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."

Saturday, July 29, 2006


My time here is drawing to a close. It’s been fun, but it’s time to go home. I miss my wife, and I’m getting tired of wearing the same four shirts over and over again.

Coming up only once a year is an interesting experience, sort of like time-lapse photography. Even when I lived here the pace of change seemed excessive sometimes. Now it’s quite startling to see huge swaths of the city utterly transformed from what they were only ten months ago. It’s even more startling since I live in a city where change happens at a glacial pace, if at all. In New Orleans, a ‘pre-war’ house means pre-civil-war, and a ‘heritage’ building in Vancouver would be new construction there.

The other day I noticed that Portland Al’s Confectionary at third and main has now been replaced by something trendy, an antique shop, I think. When I lived in that neighborhood in the seventies I spent a lot of time poking through Al’s stock of jazz and r&b LPs, which he had stashed in amongst the canned beans and Kraft Dinner. His was the kind of business (a combination independent grocery and record store) that contemporary Vancouver, in all it’s excruciatingly hip, ‘world class’ splendour, is utterly incapable of supporting. Somehow the city has gone from jumped-up lumber town to sterile megalopolis without passing through bohemian-cosmopolitanism in between. A sad, sad state of affairs.

On Friday I took a long, long walk around the downtown core, a place I lived for many years and in all kinds of circumstances, from penniless street person to credentialed educator. It was an inventory taking of sorts, to see how many of the homes and businesses that formed the fabric of my life had survived. Starting at the south end, right by the Granville bridge, the Yale Hotel( last abode of my pal the late, great Robbie King is still there. The club on the main floor is a blues bar I played many, many times. They’ve spiffed the façade up recently with the addition of a blue, neon saxophone. Further down the street there were more bars; the Cecil (now a strip bar) was the 'intellectual' gin-mill, populated by UBC students, profs, and professional students still plugging away at various graduate degrees well into their 30s and 40s. There was also that strange breed of cat who only seemed to survive by academic osmosis, maybe not enrolled in any classes, but still hanging out with the university set.

Further down still was a working man's bar called the St. Helen's where my friend Gordie Bertram and I once got into a minor scuffle because we had the temerity to walk in there with our outrageously gay pal Bruce Russell. We decamped further down the street to a gay bar called the Castle (now an empty lot) where we could drink unmolested.

Between Drake and Georgia streets were a whole slew of bars, many of which had live music policies. These places (the Blackstone, the Dufferin, the Nelson Place) were real bottom of the barrel gigs, low money, unpleasant ambience, and a very good chance you'd witness a stabbing or a shooting sooner or later. One of the scariest things I ever saw involved no bloodshed at all. We were sitting around by the pool table between sets when a guy with long biker hair and a knee-lenghth leather car coat on walked in. The staff immediately became agitated and began whispering among themselves. The cat kept sweeping the room with his eyes like he was looking for someone, he had the coldest, deadest eyes I'd ever seen on a human being, more like a great white shark. One of the waitresses stage-whispered "He's got something! I know he's got something!" and sure enough, he opened up his coat and pulled out a sawed-off double barrelled shotgun looped to his wrist by a leather cord. He swept the room with it, creating a kind of reverse-wave effect as everybody hit the floor, including waiters with full trays. But that was it. He didn't pull the trigger. Just smiled,put the gun up, and walked out.

Across the street from the Blackstone was a club called the Anvil. Because it had a cabaret licence it could stay open later that the bar next door (the Royal, a Native Indian bar that later became a gay bar when the Castle was demolished). This was how the owner made his money. We'd play all night to 10 or 15 people, then at 1:00a.m. when the joint next door closed, the place would be suddenly jam packed with Indians.

A liitle bit north of here was a hotel I lived in for a while. Can't remember the name of it, but it was over Granville Optical.

Except for the Yale and the Dufferin (now another gay bar), all of these places are gone now. The whole strip has become a kind of theme park for college kids and youngish hipsters. Most of the old residential hotels, home to the out-of-work loggers, junkies, pimps, hookers,hipsters, lunatics, and just plain poor people that patronized a lot of the music bars (where 'welfare wednesday' was always our busiest night) have been reno'd into condos and upscale hotel rooms, or torn down. A lot of the residents have been pushed further east to the Downtown Eastside, but, amazingly, a few remain. The last time I played the strip (at the Royal in it's gay bar phase, and at a jazz club called Raffel's that flourished briefly in the lounge of the now vanished Austin Hotel) I'd occasionally be hanging in front of the club, and a vaguely familiar, ruined face would float by, especially if the needle exchange van was in the neighborhood. The ensuing conversations were always delicate for me, since I didn't want to embarrass anyone by crowing too much about recent accomplishments, or get too nosy about what they had been up to lately.

