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."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fraser Macpherson.

Things are going to be a bit hectic for me the next few weeks. I'll be in New York from June 18th to June 25, then I fly back to New Orleans just in time to turn right around and fly to Vancouver for a pair of jazzfest gigs (June 30th with my good friend Colleen Savage, and July 1st with my own quartet; Tony Foster, B-3, Jon Roper, guitar, and Joe Poole, drums).

Since I'm headed up to Vancouver, this seems like a good time to talk about the jazz scene in that city, past and present. Americans I deal with often seem suprised at how big the city is (about 2 million people) , how many first rate players there are, and , paradoxically, how few jazz venues there are.

People in New Orleans are especially baffled by this. It's inconceivable to them that a town that boasts first rank jazz musicians like Brad Turner, Ross Taggart, Cam Ryga, Mike Allen, and Miles Black would not be offering these people major support at the municiple level. New Orleans after all, has a 'jazz culture' (as opposed to New York, which has a 'jazz industry') and is very aware of the volume of tourist dollars this generates. Vancouver does almost nothing in this area, yet is blessed with perhaps a much richer artistic scene than it deserves. Tourism in the city is promoted on what municipal officials perceive as the town's strenghths; shopping, skiing, and sailing.

Part of the problem is a culture-wide decline in the fortunes of live entertainment over the last several decades. People just don't place the same value in 'going out' as they used to. Part of it is geographical-political. Vancouver is physically isolated by mountains and removed by distance from the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa center of Canadian culture, and the U.S.-Canada border is a formidable obstacle to performers, Free Trade agreements notwithstanding. Free Trade has always been more about free movement of capital than people in any case.

Then there's the embarrassing fact that, prior to the Canadian Content broacasting regulations of the early seventies (which dictated that 30% of music broadcast on public airwaves be Canadian) most Canadian artists had to establish careers abroad, usually in the United States, to achieve recognition at home.

All this became present to me recently with the release of a 'new' CD by Canadian saxophonist Fraser Macpherson.


It's hard to put into words Fraser's place in my life (and many thanks to his son Guy for making sure I got a copy of the CD). He was my saxophone teacher and mentor for a couple of years in the mid 70s, but perhaps more importantly he was a friend and an inspiration from then until his death in 1993 from lung cancer.

Here's a biography and partial discography.


When I met Frazz he was an avuncular presence, an 'old guy' of 49 (four years younger than I am now). He had a big, classic tenor sound in the Ben Webster mold, laid back, with a legato articulation. His stock in trade was interpreting the 'Great American Songbook," ballads and pop tunes by the great American popular composers working between the wars. It wasn't exactly cutting edge stuff, and it certainly wasn't what I and my twenty-something contemporaries were interested in playing, but Fraser was such a great musician that we couldn't help but admire him, even if we did think his choice of tunes was a little square. He was a pro's pro who always delivered the goods, whether there were five people in the audience or five hundred, and he always, always swung.

This 'new' release, culled from early sixties CBC Radio broadcasts, showed me the Frazz I never knew, a vigorous, full of piss and vinegar be-bopper with more in common with the young Art Pepper than late period Ben Webster. It reminds me again how criminally indifferent Canadians sometimes are to their own local treasures, since there's little doubt in my mind that had this record been released then on a U.S. label with good distribution Fraser would have a much, much higher historical profile than he does. And up until the 1970s, there was no significant recording industry in Canada.

Canadians, in their own low key way, are fiercely nationalistic. I guess you sort of have to be, living next to the huge, indifferent and culturally oblivious behemoth that is America. Yet at the same time Canadians have a strange, love-hate relationship with the U.S., a weird mixture of envy and moral superiority which sometimes plays out as a conviction that all the really 'cool' stuff is happening in 'the States,' especially as regards music and entertainment. This of course is nonsense, but it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Quiet as it's kept, Vancouver has always had a reputation for first class musicianship. For players on the scene these days, that often translates into a day job or a teaching gig. In Fraser's time it meant playing commercial music in the city's thriving nightclub scene.

For a look at that, check out this wonderful 1966 CBC television documentary, "Fraser Macpherson: Diary of a Musician."


Comments on "Fraser Macpherson."


Blogger David said ... (11:01 AM) : 

My take on Canadian music on the professional side of things is that it has no brain.
It has been in direct control of an American labour union for many, many decades.
There is no braintrust at the executive level.
Therefore there is no integral identity.
Canadian content means absolutely nothing if when you call home you are talking to AFL-CIO.
d/o pemberton


Blogger Debby said ... (10:05 AM) : 

I watched the CBC video and the music brought back a lot of memories. I heard a lot of it on the radio at the time. We moved to Cloverdale in '71 and I remember my mom going to a club called "the Cave" quite often.
It's also interesting to note how much smoking went on...ahhh those smoke filled rooms. Thanks for the memories John.


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