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, September 08, 2010

Are You Ready?

Today's the day for the only shot at a rehearsal I'm likely to get for next Monday's recording session at Word of Mouth over in Algiers. It's going to be a CDs worth of compositions from my late friend, bassist-composer Jasper Clarke, who passed last March at the age of 48.

Jasper was probably my best friend on this earth, and there was a time when we were extremely tight. Pretty much all of my first few years as an active straight-ahead jazz player involved collaborations of various kinds with him; all sorts of demo recordings, jazz festival gigs, a five year run as the house band at a place called Murphy's pub in downtown Vancouver (now a fugly 'sportsbar' called Mahoney's), literally hundreds of jobbing gigs in various hotel ballrooms, conventions, private parties, political ballyhoos, store openings etc. When Jasper got married and started a family he moved up to Whistler B.C., a ski-resort town about 90 minutes north of Vancouver, and started a masonry company. As a result, by the late 90s he wasn't that active as a player, but whenever I had a gig in Whistler I knew I didn't need to take a bass player because my boy Jasper was already there. We had a three-day-a-week house gig at a hotel up there in the summer of 2000 and it was swingin from the front to the back.

When he died (of a brain tumor, leaving a wife and two teenaged children) my colleague here at Tulane, Jesse Mcbride, suggested we record some of his compositions, and his widow and family ponied up a bare-bones budget. I initially figured it would be a breezy little quartet or quintet session, but I'd forgotten Jasper's penchant for writing for multi-horn ensembles. He was a great fan of "Better Get Hit In Your Soul"-period Mingus and liked to write stuff with metric modulations and multi-horn counterlines and background figures. When Michiko sent me his music, some of it was written for up to ten pieces.

So, the last few weeks have been spent rustling up a bunch of horn players, a suprisingly hard thing to do, considering we're in New Orleans. The main problem is getting everybody in the same room on the same day; cats are in and out of town so much, on the road, and the Tulane guys on the date (me, Jesse, bassist Jim Markway, drummer Geoff Clapp, and multi-reed player Allen Dejan) all have busy teaching schedules. But it looks like it's going to happen, and I pulled the trigger on a studio date (Sept. 13th) last week. We've got one day to put 8 tunes in the can.

It won't all be Jasper's stuff. I've decided to end the record with a 'traditional' New-Orleans style jazz funeral, a dirge (Charles Mingus's elegy to Lester Young," Goodbye Porkpie Hat") and a 'second line' version of the hymn "I'll Fly Away." Because of the logistics of recording we'll do the track with the biggest band first, and that'll be "Fly Away." As Jesse says, when you start a session on a vibe like that, it can color everything you do subsequently.

I don't feel ready. I never do. Everytime I've ever walked into a recording studio I've felt like a reluctant actor pushed out on stage, wondering if he can remember his lines. But if anyone should do this, it's me. I'm going to tell the cats at the rehearsal today, we got to play the best we can. To do less would be disrespectful. They'll understand, because they're from New Orleans. This is Jasper's last party on earth. We have to kill the gig.

I keep thinking of some lines from Walt Whitman:

"I play not marches for accepted victors only,I play for conquered and slain people.

I beat and pound for the dead,I blow...my loudest and gayest for them."

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