Still, it does me good, in a perverse way, to see remnants of the old crowd mixed in with the preppies and sweater girls, pissing in doorways, shouting in the street, and just generally reminding us that life isn't a J. Press catalogue after all

Friday, July 21, 2006

Amanda Tosoff Trio Plus One

Lately I've been blabbering about myself here a bit more than I feel comfortable with, and the following has got squat to do with New Orleans but Jesus H. Christ in a green hat can Amanda Tosoff play some piano or what?

The primary reason I came up to Vancouver this summer was to play a jazzfest gig with my 'b-3 band,' Tony Foster on the 'B,' Jon Roper on guitar, and Joe Poole on drums. I also hoped to re-record a couple of things I wasn't happy with on the CD we did together when I was up here post-Katrina last fall. To that end, I e-mailed Cory Weeds at the Cellar to see if he'd give us a date, figuring I'd fill in a few gigs around the jazzfest engagement to help amortize my travel expenses, and maybe record the night at the Cellar as well. Hell, I even had grandious visions of a 'Live At The Cellar' CD.

But, you know...best laid plans, etc. Cory gave us the date, but Joe and Tony both had jobs elsewhere that night. So now I had a gig but no band. My first impulse was to "round up the usual suspects," the revolving cadre of folks I've been playing with in various combinations in Vancouver for years. But three years as' the new guy in town' in New Orleans has shown me the value of making fresh musical connections. It not only helps you grow as a player, it increases your social footprint as well, and creates further opportunities to play with still more new people.

The first guy I called was drummer Morgan Childs. Morgan and I had worked together a couple of times before, in circumstances so vile that we had both blocked most of the details from our minds. One was "the big band gig from hell," the other "the recording session from hell." The last one I bear full culpability for.

In spite of this, Morgan was up for it. Morgan is always up for it. I swear the guy would never get up from behind the drum kit if he didn't have to eat. He suggested I hire the trio he was currently working a location gig with every Wednesday at the Libra Room, the Amanda Tosoff trio. This sounded pretty good to me. It would give me an opportunity to work with some of the younger players who'd been coming onto the scene since I left town, plus the trio was already a working band.

Come the day of the gig, I was still piddling around trying to decide what we were going to play. I wanted to pick stuff we were all likely to know (or that we could easily sight read) while at the same time trying to not bore the audience (or ourselves) with stuff that had been played to death.

I got to the gig and of course Morgan was already there, behind the drums. I think he sleeps there, propped up on the stool. He took me over to the bar and introduced me to Amanda and the bass player, Josh Cole, and we went up to the stand to start the first set.

I called a blues in Bb, medium bounce tempo, a variation of Sonny Rollins' tune "Sonnymoon For Two" by Vancouver altoist and jazz DJ Gavin Walker called "Up In Gavin's Flat." Right away I could tell this was going to be fun. The pocket was smooth and swinging, easy to step into and blow. Everybody was listening. The acoustics in the room were great, and we had a nice house, a good, responsive crowd, not always the case on a summer Thursday night at the Cellar. I played a half dozen choruses, probably overstayed my welcome a bit, and stepped back to see what the trio could do.

Amanda has a very percussive style. When she starts swinging (and she swings a lot) she puts a little body english into it, and there's a sensation of notes kind of bouncing out of the piano and flying away in skeins and clusters. I'd heard the trio's new CD (on Gavin Walker's show on CITR the previous Monday) and loved it, but this aggresively swinging quality comes across even more live than on record, or at least it seemed that way to me. Josh and Morgan both set things up so that the whole effect was one of unity and cohesivenes, and as the evening progressed I watched little cues and set-ups pass between them that showed me these people have played together a lot. It was big, big fun playing with these folks, like taking a new Ferrarri out for a test drive.

We played all kinds of stuff. Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas." Duke Ellington's "Cottontail" and Cole Porter's "I Love You." My buddy Norm Quinn came by and played trumpet and flugelhorn in the second set on things like Freddy Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and our mutual friend Roy 'The Boy Toy' Sluyter's "That Mysterious Smile." Melonai Brisdon got up and sang "Autumn Leaves" in french (Wow, I'm in Canada! It's bilingual, eh.)

