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."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Louisiana Repertory Ensemble.

Of all the oddball gigs I've done since moving to New Orleans, this one is probably the furthest outside my 'comfort zone.' Or maybe not, it's all music, after all.

The Louisiana Repertory Ensemble was originally formed by musicologist (and drummer) John Joyce Jr. and musicologist (and saxophonist) Fred Starr as a vehicle for reproducing early jazz, using transcriptions from recordings (where such recordings existed) and painstaking research into the performance practises of the period. A kind of Tafelmusic for early jazz buffs, if you will. Their initial recordings, like Moods of Old New Orleans http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=9506 and Marching, Ragging and Mourning http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?TypeID=70&ProductID=131 are painstaking reproductions of what jazz sounded like at the moment of it's genesis, around 1890-1910. "Mourning" in particular works very hard at capturing that moment when early jazzmen starting walking out of the paradigm of the traditional brass 'marching' band, breaking free of the written arrangements and improvising on top of them.

Over the years the band has evolved some, using a revolving cast of players and slipping more into the 'jammed' style of ad-lib playing that came to dominate jazz by the 1920s. But the ensemble still remains tied to it's pedagogical roots, and last night's concert at Dixon Theater (with drummer John Joyce Jr. at the helm) was conceived as much as a teaching device for the numerous Tulane jazz history students in attendance as it was as an entertainment.

Professor Joyce (J.J. to his friends) kind of took me under his wing when I arrived here as a grad student and we've remained friends ever since, so I suppose it was inevitable he'd eventually ask me to sub on one of these gigs. I don't claim to be any kind of expert at playing early jazz, but if you work as a musician for any length of time in New Orleans, you pick up a fair bit of traditional repertoire. What J.J. wanted me to do, though, was play the tenor sax part on Sam Morgan's "Bogulusa Strut" from the score of his transcriptions of the complete Sam Morgan recordings from 1927.

What surprised me about this, when the tune actually kicked off, was how hard this was. I suppose I might harbor a touch of the 'modern jazz player's' snobbery towards this stuff, but I'd like to think that after six years of studying the music I'd be past that. I really was surprised at how tricky the chart was, not an easy thing to sight read at all. "Bogalusa Strut" itself, as a tune, is actually fairly easy, I'd even played it before on gigs. But the tenor part in Morgan's nine piece band is actually a continuous counterline that has zip to do with the melody, and if you kack one eighth-note's worth, you're cooked.

The band this time out was packed with some of traditional jazz's brightest lights. On my left were trumpeters Duke Heitger and Charlie Fardella, and trombonist Rick Trolsen (also well known in funk and avante guard circles). On my immediate right, clarinettist-saxophonist Tom Fischer, banjoist Johnny Parker, pianist Steve Pistorius and Louisiana Philharmonic Tubist Robert Nunez (grandson of old-time New Orleans jazzman Alphonse "Yellow" Nunez). And of course John Joyce Jr. on drums.

The opportunity to play with both the bright lights of traditional jazz and the very best modern jazz players in America is one of the things that makes living here so special. I'm a lucky guy.

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