Tag Archives: Halifax

THE EYES HAVE IT

It’s deeply foggy here in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  And although my thoughts might turn to myriad possibilities for indoor edification and soul-solace, today they turn to YouTube. 

Tom Warner, ever diligent, has just posted a number of video clips from the most recent  Bix Beiderbecke Festival held each year in Davenport, Iowa.  The one that caught my attention was “Clarinet Marmalade,” a set-closing performance by Randy Sandke’s New York All-Stars: Randy on cornet, Dan Barrett on trombone, Dan Block on clarinet, Scott Robinson on C-melody and bass saxophones, Mark Shane on piano, Nicki Parrott on bass, Howard Alden on guitar, and the Invisible Man — I presume it’s Rob Garcia, by the sound of his cymbals — on drums. 

It’s a very satisfying performance, both evoking the original recording (itself a cut-down version of the famous arrangement Bill Challis did for the Jean Goldkette Orchestra) and building upon it in lively ways.  “Clarinet Mamalade,” one of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band records Bix so loved, is also a refreshingly old-fashioned piece of music.  Harking back to ragtime and brass bands, it has several strains, which might make it a minefield for players who know it only slightly, but it also has more substance than the usual thirty-two bar AABA tune.  I particularly like the strain that comes after Mark Shane’s piano solo: it always makes me think of silent film music, the soundtrack for something particularly ominous (the demure heroine tied to the track, the approaching train, the storm at sea, perhaps?) while the band is swinging.   

Here, for your dining and dancing pleasure, are Randy’s All-Stars:

Musically, it’s greatly rewarding.  But there’s something delightful about watching musicians at work, feeling the spirit without showing off, when they are not constrained by the knowledge of someone with a video recorder getting it all down for posterity.  It’s a treat to hear Mark Shane’s Wilson-inspired stride playing, light yet forceful, but my pleasure is intensified by the sight of Nicki, rockin’ in rhythm, during his solo.  And watch her, hard at lip-biting work, during hers!  It adds to the pleasure of hearing Dan Barrett’s fearless Miff Mole-staccato leaps to see his slide moving, to see the rest of the musicians acting out their notes and phrases in the language of their whole bodies, to see Dan Block express his enthusiasm by moving in time while Barrett plays.

Sometimes the visual aspect detracts from what we’re trying to hear.  Musicians have a casual way of chatting and guffawing while someone else is soloing.  But even though Warner’s cinematography is functional, seeing adds to hearing in this instance, and the ovation this band gets is well-deserved.  I don’t know if you will leave your chair in front of the computer monitor, but you will understand why the Bix Fest audience did.

LIVE JAZZ AT THE OLD RED SCHOOLHOUSE

The Beloved, who has a well-developed Sniffer for Things Interesting, pored over the Halifax, Nova Scotia newspapers and tourist handouts and found that there was jazz scheduled for this afternoon at Peggy’s Cove.  Yes, live jazz.  Everyone we had spoken to about their favorite spots had emphatically praised this one, so we set out this morning on a jaunt there — complete with provisions, maps, and the necessities of travel (in this case, money and a cassette of Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman exploring the score of My Fair Lady). 

It turned out to be a pleasant forty-five minute drive along the Atlantic Ocean, west of Halifax.  Aside from being somewhat overrun by tourists (and, lest you snicker, the Beloved and I are Travelers, a step up from Tourists) Peggy’s Cove was astonishingly beautiful, complete with an observant gull.

And we dined on that most relevant native delicacy — Nova Scotia smoked salmon — tender, moist, not oversalted.  Take that, Zabar’s!  (I confess that the photo is out-of-focus: my hands were trembling with anticipatory passion.) 

Then we heard the strains of live music coming from the old red schoolhouse, set on a rise. 

As we got closer, it sounded even better, and when we entered, it was jazz at its simplest and most unadorned: two gentlemen in an improvised duet.  One was seated at the piano — his name, we learned later, was Murray Brown, and he provided solid, sturdy harmonic backing and plain-spoken melodic embellishments that stood well on their own and were gracious accompaniment to the other player. 

He was Tobias Beale, who soloed on tenor sax, flute, sang, and even kept time on a cymbal near him, accenting it with occasional visits to a cowbell.  This was no novelty One-Man Band: he just wanted to do as much as he could to keep the rhythm going.  As a soloist, he reminded me of Al Cohn, moving lightly from phrase to phrase, with a good dose of Houston Person’s Southwestern passion in his attack, his bluesy swooping phrases. 

Brown and Beale knew the changes; their performances were both compact and fervent.   

There was a small audience, which kept shifting in and out, but the duo didn’t coast or take the easy way.  I would have expected less challenging materials, but their set (which we caught midway) began with Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” then shifted to “The Nearness of You,” took chances with “I Only Have Eyes For You.”  Beale proved himself a fine singer with a yearning “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?” that honored Don Redman, then a solid reading of “Devil May Care,” finishing up with a Baker-inspired look at “I Fall In Love Too Easily.”  On that last song, a husband and wife got up and danced — proof of music’s power to spread happiness, to share emotions. 

The children in the audience were quiet, almost transfixed by the spectacle of two people playing unamplified musical instruments right in front of them.  We learned later that Beale taught all the reeds at the junior high and high schools, and some of the younger people who stopped in to chat after his set were his students.  I only hope that some of the rapt children then in attendance will go home and ask their parents for lessons on something that isn’t a guitar or a synthesizer. 

This duo will be appearing every Sunday at the same place.  We’ll be far away by then, but I hope some readers will take the opportunity to visit these two quiet jazz heroes, who are steadily working their way through the best repertoire, making some listeners smile and others dance.  Jazz is indeed where you find it, and it turns up in unexpected places, spreading spiritual largesse for the simple joy of playing.