Monday, June 18, 2012

Blainletter #53, June 17, 2012

Greetings Blainreaders. I don’t have much in the way of gigs but I want to let you know about something special happening tomorrow (Tuesday) night: My oldest musical buddy Allan Fraser is in town to play a rare performance at the Musideum, 401 Richmond at 8pm and what is more rare, I dare say historic, he will be joined by Ian Guenther, who was such an important part of that first Fraser & DeBolt album. Allan and Ian haven’t played together in 40 years but they got together last night and picked up right where they left off. Also in the band are David Woodhead, Bob Cohen and Joel Axler. Allan and some of these folks will be playing live on Heather Fielding’s Acoustic Workshop on at 7pm tonight

I’m about to dive into full-tilt jazzfest mode. Now off to the last meeting with the entire team and a BBQ, I think. It’s been an untypical week, full of musical memorials - Kate McGarrigle, Oliver Schroer, and last night Frazier Mohawk. I did not attend the first two but heard great reports. The Frazier memorial was a more intimate affair but quite special – where else would you ever find the two lead singers of the legendary 60s super-group Rhinocoros in the same room (if not on stage together). I got up to do a solemn version of “Wonderful World” but then some guys at the front started shouting “Play ‘Don’t Forget Your Mother.’ ” I didn’t recognize them right away but then I said “Are you guys Jackson Hawke?” and sure enough it was Tim Ryan and Bob Yeomans – they were recording an album with Frazier at the same time as we were recording Mother…and they still remembered it…they were even singing along! Sitting with them was renowned film composer Jonathan Goldsmith who I hadn’t seen in 40 years, but I sure have seen his name in film credits many times. Frazier had played him “Mother” – probably more than once, and I found out in the course of the afternoon that that production was one that Frazier was most proud of. Jonathan was kind enough to sit in on piano for a couple of gospel tunes along with my old campfire pal, Bela Ray. My previous Blainletter talks about how I met Frazier and some of the stuff we did together. It includes a link to “Don’t Forget Your Mother” if you care to hear it for yourself. Adieu, Frazier.

Out and About

Day One of North by Northeast (aka nxne). Actually this was not day one of this festival – it’s been going for a couple of days but I just got my pass today. Yesterday I was working at home till I headed out to see the world premiere of a documentary film about Jane Bunnett. Jane herself invited me the night before as we were both in Pecaut Square grooving to the sounds of AfroCubism at the Luminato Festival. What a beautiful setup they had – staging on a grand scale where they actually enclosed the Square into a giant blue cozy enclave.

It was a great documentary on Jane – I think I heard the expression “warts and all” on more than one occasion but it was a revelation and just shows what a dedicated artist she is. After the film screening I had so many musical choices…go to the after-party and listen to Hilario Duran plus Jane & band of course. Or I could head over to Hugh’s Room where they Occhippinti brothers were launching a CD of jazzified John Lennon. Then there was the usual bluegrass night at the Silver Dollar…and the one I SHOULD have gone to, Noah Zacharin’s regular Wednesday night open stage & jam. They’re always happy to see me there. But I did none of the above – just came home to hang out a bit with my housesguest, Bill.

Speaking of “happy to see me,” I have to say that despite all the great talent they bring to our town, they are so full of attitude it has even trickled down to the media interns. I didn’t bother getting media accreditation from Luminato this year because even though they gave me a media laminate last year, they turned down pretty well all of my requests for shows to see (admittedly, they weren’t jazz or blues). So never mind! But now, just for the fun of it, I walk into the media tent to see if I can do a last-minute guerilla accreditation and get a pass. This is something that is “above and beyond” but some festivals would bend over backwards to accommodate media but not these gals. “What do you need a media pass for, it’s a free show” Okay.... I think I might have had the same reply for some media mooches who walked in to the Jazz Festival media trailer looking for a laminate which would allow them access to the shows.

NXNE, on the other hand, was quite happy to have me covering their festival. I attended a few panel discussions at NXNE and heard experts on “fuid grid” design to make sure your content displays properly on websites and hand-held devices. Then I skipped out to a movie about the last days of Woodie Guthrie and Cisco Houston. After that I walked back to the hotel where I heard a “celebrity interview” with Bernie Finkelstein. After taking care of some business at home, I headed back down to the Gladstone Hotel to hear an artist I had met in Memphis and was anxious to see, but it was a different artist with a similar name (that’s what happens when you have 500 artists playing at the same time). And this gal was not my cup of tea – all style and no substance. The next band up was called “God Made Me Funky” but I call them God Made Me Funky Made Me Deaf. When the singers shrieked into the mic, it was pain threshold, but I liked what they were doing. They put on a Show – with a capital “S” and that’s what it takes to get noticed in this town. I took in a couple more NXNE sessions and everything was about social networking – no sessions on touring or conventional promotion – just social networking.

