Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Monday, June 20, 2005

The State of My Affairs

(love letter to New Orleans)

There’s no shortage of overtly sentimental writings about this town, and the world certainly doesn’t need any more from me. It’s hard, though, to avoid purple prose when the place really does have a kind of voluptuousness to it. The whole vibe encourages self-indulgence. I try to eat healthy, and fail miserably. I strive to keep up an exercise regimen, but the heat and humidity defeat me. Instead I walk slow, talk slow, sometimes even think slow, and surrender myself to the seasonal rhythms of what is, in many respects, a pagan society. New Orleans Mistik, a store in the 9th ward that specializes in Voodoo paraphernalia, is also the Orleans Parish outlet for Catholic religious items. On her morning walks around the neighborhood, my wife Darlene routinely encounters old men leaving pennies at intersections (crossroads) for Papa Legba. We have a friend who is both a real estate agent and a Voodoo Mambo.

I’m coming up on two years of living here now, and feel like I’m only just beginning to understand the duality of the place. If one sticks to certain neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain it’s almost possible to believe that New Orleans is just another Sunbelt city like Atlanta or Dallas. But this illusion is impossible to maintain in the crumbling, older sections of town where a combination of magnificent, paint-peeling architecture and a truly weird (some would call it creepy) social order make this the last repository of American exotica. Yes, New Orleans is weird. It’s full of sad old Tennessee Williams-style Southern Homos and freaky sixty-year-old beatniks in stingy-brim hats and giant black guys with gold teeth who speak French and dress like South African pirates. You either hate it on sight (the Tragically Hip, apparently, couldn’t wait to get back to Kingston Ontario after recording an album here) or, if you’re like me, you end up getting hooked after repeated visits and are forced to move in.


Any musician who’s moved to a new city can tell you how tough it is. It doesn’t matter how much good work you’ve done before, or how many CDs you’ve played on. You’re only as good as you are right now, at this jam session.There’s good folks who’ll hook you up with work and opportunities, and there’s assholes who’ll view you as a threat to their hegemony and who’ll call tunes you don’t know in awkward keys and badmouth you behind your back. I had a rough first year in this respect but fortunately the tide has turned and my faith in the workings of the musical world (and the world in general) has been reaffirmed. It turns out there really are more good folks than bad, and if you keep doing good work and comport yourself with integrity, people notice.

I’m starting to develop what every musician must have, a network of associates. To succeed on any level, you gotta have your wing-men, your droogies, your crew, the guys who’ll cover your back on the stand just as you’ll cover theirs. In this I’ve been fortunate to hook up with guys like Jim Markway (bass), Wayne Maureau (drums), and John Dobry (guitar). These are the guys who were with me on my first major gig as a leader in New Orleans last March 17th at Dixon Theater, and it’s also been my privilege to play with them in a number of other contexts and combinations. Jim, especially, has been an invaluable source of advice and counsel, in addition to being a rock solid presence on both acoustic and electric bass. The man has played with everyone in town, from blues man Luther Kent to Cajun accordionist Bruce Daigrepont, as well as folks like Maria Muldaur and Cassandra Wilson (he was on her first commercially released recording).

I had a nodding acquaintance with John Dobry from seeing him around the department, but didn’t really know who he was. We finally got into a serious conversation about jazz when we both attended an on-campus performance by Ken Vandermark, and shortly afterward I started calling John for some of the casual convention gigs I’d started doing around town. Then, in March, he asked me if I’d like to play a concert at the Tulane recital hall featuring a suite for small jazz orchestra and string quartet he’d written called Suite 1039. This turned out to be a fun and challenging work, and also an opportunity to work with some of John’s friends, many of whom (like bassist Joe Butts) are graduates of UNOs jazz-studies program when it was still headed up by Ellis Marsalis.

Wayne Maureau I’d seen around in the Tulane teaching studios. I’d also heard him at Snug Harbor with local latin-fusion group Brasilliance. Wayne’s a lifelong New Orleanian with one solo CD (Sidewalk Jungle) to his credit. In addition to knowing the New Orleans funk stylebook backwards and forwards, Wayne is a respected teacher who’s just published his first drum method book, a fledgling actor (he appears in the movie Ray as, surprisingly, a drummer) and a helluva sight-reader, to the extent that he read through my composition One Up, Two Back (a multi-metered drummers nightmare) in rehearsal without a single mistake.

The actual gig was…intense, at least the first few tunes were. It’s one thing to romp through a bunch of standards at some wallpaper gig in a hotel ballroom, quite another to play 90 minutes of challenging, original jazz under hot lights in a theater full of people who are actually paying attention. But after a few tunes it dawned on me that I really like playing with these guys. We’ve already made plans for a repeat performance in the fall, probably in the Weinman Patio amphitheater.

My Place in the Academy

After two years as a graduate teaching assistant, Tulane has hired me on a one-year contract as Visiting Professor of Music for the 2005-06 academic year. I’ll be doing pretty much the same kind of teaching as before (jazz combo, jazz improv, some private students) but I’ll also be taking over as director of the Jazz Orchestra and, more importantly, will be paid real, grown up money for the first time in my life.

I couldn’t be more delighted. This is the first ‘day job’ I’ve ever had that I really, really love, and I’m especially honored because this is a strong vote of confidence and support from the Music Department. Visiting Professorships are usually only awarded to PhDs, and I haven’t even finished my master’s degree yet. Barbara Jazwinsky, the new Department Head, is enthusiastic about expanding the university’s jazz performance programs, and has been very supportive of my efforts in this regard.

Now the trick will be to develop the programs to the extent that the university will fund the position on a permanent basis.

The Annual Trek North

As I write this, I’m back in Vancouver, sniffing the Pacific breezes through the open window and cursing myself for not packing any ‘winter’ clothes. For the last two years, my wife Darlene and I have been fortunate to arrange our lives so as to return to Vancouver for the summer months.

My first ‘official’ act (aside from presiding at a memorial service for my father, who passed away in March) was to head out to Richmond to the Also Lounge to sit in with two of my favorite people, vocalist Alita Dupray and bassist James Forrest. The leader on the gig, Roy Sluyter, is a hugely under-appreciated guy, a fine pianist as well as a terrific composer (I have a couple of his tunes in my book) and a great recording engineer. Roy was deep in his “Joe Sample” bag, and Alita was serving up some interesting re-harms and funk treatments of old rock war-horses like the Doors’ Crystal Ship, and Led Zeppelin’s Baby I’m Gonna Leave You. Stan Taylor was his usual ebullient self on drums.

James and Stan will also be appearing with my quintet at the Granville Island Market stage, Saturday, June 25th at 12 noon as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. We’ll have Norm Quinn on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Tony Foster on piano. We’ll be trotting out a few of my compositions, a few of Norms’ and a few by my good friend Alan Matheson, as well as the aforementioned Sluyter numbers. Tony and I will also be appearing with Toronto drummer Joe Poole (with Tony on organ this time) at the Quay Lounge in Yaletown on the evening of June 27th.

It’s good to be back in Vancouver for a bit. The vibe is completely different than New Orleans. I’m looking forward to seeing all my local friends and colleagues at the various concerts around town during the festival.

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