Notes from the Road: O Canada

Wynton Marsalis in Toronto. Photo by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

News | Jul, 21st 2016

Less than three weeks after the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra played a memorial service for founding member, baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley, they set out on tour again. It would be their first time out of New York City this summer. In the winter, the Orchestra had embarked on its longest tour in 15 years: between February and March, they played in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Luxembourg, England, Australia, and New Zealand. This latest four-day tour, from June 28th to July 1st, took them to their 10th country (not including the United States) in less than six months. With such a demanding schedule, it can be hard to differentiate one year from the next, let alone one city from the next, so we sat down with the members of the Orchestra to see if they could remember their first time visiting our neighbors to the north.

KENNY RAMPTON: The first time I went to Canada, I attended a jazz camp in Banff. It was the summer before I moved to New York, right after my second year at Berklee, and I went up to study. The teachers were Dave Holland, [Marvin] "Smitty" Smith, Kenny Wheeler, Kevin Eubanks, Julian Priester, Steve Coleman, and Richard Abrams. Kenny Wheeler got there a few days late and they had a faculty concert. They asked me to play with the faculty and that was the biggest gig I had played to that point in my life. It didn’t pay anything but that was the first time I came to Canada. The second time, not many years later, was with Ray Charles. I joined Ray Charles’s band and we did a tour in 1990 to 1991. There was one venue we were going to play with Ray, Massey Hall in Toronto, it was a union hall, so we had to join the union. At the same time, Ray made all of us sign away our union rights [laughing].

VICTOR GOINES: The first time I visited Canada was in 1991, for the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. I took a group of my then-students—Brian Blade, Roland Guerin, Glenn Patscha who lived in Winnipeg, and Nicholas Payton. We played three nights at a club that was connected with the festival. I had been working with this quartet in New Orleans while I was living there.

TED NASH: The first time I visited Canada my family were visiting friends in Moose Jaw. We drove up there and visited them when I was really tiny. I remember they gave me a Canadian dollar and it was my first piece of foreign currency. It was really weird-looking. It was worth a lot less then it is now. I thought, “This is Canada, of course the town is named Moose Jaw.” I played in Canada for the first time when I was in my early twenties. I was in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and we drove up to Toronto and played a concert up there. It was the first time I could remember playing a gig up there. I sat between Dick Oatts and Joe Lovano in that band and played with them for 10 years. I don’t remember that concert, but I do remember being on the road with that band. You know, Mel Lewis and my father were roommates on the road in the early 50s so I got to hear firsthand from Mel about my father on the road. I want to tell you something about it, but most of the information is not printworthy [laughs].

WALTER BLANDING: The first time I went to Canada was in 1990 with this group called the Harper Brothers. There was Harry Anderson on the bass, Ray Gallon on the piano, Winard and Phillip Harper, and Justin Robinson. I got a chance to see the world with them and, as a 19-year-old, I got a chance to feel what it was like to work extensively on the road. We went to Toronto and we played at this club called the Top o' the Senator. I was young; it was the first time I had ever been on the road for real. We toured for a couple of years together and it was interesting because we had a booking agent, but not a manager, so we had to rent the cars and drive ourselves around and check in—we were managing ourselves.

VINCENT GARDNER: I first went to Canada with Mercer Ellington in 1995, before I moved to New York. It was a short tour, and the only date in Canada was Toronto. When I went on tour with them, Mercer and one of the trumpet players hated each other. They used to argue and fight all of the time. I remember it because the trumpet player used to carry a machete that was as long as your arm in his trumpet case. Whenever he got mad at Mercer, he would take the machete from the case and put it on his music stand. It had a strap on the handle, so you could see the strap swing against the stand. He would stare at Mercer as it swung, then he would say, “Atleast someone is swinging in this [expletive]!”

ALI JACKSON: I grew up in Detroit, which is the only place in the U.S. that is further north than parts of Canada. Windsor is right across the Detroit River, and I grew up seeing my uncle, Ray McKinney, play in Canadian casinos. The first time I played in Canada, I was with the Wynton Marsalis Quartet in Victoria. Reuben Rogers was on bass and Eric Reed was on piano. It was around my birthday and Tyus Edney was about to save the NCAA basketball title run for UCLA. I remember that vividly. We were watching it at the venue, I’ll never forget that.

MARCUS PRINTUP: It was 1993. I took a group there. We played at the Top o' the Senator, which doesn’t exist anymore. It’s so close to the U.S., but it’s another country. It was the first time I had seen any other currency—well, I went to Europe in ’87, so that isn’t exactly true, but they didn’t have Euros then, so I’ve forgotten which currencies they were.

SHERMAN IRBY: The first time I went to Canada may have been with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Wess Anderson was playing lead alto. I think Vic was there… my memory’s not good, because of the 90s [laughing], but the first time I remember going to Canada, I was playing with Roy Hargrove’s band. We always stayed on tour; we rarely were at home. We might be home for like two months out of the year. I can’t remember where we went on that tour—when you are touring like that, a new city every day, it gets to be a blur. A lot of these trips weren’t scripted. We didn’t have itineraries or anything, and at that time nothing was digitized, so we would just write down the future dates in our notebooks—I probably have books in boxes with old dates and calendars in them. I do remember we played Montreal Jazz Festival with Roy’s pre-soul band. We played with Chucho [Valdés] and Changuito. We played in front of 10,000 people at the outdoor concert. At that time, it was the biggest concert I ever played. I also remember that there was a Cuban group playing at the festival and one of the saxophonists in their band couldn’t make it. They needed someone to cover the alto chair, so the whole time I was there, I covered for him. ¡Cubanismo! was the name of the band.

CARLOS HENRIQUEZ: My first time in Canada was with the Tito Puente Big Band in the Montreal Jazz Festival. I was 16; it was '95-'96. I was playing on and off for him, because I was still in high school—he didn’t want me to be a full-time member of his band. I kind of remember it, but I was young, so I didn’t experience any of the Montreal fun.

DAN NIMMER: I don’t remember the first time I was in Canada, or the names of any restaurants that I may have eaten in. I did have some good poutine in Quebec City at a chain. We walked around looking for an authentic place, but that’s where we ended up. I was walking around with Paul. It was three years ago.

PAUL NEDZELA: Put this on the record: I’m not Canadian! [Laughing.] The first time I went to Canada was on my visit to college at McGill. I don’t remember much, except that the drinking age was 18 [laughing]. But my first gig in Canada was with Joe Sullivan, who taught at McGill at the time, and his big band. He hired me as a freshman. It was a little club in Montreal whose name I cannot remember. It was a whole bunch of Québécois guys in the band. I was nervous for sure. He did not believe in a quiet big band. Everything was full force the whole time, that’s what I remember.

All photos by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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