I can’t take credit for the witty title, invented by Marc Myers, Mister Jazz Wax (www.jazzwax.com). More about his site’s latest treasures later. “Lox country” refers to Nova Scotia, from whence this posting comes.
I could happily discourse about Montreal bagels — reminiscent of those of my youth. Thin, dense, chewy, although the hole in the middle seems much too large. The Montreal bagel company runs six shops in that city, all open twenty-four hours. My kind of metropolis!
If I chose to be more grim, I could describe my becoming an all-you-can-bite mosquito buffet, but I will forego such grotesqueries.
My text for today is a jazz book purchased in a Halifax shop, SUCH MELODIOUS RACKET: THE LOST HISTORY OF JAZZ IN CANADA, 1914-1949, by Mark Miller (Mercury Press, 1997) tracing that subject from the Creole Band’s 1914 tour to Oscar Peterson’s 1949 Carnegie Hall debut. A perceptive historian, Miller is a diligent researcher of newspapers and oral histories who doesn’t get bogged down in details, and a sharp-eyed writer with no particular ideological position. Since the first half of the book takes him only up to the early Twenties, much of his research seems social history — because the musical evidence is so limited and the records are not always convincing evidence of what jazz did get played.
The book is full of fascinating snippets of information about American performers visiting Canada: Freddie Keppard, the Six Brown Brothers, Jelly Roll Morton, James “Slap Rags” White, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Mamie Smith, Wilbur Sweatman, Hollis Peavy and his Jazz Bandits (featuring a young Eddie Condon), Lloyd and Cecil Scott, Bill Coleman, Dicky Wells, the Casa Loma Orchestra, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Alphonso Trent, Stuff Smith, J.C. Higginbotham, Billie Holiday, Louis Metcalfe, even Sonny Rollins. As a sidelight, it contains the only portrait photograph I have ever seen of pianist Dave Bowman (1914-1964), born to Canadian parents in Buffalo, New York — a beautifully subtle player, reminiscent of Jess Stacy, who often appeared with Condon, Hackett, Bud Freeman, the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, and George Wettling.
MiIller’s book is most interesting in his thorough overview of Canadian jazz orchestras and soloists who escaped the attention of American historians: the Original Winnipeg Jazz Babies, Shirley K. Oliver, Andy Tipaldi and his Melody Kings, the Canadian Ambassadors, Trump Davidson, Bert Niosi (“Canada’s King of Swing”), Sandy De Santis (“The Benny Goodman of Canada”), Irving Laing, Al McLeod (“The White Tatum”), and better-known Canadians: Kenny Kersey, Al Lucas, Buster Harding, George Auld, Maynard Ferguson, and Louis Hooper. Equally intriguing are passages drawn from interviews with Black players about racism in Montreal and elsewhere.
My only regret is that this book did not come with an accompanying CD. Is there one or a comparable anthology? Can any Canadian reader enlighten me in this?
Back to JazzWax for a moment, to conclude. Marc has embarked on a series of interviews with George Wein, impresario and pianist. I have always been prejudiced against Wein as a player of limited gifts whose accompaniments held back Ruby Braff, PeeWee Russell, and others — but jazz would have been much poorer if he had become the doctor his parents wanted. And Marc has offered pictures of Wein with two of my heroes. In the first, the trumpeter to Wein’s left is Frankie Newton (the bassist Joe Palermino); in the second, taken by Robert Parent, the recognizable constellation of stars at Storyville, 1950, is Sidney Catlett and Hoagy Carmichael. These two photographs make me feel much more generous towards Wein, for we are indeed known by the company we keep.