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, August 19, 2011


I've been gigging a little bit more than usual lately, include a "double" last Sunday that was a bit unusual for me; not just two gigs in one day, but two gigs in two different cities in one day, in this case Lafayette Louisiana and New Orleans respectively.  Something I don't do often, thank god. By the end of gig number two (with John Dobry's band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen street in NOLA) I was beat right to my socks.

The the real red letter job this week was my gig last wednesday at Cory Weeds's Cellar club in Vancouver, Canada. Working Cory's room is a gas under any circumstances, because it's a serious listening room populated by a serious listening crowd, and since Cory is a very fine saxophonist his own self, the place is a horn player's dream from an acoustic standpoint, as I'll relate a little further on.

Because I'm not enough of a jazz big-shot to warrant touring with my own band (very few people not named Wynton Marsalis are) I appeared with a local rhythm section. I've done a fair bit of this in recent years, and it can be anything from a pleasant surprise to the longest, most tedious night of your life. In this case I was blessed by the Gig Gods with a truly swinging, first-class rhythm team; Paul Keeling on piano, Sean Cronin on bass, and Andrew Millar on drums. I'd met and played with Sean years before, on a big band gig so awful we both wince at the mention of it, but I also knew him through his association with the great young drummer Morgan Childs, now a Toronto resident. Paul and Andrew turned out to be everything I could possibly ask for; swinging, inventive, supportive, generous...you can bet they'll all be 'first call' on any subsequent visits. And to top it off, we even had the luxury of a short rehearsal the night before. This is not often the case in these situations.

I got to the club about an hour early to check things out and try some reeds, and by a half hour before the hit we already had a nice house. The first tune was a Nat Perriliat composition, a blues called "Little Joy." Paul and company were swinging hard right out of the gate. We followed with Eddie Harris's "Cold Duck Time," taken a fair bit slower than his recording of it. I like to play medium tempo stuff a little on the slow side, because it gives me an opportunity to play 16th note phrasing and "double up" my lines without getting tangled up in my own fingers, but some rhythm sections have trouble keeping the energy up in a slower groove.  These guys don't have that problem, they nail that tempo down and power through. And the sound in the room is beautiful, so beautiful that I find myself wandering off mic so I can hear the natural, acoustic sound of the horn. Before the next tune I ask the audience if they can hear me okay without the mic. "Yes" they shout. So we cruise into "Time After Time," dedicated to my wife Darlene because I played it at our wedding, with me standing away from the mic and blowing straight to the audience, without any electronic hoo hah in the way.

Unless you've actually done it, I don't think there's any way to truly understand what a buzz it is to play a tune you know very well with a truly great rhythm section.  The lovely melody unfolds under your hands as the timbre of the horn fills the room until it is packed and stuffed with sounds. As you start to play variations on this melody in the first choruses of your solo, the inherent wisdom and logic of the harmonic structure becomes apparent. As you double up the lines, notes come popping out of your fingers and go flying away in skeins and clusters, and the reed sings like a bird in your throat. Fragments of "I'm Old Fashioned" and "If I Only Had A Brain" become entangled in the new line you are creating, not because you're deliberately trying to be clever but because they are inevitably arrived at by the pure logic of the harmonic structure of the tune. And if you're like me, you finish up in the turnaround with a little "routine-ing" on the blues scale, its flat thirds and sevenths going down like good home cooking.

The rest of the night rolled by like the best birthday party you ever had. We played more standards. Some "modern New Orleans jazz classics" like Harold Battiste's "Me and Willie T," and Ellis Marsalis's "Swingin at the Haven." We played "Dancing Squid" by my friend, the late bassist-composer Jasper Clarke. I've got a whole album of Jasper's stuff ready to go, that we recorded last fall in New Orleans at Word of Mouth studios with some of the best young players in town. I'm hoping to have that out in a couple of months.

It was a terrific night, everything a night playing great jazz in a great club for a great audience should be. I could do that every night of my life and never get tired.

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