It's impossible to overstate how much fun it is to play with a truly great rhythm section. The only down side is that they can fool you into thinking you're a better player than you actually are. I called a couple of things just a hair faster than I can actually play them, and got tangled up in my own fingers in the process. Nothing for it but to cut the time in half, right?

Damn, what a night! Twelve hours later, I'm still smiling.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


My apologies to Brian Nation for swiping the title off a post in his blog. Well, paraphrasing, anyway. His post was “A Day In The Jazz Life.”

I remember reading an interview with Kate Hammett-Vaughn a few years back, where she said something to the effect that people make the mistake, because they see local (Vancouver) artists getting some pretty sweet gigs at jazzfest, that we spend all year long swanning about the world on big stages getting bouquets of roses placed at our feet.

Now, I ran into Kate shortly after that, and we discussed the issue a bit. I think she’d just put out her first CD (“How My Heart Sings”) and it had gotten some pretty good notices, and she said she’d stopped the conversation dead at a dinner party by telling the assembled guests the actual, truly pathetic dollar figure that comprised her total take from singing jazz the previous year. As I’ve said before, show me a jazz musician who doesn’t have a day job, an employed, indulgent spouse, a teaching gig at a community college or a large batch of private students, and I’ll show you someone living in a cardboard box in the park.

On the other hand, if you can somehow find a way to overcome the mundane necessity to put food on the table, it can be a grand life. In the last year, I’ve visited San Francisco (three times) Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle, New York City, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and now, currently not-so-sunny Vancouver. Here’s a thumbnail version of my glamorous life in the last few days:

I’m staying in the West End, so I took the Granville Island ferry over to my jazzfest gig at the Railspur Alley Stage on Canada Day. A combination of great sound (courtesy of sound tech Sherry Dance) and superlative musicianship (thanks to Joe Poole, Tony Foster and Jon Roper) made the gig a joy from downbeat to encore. Tony is well known around town and elsewhere as a first rate jazz piano player, but he’s also becoming a real monster on Hammond B-3. Since he doesn’t actually own one though, and must rely on various ‘house’ instruments when playing organ gigs, there are certain…gaps, in his technical understanding of the beast. Like how to turn it on. (Note to Tony: It’s like turning over an old Model T. Click START. Hold it down. When it catches, click RUN).

The next Tuesday I reacquainted myself with the horror that is the Greater Vancouver Transit system by taking the bus up to the musician’s union, and over to Gavin Walker’s place to drop off a copy of our new CD to play on his Monday night show on CITR. I didn’t even own a car till I was 37, so I’ve had lots of experience with the “transit” system in Vancouver. I always thought that the word transit was kind of a misnomer, since it actually implies movement of some kind. Mostly what you do is wait. And wait. And wait. I remember moving back to Vancouver from New York in 1990 (having had my conceptions clouded by the speedy NYC subway system) and trying to get home to the East End one night after attending a jam session at the Yale. Took me almost two hours. I deduced that, including waiting time, my average travel speed was about one and a half miles per hour. Despite the addition of the “Sky Train” (which is utterly useless for most inter-urban travel) things have changed not one whit in the intervening years.

Next was a taping of CBC Radio’s “Hot Air.” I’ve done a fair number of these over the last few years and have come to think of host Paul Grant and producer Neil Ritchie as old friends, so this was a fun and no-stress experience for me. Since I moved to New Orleans I’ve become kind of the ‘go to’ guy for Louisiana music on that show, and I brought a bunch of rare and esoteric stuff to play; discs from clarinetist Alvin Batiste, drummers John Vidacovich and Shannon Powell, Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph’s band Backyard Groove, and the Rebirth Brass Band. Also some truly weird Mardi Gras Indian field recordings. The show airs July 15th at 5:05p.m on CBC Radio One.

I’ve got two more gigs while I’m up here. Tomorrow night (July 13th) at the Railspur Alley Café, and July 20th at the Cellar. I’ll also be re-recording a couple of the things we did in a session last fall (when I was evacuated up here post Katrina) with Tony, Joe and Jon. I managed to hit enough clams on those two things that I’m not comfortable releasing them, so this is an opportunity to fix that. I’m also going to try and block off some time to write music for the Professors of Pleasure CD we’ll be recording in New Orleans in the fall.
It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Five Rules Of Touring

Shortly before I left New Orleans June 30th I had a question from one of my students at Tulane about touring. My short answer was that nothing he would do as a jazz musician would ever warrant as grandious a description as that. Maybe "scrabbling around the country like a starving rat" or " zapping from one end of the continent to the other like methedrine crazed weasels." "Touring" is what the Rolling Stones do.

