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."

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.

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