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.