps in the music of fellow Canadian jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. In an age where, 40 years after the death of Wes Montgomery, most guitarists are still resorting to Wes' block-chord voicings in their solos, Bickert's more intricate approach to this style of playing is refreshing.

If a guitarist exists with a stronger command of "chordal playing" than Ed Bickert, I am not aware of him. Many of Bickert's chord voicings are tricky, and can only be played in one particular area on the neck in order to be logistically possible. In beginning the process of transcribing some of Bickert's music, I was immediately struck by his ability to imply four, five, or six-part chords with three-note voicings. After repeated listenings to numerous passages, I finally came to the conclusion that the fourth note I was often hearing in Bickert's chord voicings wasn't actually being played - it was simply being implied.

At the heart of Ed Bickert's style is one of the fundamental jazz concepts - tension and release. I've heard from people who have listened to Bickert's music and pronounced it "tension-free"... I've even heard the phrase "easy listening".
These are wildly misguided proclamations. The truth is Bickert's command of harmony is so masterful, he has resolved much of the tension he creates before people realize there was ever dissonance.”
- Dan Cross writing in

This is a follow-up to Part 1 of our profile on Canadian Jazz guitarist Ed Bickert which contained three articles all of which were written by Mark Miller over a span of approximately 10 years from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s.

Part 2 is based primarily on the views of Ed Bickert by his fellow musicians along with some commentaries about and observations of Ed as gleaned from various Jazz publications and insert notes to his recordings.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton reviewing three of Ed’s recordings on the Concord label in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Ed Bickert, I Wished On The Moon,  Concord CCD 4284

“Bickert's self-effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled hallad. This was one of the best of several Concord albums.  Although the music is rather too evenly modulated to sustain attention throughout, Bickert adds interest by choosing unhackneyed material and this disc in particular hasa fine program of rare standards.

Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

Bickert's subsequent records for the label continued the formula but, like so many other Concord artists, he inhabited the style so completely that the records took on a spécial elegance and grace.

Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414

The quartet with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky, though, is a little sharper, with 'Ah-Leu-Cha' pacifying the contrapuntalism of the playing without surrendering all of the bebop fizz which underlines it. Very agreeable.

Gene Lees, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz with John Reeves

Born: Hochfield, Manitoba, November 29, 1932

“Some time in the early 1970s, when I was living in Toronto, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond called me from New York. He had been asked to play a Toronto club and wanted to know what I thought. I urged him to do it.

‘But what will I do for a rhythm section?’ he asked. I told him to get a bass player named Don Thompson, either Terry Clarke or Jerry Fuller on drums, and a guitar player named Ed Bickert. "Oh yes," Paul said, "Jim Hall told me about him. Jim said he's the one guy who scares him if he walks into the room when Jim's playing."

Paul came, saw, and was conquered, and thereafter recorded a number of times with Ed, Don, and Jerry. In the liner notes to one of their albums, Paul wrote: "I find myself turning around ... to count the strings on [Bickert's] guitar . . . I'm reasonably sure that it's less than eighty-eight."

As it happened, Ed told Paul, when he was learning guitar in his home on the Canadian prairies he had listened to early 1950s broadcasts from San Francisco by the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond.

Ed is remarkable for the extraordinary technique that he uses in deceptively unprepossessing fashion. Because it is a fretted instrument, the guitar has inherent intonation problems. It is even a nuisance to tune. But Ed's intonation is so accurate that, according to members of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, the band tunes up to him.

Ed is taciturn. Usually he sits on the bandstand with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, taking in the world around him. But he can talk when he wants to, volubly and articulately. I once did an interview with him. Next day I told the guys in the Boss Brass, "You won't believe what I got on tape yesterday. An hour of Ed Bickert talking."

Since Desmond first stood there open-mouthed over Ed's playing, Ed has recorded with all sorts of major players and groups, including the Boss Brass, of which he was a founding member, Benny Carter, and Oscar Peterson. He has recorded with his own groups and toured extensively.”

Paul Desmond, insert notes to THE PAUL DESMOND QUARTET LIVE AT BOURBON STREET [A&M Records SP 850]

“I’ve been quoted - actually, enough times that I’m beginning to be sorry I ever brought the whole thing up - as wanting to get the alto to sound like a dry martini. I mention this now only because there are moments on these records which could justifiably be said to sound more like three dry martinis.

All part of the giddy euphoria of playing in a club again after years of concert.  Or, because of the musicians I was working with - Ed Bickert on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, Jerry Fuller on drums.

Jerry is a charter member of a unique and endangered species - a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive, intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment

Don of course is a walking miracle. Here are some things about him: he plays bass, somewhat reluctantly, if required. He plays piano in the manner of Keith Jarrett. He writes charts like an angel. (As a matter of fact, he looks a bit like a second cousin of Christ, and plays bass as if the family were a bit closer.) If you’re into space music and feel like sitting on a B minor chord for 45 minutes, he either swoops around the bottom register of the bass or flutters about like a giant butterfly trapped in a Stradivarius, whichever is most appropriate. And if you’re an old curmudgeon like me and feel like playing some old standards, he plays all the right changes. (In this case, also recording the proceedings with his other hand.) In all of the above situations, his solos are dependably, unbelievable.

