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, May 07, 2007

Goodbye Mr. Bat.

Whenever I hear a radio station play an extended block of a jazz musician's music it always scares the hell out of me. I just assume the guy died. This happened to me up in Canada a few years ago when CBC radio did a P.J. Perry retrospective. I drove around listening to the car radio in a dead funk for half an hour until the announcer came on and started rattling off a few of P.J.'s upcoming gigs.

So, this last Sunday when I went across the street to visit with my neighbor Miss Vera (out selling jazzfest parking in her driveway for $20 a pop, as many do in this neighborhood at jazzfest time) I was caught totally offguard by the sound of Mr. Bat playing on her boom box.

"Say, that's Alvin Batiste," I said.

"Yes, he died last night. The lady down the street told me."


I just spoke to Alvin two weeks ago. We were going to try to get together for lunch.

Here's his obit in the Times-Picayune.

I first hooked up with Alvin back in 1999. My friend Alan Matheson had given me his number. I was in New Orleans to do an article on jazzfest for Planet Jazz magazine, and Alvin was one of a number of people I spoke to. Just interviewing him was an educational experience in itself (it mainly taught me that doing a good interview is not nearly as easy as it looks) and knowing him has been a life changing experience for many, many people. I've watched him get incredibly complex, nuanced performances out of concert bands staffed with hardscrabble, inner-city kids. I've seen him do things on the clarinet that I didn't think were possible. And in conversation, he's taken huge, longstanding systemic issues in my life and music and broken them down into just a few sentences, tight and clear as a diamond.
He never stopped learning, and he never stopped teaching.
When people like Alvin pass, it leaves a very big hole.

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