But then I realized that all my recent (last 10 years) experience in this area has been as a leader. This is totally different from the 'sideman' perspective,where your level of involvement in the process extends only as far as "What time's the bus get here? Eleven? Okay, I'll be in the lobby with my bags." When you're a leader you are responsible for every...damn...detail.

Rule Number One: If you are paid for a gig in cash, immediately disburse this money as wages. That way you are no longer responsible for it. But try to avoid cash if can can, because guys who want to pay you in cash are almost always the same guys who are reluctant to file a contract with the union. No union contract means if they screw you there's nobody who'll pursue the matter but you, and since it usually takes a few days for the check to bounce, you'll be two or three cities down the road by then. At least if you've filed with the AFM their legal department will pursue the matter on your behalf. Sometimes they'll even be successful. In 1985 I was in a funk band that got screwed out of a weeks wages, and ten years later they actually ran the guy down. We got almost double our money because of accrued interest charges.Bottom line, if you're out there in the marketplace as a musician all by yourself with no organization to back you up, sooner or later( and most likely sooner) you are going to get bent, greased and fucked. Join the union and maybe they won't stick it in quite so far.

Rule number two: When presented with an opportunity to eat, do so:Do not be suckered in by promoter's promises of "a nice meal after the gig". It'll be cheese and crackers. You see that Wendy's over by that freeway exit? Pull in there, NOW.

Rule number three: Woolite is your friend:Learn to do your own laundry in your hotel room. Nowday you'll almost never be lucky enough to get a 'residency' or a 'season' on the road (ie. a gig in one place for a week or longer) so it's all one nighters, pal. Do NOT be a fool like me and fall for the empty promises of "Same Day" cleaners( so long, my favorite pair of pants. Hope you enjoy Baton Rouge). Wash things like socks and underwear when you check in before the gig, and leave them to dry on the shower rod so they'll be dry by checkout the next morning. I hate to say this , since I abhor synthetic fabrics, but wrinkle free wash and wear stuff is the way to go on the road. The only exception I allow myself in this area is south of the Mason Dixon line. I would rather be wrinkled than endure the horror that is Louisiana in the summer wearing ANYTHING made of polyester. And stick with dark colors that don't show dirt. My personal mentor in this area was long time Mingus drummer Danny Richmond, who introduced me to the concept of "Ready Roll", meaning always be dressed ready to play to allow for the possibilty of no hotel stop before the gig. Danny ALWAYS looked ready to play, even at eight o'clock in the morning.

Rule number four: Your practise regimen is out the window. Get used to it.The horrible irony is that when you're not working there's always plenty of time to practise, but when you're playing every night and really NEED those chops, suddenly you don't have time. Forget practising on the bus. This ain't "The Glenn Miller Story". Sometimes, if the club you're playing is in the same hotel you are staying at, you can get staff to let you in there to do some blowing. For this and about a billion other reasons, always tip and make nice with hotel staff. They have the power to make your life much easier. As for practising in the room, well...sometimes you can get away with it,but... I remember checking in once years ago with the Kenny Brown band, and deciding to do a little practicing. I was really getting into it when the phone rang. It was Kenny, asking me if I'd mind cooling it for an hour so he could take a nap before the gig. I figured he was in the next room but it turned out he was on the other side of the hotel 3 floors down. That sound really carries.

Rule number five: You are NOT Keith Richards:Obviously the physical and intellectual demands of playing jazz preclude the possibilty of doing the whole tour shitfaced. You'd think this would be obvious. And yet I did an out of town gig about 12 years ago as a student in a university jazz ensemble (I went to university as an old man of 37) in which the FACULTY broke almost all of the rules I've outlined here. They did not take advantage of several opportunities to eat during the trip (I, of course, did) and ultimately wound up ordering pizza for themselves and their cranky, starving students after being confronted with the tour "organizers" promised apre concert meal which was, of course, cheese and crackers. There was, however, plenty of beer, resulting in several facaulty members getting so wrecked they missed checkout time at the hotel and had to pay an extra day out of their own pockets. I had to drive the department head back to town in his car as he was still much too drunk to drive. This was after ONE DAY on the road.

Is it any wonder I feel like a fish out of water in Academia?