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, April 26, 2012

Some nice gigs.

In amongst all the utilitarian trad-jazz gigs the last few weeks, there's been a couple that felt like high art. Not to take anything away from the traditional jazz stuff, but most of the venues I'm working those kinds of jobs in are tourist-centric and have a kind of carnival vibe to them. If you've ever been to Bourbon Street, you'll know what I mean. As jazz gigs go, they tend to be pretty loud, because they have to be. It's the only way to be heard over the racket from the clubs next door and across the street.
There's a great deal to be said for 'wallpaper'-style gigs in places where you can play in a more  acoustic space, one that allows the natural sound of the instruments to really resonate. In the last couple of weeks, I've played three of these.

The first one was at the Audubon Tea Room, with Steve Masakowski on guitar and Jim Markway on bass, both long-time stalwarts on the scene here. Jim has played with just about every player of significance in New Orleans in a career stretching back to 1968, and is currently doing a lot of work with Bruce Daigrepont's cajun band. Steve is a native New Orleanian who did a couple of solo CDs for Blue Note as a leader back in the 80s. His current main gig (aside from holding down the Coca-Cola endowed chair of the jazz studies department at UNO once occupied by Ellis Marsalis) is with perennial straight-ahead band Astral Project.http://www.astralproject.com/old/index.html I think of Steve as the cadillac of guitar players, somebody everybody in town is anxious to hire. One time I played a gig with him, went home, turned on the TV, and there he was with Allen Toussaint on Austin City Limits. I'm always a little surprised when I call him on these little gigs and he says yes, but he does, with some regularity. Go figure.

The call was for 11:00a.m. and we'd all worked late the night before, so we started off a little dozy. I remember a certain lack of ease in my execution at first, that feeling that you're not playing your best, that it's ...hard, to play the instrument. Steve maintains such a high quality in his playing though, he never lets it fall below a certain standard, and I don't think I've ever heard him play a bad note. After a while you sort of get pulled up to his level, whether you want to be or not. By the end of the gig, the kinks were out of my fingers, I was fully awake, and I felt that marvelous ease of execution where the music just flows out of the horn. Then the gig's over, we shake hands, bam, see you on the next one.

The next gig was with two of my ex-students, Robert Hinton (bass) and George Wild (guitar). Both of them were in ensembles I directed in my last year of teaching at Tulane, and both were exceptional players who obviously received good instruction and spent serious time in the shed before they came to New Orleans. The gig was another Tulane function, and I'd considered calling Steve and Jim for this one, but ultimately decided it would be a nice change-up to use these cats. The only down-side was, they know even fewer tunes than I do, and that's saying something, seriously. I mean, I just do not know enough tunes, and it's something I've been working hard at remedying the last few years, but there's really no substitute for getting into learning tunes at a young age. The guys with the really encyclopedic knowlege in this area...that's a life's work you're looking at.

I'd sent George a list of tunes I thought they might know, and it turned out they didn't collectively know any of them. So I flipped the script and suggested they send me a list of tunes they like to play, and we'd do those. I figured if the list contained any tunes I didn't know, well...here was some incentive to learn them, fast.

It turned out there wasn't anything on the list I hadn't played before, although one or two things I hadn't played in a while, and one tune ("Green Dolphin Street") is commonly played in both "C" and "Eb." So I made sure to brush up on the stuff I hadn't played recently, and checked to see that I was solid on "Dolphin" in both keys.  And we had a really nice gig, very enjoyable.

The latest gig was yesterday, at the Newcomb Art  Gallery. Same guitar/bass/tenor sax instrumentation (my old horn teacher, the late Fraser Macpherson, was very partial to this instrumentation), but this time it was Nobu Ozaki on bass, and Todd Duke on guitar. I first played with both these guys sitting in on tenor player Ian Mcphail's sunday night gig at Santa Fe, which is just a few blocks from my house. Todd is probably best known as John Boutte's guitar player; if you've heard Boutte's theme song on the HBO show "Treme," that's Todd on guitar.

This one swung hard right out the box. We were in the entry foyer to the gallery, an area known as "the breezeway" which is very 'lively' acoustically. Nobu could easily play sans amp, and Todd kept the volume on his pretty low. I remember in particular a very swinging version of "It Could Happen to You" where Nobu's time on bass was just relentless, pushing, pushing, swinging, carrying you along in the groove. As soloists, Todd and I were both beneficiaries and contributors to this groove. I really can't describe the feeling you get when this happens, it's the best, there's nothing like it. The "swing" of it becomes visceral, something you can feel inside of you, something that needs to erupt in the music you are playing. It's the reason we play music really.

Tomorrow, I back to the grind on Bourbon Street at the Maison Bourbon, this time with Dwayne Burns. But it's all good, and I'm looking forward to it.