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, May 15, 2009

Oblique New Orleans Encounter #971.

I take my bike to Tulane about two or three days a week, as Darlene and I split one car between us and she works way out on Veterans Highway in Metairie. It's about a five mile ride from Saint Philip Street to my office, through all kinds of interesting and diverse neighborhoods. Things start out quasi-ghetto in the 6th Ward, then go a little more upscale as I pass Bayou St. John. There's a bike path on the neutral ground on Jefferson Davis Parkway and I stay on that from Toulous St., past the Boulevard Club just before Canal Street, and all the way past Tulane Avenue and over the freeway as far as the Washington Avenue canal. Then I cut behind the wreckage of the Blue Plate Mayonaise factory and straight down Audubon Street, across South Claiborne and onto the Tulane campus.

Back behind the Blue Plate factory is a scruffy little neighborhood that's only about half re-populated since Katrina. There's a couple of bars that are still wrecked (Leroy's Place and the Gert-town Lounge) and a bunch of churches. There's an old guy I see everytime I pass by, looks like he's 90 if he's a day, sitting on his porch. There's a trailer in his yard so I suspect he's still living in that and just sits up on his porch in an attempt at some sort of pre-Katrina normalcy. I'm such a familiar sight, grinding slowly by on my $50 Walmart bike, his dog doesn't even bark at me anymore.

Me: "Good morning sir."

Him: "Oh you don't hafta call me 'sir,' young fella."

Me:" Well, you know how it is. I was raised to respect my elders."

Him: "Well looka here, youngblood," (at this point I'm off my bike and it's become an official conversation)"just be glad you have elders. At my age, everbody older than me is dead."
Hard to argue with that.

A few blocks later, a woman I'd never met before called me 'baby.' "Good morning baby," she hollered.

Of course she was about 60 and standing in front of the House Of Refuge Ministries, but still, it was nice, you know?

Getting ready to go on the road this summer for a bit, and I'm really going to miss this kind of stuff while I'm Gone.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Germaine Bazzle.

The debate continues, always, where is jazz going, who is the "future of jazz"? Is it Dave Douglas? Does the music need to incorporate more contemporary pop influences? Hip hop beats? Croation throat singing?
Those of us over 50 (or even 40) have heard it all before, and some of us (like me) are bored gormless with the whole discussion. I like what I like (and my tastes are actually pretty broad) and being an old guy means absolutely not giving a rat's ass about whether one's likes and dislikes are 'cool.' And of course the slant that often gets left out of discussions about whether playing the same music now that you were playing 40 years ago is 'valid' is that, in many cases (Ellington springs to mind) you're doing it a lot better now.
Case in point: Germaine Bazzle, who gets better every time I see her. Last night at Snug Harbor Bazzle, joined by the stellar talents of Larry Sieberth (piano), Simon Lott (drums) and Neil 'dig my sharp new haircut' Caine (bass), rolled out a program of standards very similar in content and execution to every one I've seen her present over the years, but she does it so well that any trifling over the fact that it's the 'music of the last century' seems like pointless nitpicking.
Bazzle is a jazz singer in the true meaning of that word. Her sense of swing is innate, and she is constantly engaged in the internal dialogue that is part of any small jazz band, an equal participant, not a 'singer' supported by 'accompanists.' Her choice of tempos (excruciatingly ballad-slow for "I Thought About You," burning-up for "Surrey with the Fringe On Top," dead-center-in-the-pocket for "What A Difference a Day Makes") was spot on, placing each tune exactly where it needed to be for maximum swing-osity groove from all participants. Tempos are hard; it takes years of experience to know where to put them. Bazzle knows.
Then there's scat singing. My usual position on this is that a little goes a long way; unless you actually are Sarah Vaughn or Ella Fitzgerald, just sing the song already. But Bazzle is just that good that I actually welcome chorus after chorus of finely honed, harmonically inventive scat from her, she's one of the most original practicioners of the art since hugely underrated Basie tromonist and singer Richard Boone. Her musicianly facility may well be a product of her own schooled background (Bazzle played bass on Bourbon Street for years with saxophonist Alvin "Red" Tyler, and currently teaches piano and vocal diction at Xavier Prep). Bazzle in no way limits herself to the 'shooby dooby doo' school of scat singing, instead deploying instrumental imitation (trombone, bass; at one point duetting with her 'singer' self and her inner trombonist) and a wide variety of pops and tongue-clicks that at one point (on the out-vamp to "Surrey") had drummer Simon Lott gasping in amazement at their polyrhythmic complexity. Bazzle has the ability to keep surprising even herself, often emitting delighted little yips and cackles in the midst of her improvisations. And she has that quality of sly innuendo, so common among 'Creole of Color" ladies of a certain age, that creates the illusion that the knowing wink, the breathy chuckle, and the implied double entendre in the lyric are all meant just for you.
In my experience the ultimate litmus test for singers is the regard they are held in by their fellow musicians, and in this regard Bazzle is absolutely 'one of the cats.' I've never heard a musician say anything but good things about the experience of working with her, and Sieberth, Caine, and Lott clearly considered it an honor and a privilege to share the bandstand with her. Everyone was getting stretched up there, and Bazzle was absolutely fearless about taking risks and challenging them and herself. Musicians love that.
Bazzle is greatly underrecorded (her only solo CD, "Standing Ovation," was released in 1992) and almost never performs outside of the city of New Orleans. But if you want to see someone totally inside of what they do, someone who's been doing it a long time and has honed her focus to a fine pinpoint conception, come here and catch her. There are days when I think Ms. Bazzle is the best jazz singer in America, and last night at Snug Harbor, she was.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wrap it!