Ed Bickert is unique. Chords, for instance. I play a sort of horn player’s amateur piano. Ten fingers, 88 keys. When I work with Ed, I find myself turning around several times a night to count the strings on his guitar. Even with my eyes closed I’m reasonably sure it’s less than 88. (Perhaps I should count his fingers more often.) My question, then, is how does he get to play chorus after chorus of chord sequences which could not possibly sound better on a keyboard? Or, in some cases, written for orchestra? This all becomes more impressive when I play a tape of Ed’s for a guitar player and suddenly realize, between the hypnotized gaze of fascination and the flicker of disbelief, that what I had cherished as a musical phrase is also totally impossible to play on guitar. (Unlike some other musicians capable of this,
Ed doesn’t have it to beat you about the head and shoulders during his solo; the impossible chord occurs more often quietly in the background.)

(I realize, suddenly, that I’m violating one of my basic principles it’s dumb for liner notes to rave about the music, in view of the fact that you’ve presumably already bought the album . . . like those packages you bring home and the first thing you see when you open them is ‘CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU HAVE JUST ACQUIRED THE BEST CASSETTE RECORDER AVAILABLE!!! etc.)

Why I continue to ramble on in this fashion about the records is because I feel if I were you (and, incidentally, I am), I’d be curious about the people who played on them.

Jerry Fuller and me you probably know enough about for now. Don Thompson sounds clearly impossible as described earlier, but he is. Nothing seems to change that.

Ed Bickert, then, remains the mysterious figure in this group, and I’m not sure I know much more about him than you do. A picture of him would look a lot like the Marlboro Man (he smokes more than I do, which is impossible, and is much healthier, which is easy. Unless you have a motor-driven Nikon, it would be unlikely to find him without a cigarette heading towards either his face or his guitar, both dearly indestructible. [The cigarette, incidentally, is always a MAVERICK—a Canadian brand which, if it didn’t exist, Ed might have invented.) When he talks, which is not all that often (not that he’s anti-social; he just doesn’t waste words), he sounds surprisingly like Gary Cooper. He has four children (ages 14, 12, 10, 7 roughly, but don’t trust me - who knows what birthdays have roared through that hectic house even as I write this?), and shares the attendant chores with his frighteningly capable, disarmingly charming wife.

He grew up in a small town in British Columbia (do you begin to get the feeling that this album is actually a short novel with records artfully concealed among the pages?).

All I know about Ed’s home is that it’s on the western side of Canada (since both Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller, among many others, came from Vancouver, they must be doing something terribly right out there), which brings us to a very personal and slightly eerie coincidence.

During the same period (early 1950s) that Jimmy Lyons, a San Francisco disc jockey at the time, later the founder of the Monterey Festival, was helping Dave Brubeck and me get out of town, Jimmy’s show was bouncing nightly from many ghostly Canadian mountain-tops.  Fortunately, the show got through to Ed Bickert each night as he was figuring out what to do with the guitar.

It took us long enough, Lord knows, but I’m glad we finally got together.

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

“Edward Isaac Bickert is never one to blow his own horn — figuratively, he's one of the most modest and unassuming men in jazz. But literally —he blows up a storm when needed. Just listen. The pace is set in the opener. Duke Ellington's Band Call. From the first chord you know you are in the hands of a master guitarist.

Bickert is content to remain in his native Canada so fame and top American musicians usually have to come and seek him out, which they have done Among them is his special guest on four of the numbers here, pianist Dave McKenna.

Ed and Dave have a lot in common, though not build — Ed is wiry and compact, Dave full blown and b-i-g. They are both on the laconic side; neither is given to boisterous behavior; except on guitar and piano. They both learned their instruments early, Bickert as a schoolboy in British Columbia's Okanagan valley, McKenna in New England (born in Woonsocket, R.I., weaned in Boston) and they belonged to musical families: Ed played in a family band with his fiddler father and pianist mum while Dave's dad was a drummer and his mother a pianist.

The other members of the group are also Canadians in much demand around the world: Toronto bassist Neil Swainson, a favorite of George Shearing following in the fingersteps of Don Thompson, and drummer Terry Clarke (bom in Vancouver, sometime of Toronto, sometime New York) who has played with everyone from John Coltrane to the Fifth Dimension. They all know each other musically inside out and the empathy is stunning.”

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414.

“When I called Ed Bickert about this session he was on the top of a ladder. ‘Home maintenance,’ he explained in his loquacious way, ‘I keep close to home.’ It's almost as hard to get him out of the country as it is to get him to string more than half a dozen words together. But when it comes to stringing music, that's another matter, and plenty of top musicians would like to overcome his extreme modesty and homebody ways.

