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Among all the bizarre entertainment were our favourite clubs. The Friars, a block south of the Brown Derby, is the first, at least geographically, to be portrayed. Using Coda Magazine for my research shows a listing in the issue dated June 1963, of the Oscar Peterson Trio booked in from June 10-15. In the following issue however there is no review, no mention of his appearance, which in England would have been the Melody Maker’s front page story. Instead it’s the rare appearance of pianist Lennie Tristano, playing solo at the First Floor Club, an intimate venue in a side street just on the periphery of my one mile radius, that is reviewed by Eddie Santolini, the downstairs manager at Sam The Man’s record shop. Over the years the Friars would present the Who’s-Who of the jazz world, among them the Chico Hamilton Quartet introducing us to the avant garde musings of saxophonist Charles Lloyd and the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hivG5Cc4z4]; Stan Getz with young vibraphonist Gary Burton; the elite trombone duo of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, Cannonball Adderley’s sextet with Yusef Lateef, Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk with his collection of saxophones, bells and whistles musically mocking a local disc jockey (Phil MacKellar – That Feller Mackellar) who had said on his radio show that Rahsaan was little more than a circus act. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsaxODHI3fA] And the great tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. I had attended that evening of the mighty Hawk in the company of a new friend from the Mohawk Nation who related to me that he had in the past not been allowed into such establishments as it was illegal for First Nations People to drink alcohol in public places. Astounding when one considers that it is from his people that this country has been stolen.

I had read about the legendary jazz venues of New York; Birdland, Minton’s Playhouse and the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, the Village Vanguard and the Five Spot in the village, seen monochromatic photographs in Downbeat and Metronome, heard live recordings of Bird, Miles, Mingus, Coltrane… from these very clubs, but none of this abstracted information prepared me for my first experience of the American styled bar of the Colonial Tavern.

The club was situated a couple of blocks south of Dundas, next door to an historic bank building, and in those days was the bastion of mainstream jazz where it seemed as though the remarkable trumpeter Buck Clayton, with a retinue of Basieites, was more-or-less in residence. John Norris introducing me to a form of jazz in which I had not previously been interested, encouraging me to investigate a history from which the music I loved had evolved.

The chrome and glass entrance lobby was guarded by Rocky, who somehow, through marriage was vaguely related, this family association guaranteeing admission on a busy Saturday night. This was no back-room or basement affair, the enormous room accommodating hundreds of jazz fans seated comfortably around tables, all with a clear view of the raised stage illuminated by a flashing disco ball. Bill and Leo, the ground floor waiters, who over time would become familiars, dressed from top to bottom in the traditional outfits of white shirt, black trousers, shoes and socks, set off by a red waistcoat, wandered among the tables with their trays and a folded cotton towel draped over an arm to mop up the spillage, on the lookout for empty glasses. Facing the stage was a long bar that was always occupied by the regular hipsters dressed to kill, furtive eyes hidden behind horn-rimmed dark glasses. Those not yet old enough to indulge in alcohol could listen to the music from an upstairs balcony that looked down onto the stage.

Just imagine for the price of a beer it was possible, on a regular basis, to hear the music of living legends, swing musicians who had brought this music to popularity; pianists as famous as Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Art Hodes and Sir Charles Thompson; trumpeter Henry Red Allen and clarinetist Pee Wee Russell [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBs5m_kF6Y4] who were considered by some to have been among the first musicians to employ “outside” tonality and rhythmic concepts in jazz, and to hear Count Basie’s star tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate. No Cover. No Minimum.

End Notes:

The photographs – found on the web – are from various Toronto newspapers. Used without permission.
The Coda Magazine cover is from the author’s personal collection.
The material for this series of stories was culled from Chapter 26 of “Rant & Dawdle – A Fictional Memoir”.
Pee Wee Russell drawing by Graham Coughtry

Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”
Performed by Arthur Bull & Bill Smith

Click on the pictures then click again to see image full-size.
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