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, April 23, 2007

Jazz Humor.

Big doings around my patch of ground these days, what with Alan Matheson coming down and the Tulane "Friday" combo making their debut at Jazzfest this friday.

One of the nice side benefits of Alan's being here was that we got to spend a lot of time together, more than we have in almost thirty years. It seems when you're young you're always hanging out, but as you get up there in years you tend to bolt the gig right after the last set. Having to get up in the morning to teach doesn't help.

One thing we did was do a lot of reminiscing about our teachers and mentors, many of whom have shuffled off this mortal coil. Guys like tenor man Fraser Macpherson, trombonist Dave Robbins, and Alan's trumpet teacher at Northwestern in Chicago, Vincent Chickowitz. We both agreed that we appreciated being able to tell these guys how much their mentorship meant to us while they were still around to hear it.

We got to swapping Dave Robbins stories and quickly realized he was the Joe Venuti of Vancouver, dry-as-a-bone humor-wise. A particular gem from a long ago arranging class when a rather pedantic student (it was neither of us, thank god) pointed out that Dave had mis-spelled a diminished chord. "Mr. Robbins, shouldn't that be a B double flat?" (Dave had written it as A flat).

Dave's response? "Why say 'no no' when 'no' will do?"

He also once teased Alan about ordering a non-alcoholic beer. "That's like reading Playboy for the articles."

Many years ago I personally appropriated one of Fraser Macpherson's lines. As we walked onstage through the wings for the concert tuesday night, I did my best impression of Frazz's deep-pitched, melodious voice, "Any word from the governor?"

I can't quite put my hand on it, but hanging with the old school cats just had a different vibe to it. That's not a knock on my contemporaries, many of whom are damn good company in addition to being extremely funny dudes when the occasion demands. But us newbies tend to be products (or inhabitants) of a more respectable, academic social strata. The old heads were outsiders, outlaws. Being a jazz musician was seen as suspect, and the music (and the people who made it) was seen as subversive and possibly associated with narcotics and women of ill repute. I still remember a girlfriend's father referring to me as "that saxophone player," as if my relationship with his daughter was the end of her respectability (it would have been too, but she was too smart to fall for my hustle). But that was over thirty years ago. He'd probably just take me for a 'jazz nerd' now.

Serious jazzbo humor tends to survive most strongly in young, African-American players, who by dint of ethnicity are outsiders whether they want to be or not. I played a gig with pianist Jesse Mcbride a few weeks ago, who I guess is about 27. The job was in a private dining room at Commanders Palace (an extremely upscale restaurant here in New Orleans) and we were playing an event put on by the Tulane Office of Donor Relations, so what you had basically was a room full of extremely rich white people. Apart from the serving staff, Jesse's was the only black face in the room. Everybody but the band was wearing name tags, but Jesse made the event organizer make one up for him too. "I have found," he said," that if I get too far from the piano without a name tag at events like these, people start asking me to bus their table."

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