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 28, 2009

Vancouver Jazzfest

So I'm holed up here at 7th and Oak in Vancouver, a neighborhood known as Fairview Slopes. I know I'm in Vancouver because, even though the weather is a bit chilly (believe me, I appreciate it. It was 103F the day I left New Orleans) every second person I pass on the street is wearing shorts, hiking boots, a North Face fleece vest and some variety of expensive, designer baseball cap. I'm doing the Vancouver thing, getting up in the morning and hiking up the hill to Broadway for coffee at Starbucks, reading the paper, like that. It's nice, you know?
It's funny because I used to live in this neighborhood in the 1970s, when it was a radically different place. Nowdays it's all ticky-tacky but very expensive condos, many of them leaking due to poor design and construction. Back then it was filled with beautiful but run-down Victorian and Queen Anne period houses inhabited by slackers like me. In 1971 I lived in a three bedroom house at 2328 Willow Street with my girlfriend and two other people. The rent was $150 a month and my share was $25. We made our own beer in the basement crawl-space and shared a communal can of tobacco. My total monthly nut; rent, food, beer, smokes, was about $70.
All that's gone now. In the mid seventies real estate developers went through this and other Vancouver neighborhoods like the Four Horesemen of the Apocalypse, flattening hundreds of beautiful period houses and replacing them with expensive (though often poorly designed and cheaply constructed) condos. The irony is that in the long run (though, of course, they had no interest in the long run) there would have been more money to be made renoing the existing housing stock than in flooding the market with cheapo construction. The architectural rape of Vancouver is one of the great untold stories of the 70s and 80s.
Because of my long history in the city, playing the Vancouver Festival is much more than just another gig to me. I've played it every year since 1997, both as a "local guy" and an out-of-towner, and Ken Pickering and the folks at the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society have been very supportive of me all that time. Unlike the New Orleans festival, whose artist passes are only good on the day of performance, CJBS hands out passes good for the whole festival, giving me the opportunity to catch a lot of music I'd otherwise be unable to afford. And the opportunity to play with and socialize with my many friends and colleagues in the Vancouver jazz community is a treasure beyond price.
My gig on Staturday was with singer Colleen Savage, whom I have now known for...good lord, 33 years. We first met as students in Vancouver Community College's fledgling Jazz and Commercial Music program in 1976. When I recorded my first CD as a leader, 2002's "One Up, Two Back," Colleen guested on two tunes, Jobim's "Djindi" and a great arrangement of "Time After Time" that Colleen has in her book. We played that same arrangement at the gig Saturday night, at the tempo I should have recorded it at back in 2002. It's hard to record slow stuff slow enough, you know? It really takes nerves of steel. I chickened out on that session seven years ago, and counted it in too fast. Last Saturday Colleen nailed it dead solid perfect.
Speaking of hard, Colleen's book is hard. I'd forgotten just how hard it is. It would be a real mistake to go on a Colleen Savage gig expecting just another My-Funny-Valentine-chick-singer kind of job. She's got a lot of tricky arrangements and obscure, oddball tunes in there, stuff like Eartha Kitt's "I Wanna Be Evil" and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames' "Yeh Yeh." A tune like "It Could Happen To You," which most singers take at a medium swing, Colleen does in it's original form, as a sloooooow ballad. Gigi Gryce's "Music In The Air," with it's constantly cycling key centers, is taken at a blistering tempo.
This is the third year I've played the Capilano Suspension Bridge stage with her, and I talked to several people afterwards who'd been in attendence every year. Despite the rain and cool weather we had an excellent house and Colleen had them eating out of her hand by the end. I doubt anyone there would have guessed that she was just getting over a terrible cold she'd brought back from California.
My own gig on July 1st at the Railspur Alley Stage is with what I've been referring to as the "mystery rhythm section," because I haven't met them yet. Actually I do know bassist Jen Hodge fairly well, but I've never played with her. I'll be meeting up with drummer Mike Ardagh and pianist Cat Toren on the day of the gig.
I've had some very, very good experiences playing with fresh rhythm sections in Vancouver over the last few years. In 2006 Cory Weeds offered me a date at the Cellar and the band I was using in Vancouver at the time (Tony Foster on B-3, Joe Poole on drums, and Jon Roper on guitar) was unavailable. I considered calling up the "usual suspects" then remembered that Morgan Childs, a young drummer I'd worked with once on a casual big band date, had been playing regularly in a trio with pianist Amanda Tosoff. Along with bassist Josh Cole they made up the rhythm section on that Cellar gig, and it was one of the most fun experiences I had playing jazz that year. I'm hoping for a similar experience with Jen's bunch.
When you have long working associations with certain players, as I do in Vancouver, it's very tempting to stay within the comfort zone of people you've worked with a lot. But it can also be great fun (and pay tremenduos musical dividends) to take a shot and work with some of the many terrific young musicians this city continues to produce in such abundance.

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