Lorne Lofsky, however, caught the phone on the first ring. This brisk, keen young Canadian guitarist is just waiting to grab the next chance to hit the road, and he'll chatter freely about his ambitions, his love of travel, his musical adventures.

So there's the contrast: the smooth, mature, Bickert, oozing experience (listen, he made a record with Duke Ellington in 1967) and the younger, adventurous, crisp-chording Lofsky. But they match well. In fact, musically, they've been hanging out for five years, playing club dates in Toronto with the same two guys on this recording, bassist Neil Swainson and veteran drummer Jerry Fuller.

So it's a made-in-Canada date: a quartet of Canadian musicians jamming in the comfortable Toronto studio of Phil Sheridan, the engineer to call north of the 49th parallel. "In fact it was very comfortable—no being isolated behind baffles and things," said Ed. …

This is a recording to get you down off a ladder, too; forget the chores and stay home awhile, with Ed and Lorne.”

Donald Elfman insert notes to Like Someone In Love: Paul Desmond Quartet [Telarchive CD-83319]

“Listening to the playing of the late Paul Desmond might be likened to the experience of watching a lovely leaf being wafted in a gentle breeze on a clear and beautiful day. Thoroughly individual alto saxophonist who rose to fame through his work with the Dave  Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and 1960s, plays all the parts in the above metaphor. He had a clear and beautiful tone and played lightly spinning, drifting melodic lines that, in their simplicity, revealed colors that were personal and individual

Cannonball Adderley, who was at one point was a rival of Paul's in the various polls and whose robust gospel-drenched playing  was worlds apart once said: ‘He is a profoundly beautiful player.’ Writer Nat Hentoff said. "He could put you in a trance, catch you in memory and desire, make you forget the garlic and sapphires in the mud."

The Jazz world came to know Paul Desmond through the hugely popular Dave Brubeck Quartet. He was a quiet and unassuming man, brilliant, witty, curious, but never particularly eager for the role of star. … After the dissolution of the Brubeck group, Paul played rarely, usually only to work with someone he admired or to help someone out. One of his few ventures outside New York was to Toronto to play at a club called Bourbon Street. There he met and developed a fruitful relationship with the players who grace the performances on this album.[Ed Bickert, guitar, Don Thompson, bass and Jerry Fuller, drums.]

He called Jerry Fuller "a charter member of a unique and endangered species, a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment."

Bassist Don Thompson who is now a "regular" in jazz performance and recording was, in 1975, more or less a Canadian treasure who, said Desmond, was "a walking miracle." (He said of Desmond, "Paul was one of the great artists in jazz. One of the most pure melody players, probably, of all time. Playing with him was much more of a challenge than many would guess.")

Ed Bickert is still one of the most thoughtful, sensitive and quietly swinging jazz guitarists. Desmond called him "unique," relishing his extraordinary chords and chord sequences, his melodic and beautifully paced solos, and his unprepossessing manner. …”

Gene Lees, insert notes to Pure Desmond [CBS Associated ZK 40806]

“Ed Bickert is one of the most successful studio musicians in Canada. Legend, and I believe it, has it that he grew up on a farm in the western prairie province of Saskatchewan, which is at least as flat as Indiana. He somehow acquired a guitar, and taught himself to play it, analyzing the harmony of Stan Kenton records by ear. Which may explain his incredible harmonic hearing.

Bickert is a taciturn, soft-spoken, very retiring man. I think they'd been playing together about four days before he and Paul bom got up the nerve to say hello. Bickert is a richly imaginative, always tasteful, and technically accomplished jazz soloist. He is also a thoughtful accompanist, acutely sensitive to the needs of another player. Desmond was thrilled by him, and at the end of their two weeks of working together, ne rushed back to New York with tapes of their playing to sell Creed Taylor [producer at CBS Records at the time] on the idea of bringing Bickert in to do an album. As the preparations for it were made, he said, "My God, to play with Ed, I'm going to do nothing but practice scales for the next month."

I was not at the session, I'm sorry to say. (It gave rise to one of the better Desmondisms: Paul said Creed had been "so busy for two weeks that the top of his head was spinning like a police car light.") I wonder how they all communicated, since Creed is fully as reticent and shy as Paul and Ed Bickert. [Maybe recording engineer] Rudy Van Gelder semaphored.

The result is this album, about which Paul is very pleased, which is a novelty, since he spends most of his fine devising newer and more persuasive causes for self-derogation. ‘I consider it Ed's album, really,’ he said. ‘He's never recorded in the United States before, and I wanted people to hear him.’”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles hopes that if it has accomplished one thing with this two part feature on Ed is that those of you who have not heard the accomplished guitar playing of Ed Bickert will be inclined to seek it out.

The following is but one example of the musical splendor of Bickert in combination with Desmond. Thankfully, there are many more awaiting your discovery as most of this music is still available for purchase in both analog and digital formats.

The following audio only file features Ed along with Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums on Charles Lloyd’s Third Floor Richard.