Saturday, 9 June 2012

Music life stories !!

Stories I have a plenty if and when I remember them. They had it pretty tough during the depression. The Johnsons (my Mom's maiden name) had only One knife for cutting anything and buttering etc. 'Pass the knife please' was commonly heard at the dinner table. 

What did we Austins do before TV.... ? Radio plays, music, kid's shows, news. Even some live shows CKWX had a vocal trio that made quite a name for themselves. I remember one announcer had an unusual news voice. It had a high edge and he spoke very plainly and specifically—it was a voice I remembered—more later. 


When I was about 27 in 1969-70 I got a gig at this 'Mobster' Club— The "Penthouse" Mafiasoish etc. —we played for the acts there. Singers, but mostly 'dancers' (ie. they weren't Paint 'strippers'). I was lucky to have it. It was a low point in general for me but it was interesting. I made some good friends there who really helped me. So this was a low place —gangsters, WGs (working girls), and pimp type people, gamblers thieves too I think and I pretty sure I rubbed (if you'll pardon the expression) shoulders with a dedicated hit man or 2. I think the head chef was also administrating some of the girls—I got to know some of them. There were a few sad cases and occasional bright lights in the mix though.

I played for Big Miller there and also actually met Duke Ellington (shook hands) through Big Miller and also Cannonball Adderly. Why do I mention this (it was 6 nights a week)? Because after 20 years or so I finally saw the man behind the radio voice I mentioned earlier, at this very club. He looked like he was right into the whole underworld life style—perhaps a gambler not obviously shady but comfortable looking in this club. It just seemed an odd juxtaposition !! 

I stayed there for a year and went through quite a bit (what me with me BMus in performance piano, playing half a Hammond organ and an electric keyboard on top for bass). The saxophone guy hired me—he was a pretty nice guy who ended up quite wealthy as a kind of front man for the Philiponies, who owned the club (the oldest brother Joe was later murdered by a robber which was made into a CBC radio play: imagine !! and I knew that guy). The drummer Lou was laid back but a nice enough guy. What did we play: apart from our resident Italian tenor named Tony (sweet guy really) we played every style, lots of blues, jazz: I was constantly being mentored by one of the best jazz singers there ever will be. How do I know this? by working with him every night. "Big" Clarence Miller was quite a profound influence in the swinging/creative/hard driving/hip changes department. It was often tough to know what he was talking about but there was a great deal that came through. He really had a voice and could out scat just about anybody: save Ella (who may have been a little hipper). He swung so easy and so hard !!

Then I met G. after I moved out of my parents place after being there for a year, and into a house with multiple tenants, one of which was indeed G. I had long hair down to my shoulders which would be the envy of any girl... it had this big wave in it... I had a beard too. I did look good from the back !! :)...  Later I went on the road with this trio (Arni May drums: who ran Rossinis' in Vancouver for many years) from a phone call from my dear friend Stu Millman who taught me a lot in his own way— he had a great ear and a great memory for tunes. Later we came to and through Edmonton just having been married to G.

The upshot of it is I made friends through this Penthouse club who I hung out with and slowly recovered from my 'hermit' band experience that we had tried to put together in the summer of 69 (nobly called "The Infinite Family"). I started to play piano a lot more but was spinning my wheels for a while. G and I moved in together in November of 1970 and I bought an upright and played all day (Beethoven, Chopin and Bill Evans) while she went to work... I worked too... some gigs and some teaching. The rent was cheap. Things miraculously have been going well ever since with a few major and minor discords but we're still here (touch wood). Moved to Edmonton, Grant MacEwan music.... this was serious stuff—I now had a family. It was a dream job but I did  also play 6 nights a week... sooooo tired. It was cruel and unusual punishment but I could've said no (no way)...I did stop doing that after a few years and had a lot of other cool gigs thanks to a well known senator (T.B): 2nd city TV shows, theatre shows, Telethones etc. it was in retrospect, totally awesome. 

Thirty + years at MacEwan Music. Intuitive dynamotion (rhythm, articulation and dynamics) , The Sound, 450 pieces in 15 keys, The MEd degree at 49 years, The Jazz Improv System, Blues tunes demonstrating the system, countless arrangements for showcase bands, An Approach to Jazz Piano (from a sabatical in 2000), and now some playing. Analyzing Bach Preludes and Fugues, watching former students blow by me !! Learning from everybody these days with 'retirement.' I really respect the professors and instructors working at MacEwan Music these days. It's really going somewhere. I've had quite a few people to thank and be eternally grateful to. I might do something useful yet — I pray !!

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