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You’ve likely noticed that history is often inaccurately documented, that the facts are only seen from a blinkered point of view, the actual movement and creation of original concepts neglected in favour of the obvious. For instance it would be difficult to find in all those glossy-paged coffee-table books any references to what has seriously happened in Canadian culture. Sure they are filled with wonderful sepia-tone photographs of old buildings usually accompanied by 20 word cut-lines, visits by dignitaries from “back home” – top hatted, spatted and mo(u)rning coated posing with them or that, and the top-ten “cultural” and “political” icons. But where is the information pertaining to the artists that, in every generation, have run counter to the banality of our metropolitan centres. How many times, and for how long, is it to be the same poet, musician, film-maker, dancer, actor, painter… that represents our country, wins the awards, garners the acclaim. Why is it that each newly celebrated prodigy is a mere shadow, a feeble copy, of a true original?

Before the advent of corporate monoliths clogging the downtown skyline of our cities there existed a myriad of small independently operated stores, filled with unique goods and information. Before the era of designer labels, tiresome music awards acclaiming mediocrity, lists of dreary top selling novels, there was the action of the community, action motivated by enlightened members of that community, whose purpose was not simply a profit based ideology, but a system of sharing, a passing on of the inspirations and discoveries generated among themselves. A personal and often local phenomenon that also existed in other Canadian cities, especially Vancouver and Montreal.

My own personal era as a music-artist began in Toronto in the middle seventies, an era that cultivated new concepts toward what became known, for the sake of grant applications, as multi-disciplinary performance art. A small group of us, though too large to mention everyone, were interested in a variety of disciplines, a love of not only music in its numerous forms, but literature, poetry, dance, film and theatre. Our downtown society was made up of artists that practised all of these art forms. So it seemed quite natural that to mix these interests and present them to a willing public was required.


One of the earliest recordings of the so called new music from Toronto – a city mostly locked in the chastity of convention – that achieved any international recognition was “Conversation Pieces”, a duet of myself and pianist Stuart Broomer, which was originally a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio broadcast, recorded on May 11th, 1976, one day before my 38th birthday and released on our fledgling label Onari Records.

Conversation Pieces • Onari 002
Stuart Broomer (piano & prepared piano)
Bill Smith (soprano saxophone & marimba [3])

1. A Configuration (6:10) (Bill Smith)
2. An Outline of Miniature Potted Trees (9:52) (Stuart Broomer)
3. First Jump (7:34) (Bill Smith)
4. Imagine a short Monument, briefly enquire after its whereabouts (9:11) (Stuart Broomer)

All compositions CAPAC
Recorded in Toronto on May 11, 1976  for cbcjazzradiocanada by Herb Johnson
Tape Mastering by Phil Sheridan
Cover Photography by Ian Stewart
Cover Design by Bill Smith


Thinking of my music in terms of sound and space, instead of the normal structure system, has led me into an understanding of improvised performance, in particular with my friend Stuart Broomer, that brings about the kind of music that is on this recording. In this particular time – the spring of 1976 – I was very much concerned with creating musical images that pertained to friends and inspirations, and so the two compositions by me are based on that idea. “A Configuration” is dedicated to Leo Smith who in many ways is involved in a similar music process, and who I consider to be the premier brass player of this  period. Bill Smith


“An Outline of Miniature Potted Trees” is based on a tempered approximation of a pentatonic scale common to much Oriental music. The piece is concerned with modality and its opposite and seeks points of intersection that bypass harmony. Concomitantly, it is concerned with the idea of piano and that of anti-piano. The preparing of the piano seeks to give the instrument a timbral breadth equivalent to its traditional harmonic fluency, and to find in that extended range of timbres musical approaches alternative to those engendered by the instrument’s usual evenness of pitch and tone. The preparing of the piano heard here serves further to introduce an element of indeterminacy into the process of composition and improvisation, since objects move about the strings during the performance, changing overtones and reverberating at will. Stuart Broomer


The composition, “First Jump”, came about in performance at Parachute in Calgary, and is for my greatest single influence, Roscoe Mitchell. In a time when I was not sure which direction my attitudes should take, I met Roscoe and later we became friends. I thank him for this privilege. This music is something that Stuart and I create on a very personal basis, and something that we very much enjoy doing. we offer it to you. Bill Smith


“Imagine a (short) Monument. (briefly) Inquire after its Whereabouts, or A Shadow of its Former Self”, is based on premises similar to those of “An Outline…”. Here the performer moves from the keyboard to the strings of the instrument. The title may refer to the obsessive insubstantiality of pursuing the programmatic in music, or to an ironic modal purism in the face of an anarchic tide, the formal vision purifying itself into nothingness. The specific or emblematic is engaged in a comic struggle with the all-possible that is relieved only when they retreat into their respective perversities.  It should be noted that the particular performance of the piece that is heard on this recording has an anti-dramatic structure that is peculiarly its own. Stuart Broomer


Bill Smith and Stuart Broomer are two musicians who have emerged — in the sense of having departed — from the Toronto freejazz milieu to devote themselves to their own music. They have been playing together for years and although the addition of other musicians to their duo has produced excellent results on occasion, it undeniably detracts from the special empathy such as they share on this record. This music is going to surprise and, I’m sure, delight a lot of people. Since Bill and Stuart are friends of mine I feel reluctant to comment on the music itself, because whatever I say may be touched by subjectivity, i.e. critically not very reliable. What is most important about this record is that it is the first to present the very original music of these two men. A music by two mature, inventive and gifted individuals, that is wholly their own. David Lee (Coda Magazine)

This brief liner note, above, is one of the first pieces I ever wrote about music and 37 years later I must say that (a) if one lists the embarrassing things one did at age 24 one can come up with much worse, and (b) even if it didn’t say much, everything it did say was true. One thing that strikes me today is, how unique, in 1976, Stuart and Bill were in their particular blend of the composed and the improvised; in Canada they were part of a small community that spearheaded a larger movement, but although this record began as a CBC Jazz Radio Canada recording session, in the years to come this growing movement was pretty much boycotted by the English-language CBC. Therefore the online posting of this pioneering recording session is a major musical event, at the very least for its rarity as a document of a special Canadian music in a certain time and place. David Lee (author of The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field and Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz / davidneillee.com).

End Note:
The original of this recording had long ago dissapeared, the found tapes always being low grade and the lps noisy pressings. Recently my daughter in a house move found the original tapes in her basement and shipped them out west from Toronto. This was the first and only released “commercial” recording of this duo.

Thanks are extended to Karla Smith-Mitchell and Natasha Smith, David Lee, Marc Glassman, Paul DelMaschio, Peggy Walker and Don Geppert for their help in this project.