Then I noticed an invitation to attend a “Hackathon” at the MARS centre – a place they call an “incubator” for new tech businesses and this was a gathering of over a hundred programmers and developers. I thought maybe this is a chance to find a programmer who can help me get the Blues Society event calendar working on mobile devices and maybe even help create the generic calendar engine that would pull event info and share it with other online calendars. I made my 60 second pitch in front of an auditorium full of developers but there was not exactly a stampede to my table. At the networking session that followed I collared a couple of young guys with blue tags (they were the back-end coders) but I don’t think any of these guys saw the value of an app that would pull all the event information that’s on the internet and organize and display it. I suppose by value I mean “Where’s the Money?” I’ve never thought of this as a money-making project, only a way to spread the word about who’s playing where. But maybe this will never get to second base until I can demonstrate how it will make money. It was a week of rejection because just a few days before I was pitching to have a “Blues Campfire” at a couple of upcoming music conferences and was told there is no value in that. Well it’s not like a showcase where you play your three best songs and get heard by the tastemakers who book you for their festival but it has proven to be a great networking opportunity and I have testimonials from musicians who went on to collaborate or tour with artists they met and jammed with at the campfire. Or even watching the thrill of a young artist who gets to jam with one of his heroes…that’s value, if not career development. Then I did a little coffee shop gig – got there only to find an empty room – just me and the barista. I had a nice iced latte and we chatted until a few folks trickled in, including one genuine fan (thanks, Dan) but none of this gets me down. I’m not going to stop playing guitar or hosting campfires but I’m through twisting people’s arms – especially when they’re friends who know exactly what I do and have decided that it’s not for them.

The jazz festival begins next week. I had a bird’s eye view of the site – Nathan Phillips Square – and it’s not pretty. The area where we would normally have the media trailer and artists’ tour buses is a construction site. Argh! I was looking down from the 35th floor of the Eaton Centre – in the Ontario Ministry of Trade suites where I was invited to a reception for a delegation of French music producers, mostly from Martinique. I saw a few people I know and I got to hear some presentations on the state of the Canadian music market but it’s mostly stuff I knew. The $7.50 I spent for parking was not justified by the egg salad sandwich. I thought there would be a great taste of French Cuisine – and I hoped my friend Didier would be catering it because he does a lot of that sort of thing for the French Embassy. Anyway I was happy to see a coffee machine – hadn’t had a coffee all day. Now that I think about it, an event like this in the past would always have had wine flowing freely – and no coffee in sight! But times have changed.

Got a call on Saturday afternoon from Dr Ric at the Delta Chelsea telling me Lucky Peterson was doing a matinee and had Shawn Kellerman playing in his band. I saw Shawn a little while ago – also at the Delta and he knocked me out with his playing. Now he was opening the show with a couple of tunes and a burning slow blues. Nobody puts on a show like Lucky – He gives it his all even if there’s only 20 people (and at the start there may have been only 20 people). I have to wear a bit of responsibility because I got the time wrong in the MapleBlues and Mike the booker even reminded me on the way out that a bunch of people had arrived at 9 o’clock expecting an evening show. Well, now we know people are reading our newsletter. Actually they’re not reading it that well because the correct time was indicated in the ad on the back page. You always hurt the ones you love…and I love Lucky - ever since he pulled that stunt at the Jzz Festival in the mid-nineties with his wireless guitar and walked all the way down the King Street and jumped into a rickshaw. It was a great photo op – and ran on the front of the entertainment section if I recall correctly. It takes a confident guitar player to follow the phenomenal Shawn Kellerman but if anybody can do it, Lucky can. He ripped it up – and did it while walking through the club and even out the back door. A real showman – but a musician first. His wife (new wife?) was an important part of the show and she deserved every minute of stage time. And she had the same sense of adventure as Lucky – no wonder he married her.

Thursday night I went to the Gladstone to a media launch for Afrofest. They’re moving their festival to Woodbine Park, just down the road from me. The organizers are a little bummed about being relocated from Queen’s Park, which is a wonderful space, but I think they’ll like it at Woodbine Park. We’ll see. Njacko Backo, master kalimba plater did a set – makes me want to get out my authentic African kalimba (aka lekembe). Before the Afrofest Party had wound down, the TBS Blues Thursday had started up with Robin Banks accompanied by Ken Whiteley. I watched very carefully because I accompanied Robin once before and I hope I’ll get a chance to do it again. Ken did a masterful job and did not shy away from tearing into a guitar solo even though he didn’t have the benefit of any other back-up…or (God forbid) a looper. Robin charmed the whole place as always. She is the consummate entertainer.

Then I took off to take in some of J-W Jones’ CD launch and what a great set I heard. Another Whiteley, Jesse, did a great job on the organ and all the band members got their moment in the spotlight and I rarely comment on a drum solo but the young fellow playing with JW really kept us on the edge of our seats. I even remarked to drummer Lindsay Beaver on the way out. I think most, if not all, of the 24th Street Wailers were in the audience and they couldn’t have picked a better example of a textbook perfect blues set. JW is a terrific guitar player but you can see that he spent a lot of time watching the masters at work. I reminded him of how I would always enjoy the worked-out sets of some American roadhouse bands – at least the ones who got to the point in their career that they were touring out of the country, I still remember the Rochester-based Big Dave and the Ultrasonics and then there’s Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones, Little Charlie (now Rick Estrin) and the Nightcats and the incomparable Duke Robillard, although he was a little looser the last couple of times I’ve seen him. I remember seeing Luther Guitar Junior Johnson, too, playing one tune after another in machine-gun precision. They’d be into the next song before the applause had died down. You don’t see that much anymore. JW wasn’t trying for the machine-gun approach but the set was perfectly paced and his presentation of the Magic Sam classic “Lookin Good” was as good as it gets.

I’m outa here. Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great summer.

BrianB, aka Colorblind Brian, The Sringbuster
@brianblain on