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A Note:

Thank you for responding to my mistake titled Slider Test. It was not intended that you receive the first stage of my learning to create a slide show. Let me know if this is an interesting addition to Rant & Dawdle. If you place your cursor on the image area it will pause the slide show.



Playing trumpet, even with the patient teacher up there on Yonge north of Eglington, has not produced positive results, not brought me any nearer to Miles or Chet, so a change was necessary, a visit to Long and McQuade’s to trade this horn for a more suitable jazz instrument. Buzzby disappears into the back room where among the stacks of horns he finds a slightly beat-up ancient Buescher Aristocrat tenor saxophone, the faded lacquer and well worn mother-of-pearl keys instigating daydreams of future renditions of Big Ben’s “In a Mellow Tone”. The padded crushed velour interior of the case gives off that musty stored-away smell. “$100” Buzzby sez, “and I’ll throw in a C* mouthpiece and box of #2 reeds”. Good enough condition for a beginner. And so began my dubious career as a saxophonist.


Often seen
in the curriculum vitae of saxophonists is the claim of classical training, as though that legitimised them, as though European convention was the epitome and jazz somehow less valid. Formal training was, for me, an afterthought, there were a couple of famous tenor saxophonists – who shall remain nameless for the sake of modesty – that passed on various titbits, but it was not until Zion – a classical saxophonist – became my teacher, that anything close to formalism appears.

Not that he really helped, his idea of teaching being to put you in a small box-like practice cubicle with the scales and exercises from his own publication – “A Student’s Guide to the Saxophone” (pages 1 through 4) and check you out at the end of the half-hour. Cash preferred. Not a hint of “Il Flauto Traverso” – the wonderful duets composed by Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant, and certainly nothing as interesting as Sigurd Raschèr’s “158 Saxophone Exercises”.

He didn’t last long, too many character discrepancies, especially his determination to make the saxophone imitate the sound of a “classical” violin, oblivious to the amazing history of the instrument, especially in jazz. Though recordings show him to have a corny old fashioned vibrato common in dance band music from the 1920’s. I’d made him cassette tapes of Ornette and Art Pepper, whom he found distasteful, out-of-tune, his preference being Paul Desmond, and then only for his sweet tone.

A couple of latent trivial thoughts come to mind: firstly that he owned the only known F alto made by Adolphe Sax himself and secondly that he has included me in his curriculum vitae. One never knows does one?

A Gig:

What a pair me and Mister D made, him a dedicated blues bloke, enamoured – just like the Dead, Elvis and the Stones – by the lazy, slack-jawed singing, piercing harmonica and hypnotic electric guitar grooves of Jimmy Reed, and me struggling to learn the rudiments of the tenor saxophone, dabbling in simple chord sequences and freely improvised noise. There’d been the odd occasion at Grossman’s, a quiet night when the noisy inebriates wouldn’t know or care, where I’d been invited to sit in with the band, honk a few out-of tune choruses on a simple blues; nothing serious.

Saturday it must have been, hanging out with the New Orleans crowd after their “recital”, endlessly quaffing jugs of draft, and then off we all toddled, Mister D, Bradley and me, back to hang out at my place on Ross Street, order a take-out pizza, dig some sides and get high; not a care in the world.

‘Round about midnight might have been the time, the phone rings, and there’s the dude who’s promoting gigs for night-hawks in the basement of Cinecity, a hip theatre on the corner of Yonge and Charles streets specialising in art and foreign films, wondering when the band will arrive. What band would that be? Under the circumstances it has completely slipped Mister D’s mind, the excellent hashish, wine and wacky dust obliterating this or any other engagement. Jimmy and Cash are still awake, a rhythm section at least, an up-&-comer guitarist who lives just up the road a bit on Washington at Huron is thrilled (terrified) to join the spontaneous aggregation. Mister D, who always carries his harps for emergencies such as this, sez “grab yer horn man, we’ve got a gig”.

Stark, dingy, black painted basements were all the rage, disguising the grunginess, mimicking the night that the sparse clientele was escaping; the bored, the lonely, the weirdos, submerged in the artificial after hours culture of a city that closed down at midnight.

We five are tucked into a dimly lit corner, the ceiling barely affording headroom: three, when abstaining from the addictive joys of drugs and booze, blues players of some quality; one a hopeful, and yours truly technically incompetent. “Just keep playing that far out shit”, Mister D sez, “it’ll be cool”.

Musically not much is remembered from that night, perhaps I was saved by Albert Ayler’s spirit looming, or bravado gathered from the excessive consumption of illegal substances egging me on. What is recollected is Bradley, who was not a fan of this primitive art form, saying: “Man that’s the best fucking blues band I’ve ever heard”.

Bill Smith & Dies Leduc [photographer unknown]