The subject line referrence, for those not familiar with mid-80s Canadian rock band esoterica (a large demographic I'm sure) is to the title of Doug and the Slugs second album. The cats in Doug's band were all old compadres of mine from bar and strip-joint gig days, and after the Slugs became a big deal I'd often cross paths with them on the road. Recently I've reconnected with some of these folks, and it's interesting to remember how we'd gripe, 20 odd (very odd) years ago, about the road "making old men out of us" in light of the fact that we really are, now, old men.

But, I digress, and I haven't even got started. "Wrap it" also in this case refers to the end of the academic year, and what a wild ride it's been. The photo above is of me trying to look noble while Tim Warfield hands me my ass on "Tenor Madness" at this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Tim was in town for our "Jazz at the Rat" series (where we bring in guest artists to do a clinic and then play with the students at the Rathskeller Bar in the student center) and it seemed like a no brainer to have him come out to Jazzfest and play a couple of tunes with the Tulane Jazz Orchestra. We featured him on "The Blues Weaver," a Sammy Nestico chart, and Thad Jones' flagwaver "Don't Git Sassy." When it became apparent that we needed an extra five minutes on the program I grabbed my horn (because I never go anywhere without my horn) and told the rhythm section to play a Bb blues. I took a few choruses, thought I'd aquitted my self pretty well, then stood aside as Tim proceded to take everything I'd played, turn it inside out and upside down, and make it into something much, much better. He's such a nice cat you don't even mind when he cuts you to ribbons.

The Jazz at the Rat program has been such a terrific thing for the students. The Lagniappe people (Tom Moody and Trina Beck) have expressed a desire to continue funding the project next year, and we've already come up with a partial list of people we'd like to bring in. The "embedded professional" nature of the program really kicks things up a notch for the students; they get an idea what it feels like to share the stand with some really top flight players. Then when the faculty band plays the gig, we flip the script and do the "embedded student" thing, so individual students get to experience the vibe of being in amongst professionals.

Because of some scheduling mishaps we wound up with four of these Rat things in the month of April, which, along with Jazzfest and it's attendent spinoff gigs plus student term-end concerts and recitals conspired to create a 'perfect storm' of balls-to-the-wall activity for everyone. In the last two weeks of April I was out every single night, either playing or attending someone else's gig; the last week I had a concert with my combo and big band on Tuesday, the Rat gig Wednesday night, Jazzfest Thursday morning (the bus picked us up at 9:30a.m.) a Jessse Mcbride's Jazz Allstars concert that night (Jesse, Tim Warfield again, Antoine Drye on trumpet, Rex Gregory on alto, James Westphall on vibes, Jason Marsalis on drums, Jasen Khalil Weaver on bass, and special guest 13 year old drummer Eric Calhoun) then, to top it off, I had another gig, with Rob Kohler's trio, at 8:30 the next morning.

But I'm not complaining. I worked long and hard to get myself to a place where I could be this busy and aside from occasionally feeling like the company on the bandstand is mighty fast, I have no complaints. I've got some marking to do, an exam to invigilate, and a couple of makeup lessons. Then I intend to take at least one...maybe two days off, before starting preproduction on a CD I'm making with bassist Rob Kohler in June, then up to Vancouver to play a couple of gigs at their Jazzfest, then back to New Orleans to record a new record with the Professors of Pleasure. Then it'll be time for school to start again.