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."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prince of Wales Parade/Jasper.

Like they say, you got to get right back in the saddle after a horse throws you.  I can't really decide how I feel about the horrendous events of last months Young Men Olympian parade. Like everyone else, I'm appalled that a two year old child was shot dead. I suppose I'm gratified that the perpetrators have been caught and, despite Orleans Parish's dismal clearance rate on homicides (less than 4% last year) may very well be convicted. I am not, however, about to join the lynch mob on Nola.com's comments strings and elsewhere, who are leading the cheering section for the perp's speedy execution. If homicidal reaction to violence was any kind of a solution, then New Orleans (where half the homicides committed are 'revenge' killings) would be the safest jurisdiction in North America. I'm also left cold by the sanctimonious posturings of various public officials, because we've all been here before, many times. Every two or three years, somewhere in America, an act of violence will occur that is beyond the pale even for this bloodthirsty nation, and the cry will go up. Something must be done! The 'community' must step forward! These 'thugs' will not be tolerated! But we never really move towards substantive change, because we are unwilling to address the larger issues which enable our society to produce these killers in such numbers. And we crank out more of them than any other western democracy.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, outside the Rock Bottom Lounge on Tchoupitoulas Street, the crowd gathered for the annual Prince of Wales Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade.  The rope men opened up a hole in the throng, the band fired up, and the club members danced out of the bar in their bright yellow finery. No matter how many times I see this, it never fails to move me (and make me move my feet) because this music and this culture is at the very center of everything important to me as a jazz musician.  No way is a thing like a cold blooded homicide going to move me up off it.

When the parade got around the corner headed up Annunciation Street, the band struck up a dirge. This was in honor of Hot 8 brass band drummer Dinerral "Dick" Shavers, who was senslessly gunned down at Dumaine and North Broad, just a few blocks from my house, in 2006. For a full block, while the band played "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," the procession slowed to the cadence of a traditional Jazz Funeral. Then, at the corner, the band kicked off a "second line" version of the traditional hymn "I'll Fly Away," and after a couple of choruses the front line horns playing the melody dropped out, leaving just  sousaphone, snare drum and bass drum. And,  unbidden, the entire crowd, all of us center stage, sang the lyrics.

Some glad morning when this life is over,

I'll fly away;

To a home on God's celestial shore,

I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

I'll fly away, Oh Glory

I'll fly away; (in the morning)

When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,

I'll fly away (I'll fly away).
Sometimes in life, there are confluences of events so powerful, they knock you to your knees. Katrina was like this for me, following so closely on the heels of my fathers death.  And on this bright afternoon in New Orleans too, events felt to me like harbingers of great forces working behind the scenes. Synchronicity, bruh. Just a few days before, I had recorded this same tune for a CD collection of the music of my friend Jasper Clarke, the Canadian bassist/composer who passed away last March at the age of 48. It was the first tune we recorded, and the vibe it created colored everything we did for the rest of the day. The idea was to record a number of Jasper's compositions ("Blue of a Kind," "Hittin At Murphy's" "When It Rains It Pours" "Dancing Squid"  and his tribute to bassist/composer Charles Mingus, "Angry Man Of Jazz") as well as his arrangement of a little-known Mingus gem, "Slippers." Then we'd sequence the tracks so that the record ended with a 'traditional' pair of jazz funeral selections, Mingus's tribute to tenor saxophonist Lester Young, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," and an uptempo "second line" reading of "Fly Away."
At the end of the day we were so fried that we elected to re-convene at a later date to record the last tune ("Pork Pie Hat"). The day after the Prince of Wales parade (Oct. 11th), drummer Geoff Clapp, pianist Jesse Mcbride, bassist Jim Markway, engineer Tim Stambaugh and myself met at Word of Mouth studios in Algiers, Louisiana to record.
On Mingus's original recording, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" is taken at a dirge tempo, but his drummer (Danny Richmond) plays a standard jazz ride-cymbal pattern, such as you might hear on a ballad or any slow tune. For this version I asked Clapp to play a traditional dirge pattern, a military cadence played on the snare drum with the snares lowered. The effect is intensely funerial.
I'd picked Jim Markway to 'play' Jasper because he's not only Jasper's kind of player, he's also much like Jasper in personality. Jim is a quiet, unassuming man, one who believes intensley in justice. He's a pretty fair carpenter and, like Jasper, likes to work with his hands. And although he teaches with me at Tulane, he's the diametric opposite of an ivory-tower academic. I'd told Jim that Jasper was not a showy bassist; he didn't like to play a lot of flashy notes high up on the neck. He was a deep-rooted, soulful guy, someone you were glad had your back on a gig. As we played this tune, Jim showed me he understood, and dug deep. Jasper was vividly present in the room as we played.
It's been an honor and a privilege to record my friend's music in this way, in a place like New Orleans. To play these tunes, and to now listen to them over and over again during the mixing process, brings him present to me once again and makes me understand the enduring power of art. Playing this music honors Jasper, and it ensures he will never truly die. Because it's not like he was here, and then he was gone. He lives in us, and we speak in his voice when we play his music.

Comments on "Prince of Wales Parade/Jasper."


Blogger jill hersh said ... (10:51 AM) : 

you have captured the essence of the parades in such a great way. Thank you. And i applaud what you wrote on Nicholas' blog RE:PHJB.


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