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Summer 1989:

The journey down to Mount Pleasant in Michigan had presented a minor challenge, crossing the border with a saxophone often being difficult. There were arrangements in place, the Musicians Union having a reciprocal agreement of some kind. Most of my ilk, improvisers, had no reason to be members of the union, it really catering to the jobbing musician and those with contracted gigs. The Chicago bound train stops at Sarnia, the American Customs & Immigration officers boarding the train to inspect our documents, they are not very interested in me and my sopranino saxophone their focus is on my fellow passenger, a black International student heading for Chicago to participate in furthering his education.

The band in Mount Pleasant, the Northwood Improvisers are friends; Mike Johnson [bass, wood flutes, percussion], Mike Gilmore [vibes, cheng], Nick Ashston [drums], nothing formal arranged, just a gig at The Foolery, a student pub.

The bar is packed on this Friday night, not everyone is there to listen to the music. But enthusiastically enjoying the end of a week of study.

The college newspaper, Central Michigan Life, has a charming young lady allocated to interview me. All that’s remembered from  the conversation is the question: Why do you play the sopranino saxophone? I flippantly respond with: It’s small enough to fit in my shoulder bag. This appears – more or less – as the headline of the article, my English humour not transferring to the young American.

The posted music is Set Three of the evening, recorded on cassette by Mike Johnson. I have asked Mike if the other two sets exist, but so far no luck in discovering them. There is the happy joyful audience sounding constantly in the background, it being one of the barmen’s birthday: hopefully not detracting too much from the music. As far as I remember from thirty-odd years ago, there were no rehearsals, confident as we were from previous encounters. No rehearsal you say – just opening up the opportunity for a “jazz critic” to make a snide comment about the mistakes.

Beauty Is A Rare Thing [Ornette Coleman]

Mothers [AlbertAyler]

Nowhere In Particular [Bill Smith]

Enjoy this look into our music’s past… bill smith

End Notes:
Photograph of Bill Smith by Mark Miller [https://www.writersunion.ca/member/mark-miller]

I can can be contacted at classicimprov@yahoo.ca

My weekly radio show, presented between noon and 2:00 every Wednesday on Hornby Island Radio [CHFR – 96.5 FM] can be found at: https://hornbyradio.com/dj/jazz-gems-with-bill-smith/