André White's interview with Barry Elmes, shamelessly copied and pasted (with permission) from www./andrewhite.cal
AW: Where are you from?
BE: Well, I was born in Galt, Ontario, which is now called Cambridge, although it will always be Galt to me (laughs). It's about sixty or seventy miles west of Toronto.
AW: How did you get into music?
BE: I don't know, I was always playing drums. I was one of those kids who sat around nervously playing pots and pans, stuff like that. My parents had very few records, but they had, of all things, this Glenn Miller record, with American Patrol on it, and Ray McKinley was the drummer on it. I thought that song was great; I listened to it all the time, even before I started school. I liked music, I loved parades, I loved the sound of pipes and drums. I was about eight when I got my first drum set; my folks put me into the Kiwanis youth band. We used to meet at the Farmer's Market hall every Saturday morning. There was this Swing band drummer named Dolph Little. I found out later that he was actually a fairly well-known cat, but at that point he was retired and was teaching us all snare drum stuff and reading. After Dolph left, they got this teenage clown in who was sort of a wrist-smacker. If the sticks weren't coming up at the right height, then WHACK! He used to beat us up, threaten us, lock us in the closet ... the usual child abuse stuff. Funny, I completely forgot about that guy for almost 40 years until this interview. Fortunately this only went on for a few weeks before I was so afraid to go to the drum classes I quit. I wonder what kind of abuse that guy took at his home! He must have learned to be a sadist somewhere. Anyway, we had the funny maroon marching outfits that looked like they belonged to elevator operators in the thirties, and the silver sparkle Ludwig drums. It was fantastic!
My mother played piano and always sang in the church, still does, as far as I know. My sister took piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music and I used to like listening to her practice on the living room piano at home. I thought she was really happening. My father worked in a shoe factory; at work they put together this kind of male chorus, and he really enjoyed that. It was really my mother and sister that were the more musical ones. There was always music around the house. My grandmother was a church organist.
AW: Did you play in the high school band?
BE: Yeah, that's a funny thing for me, because I went to high school in the mid sixties, and in our area they had just started a music program. I was at least a year younger than all my classmates in grade nine, yet I was already playing in bands; rock bands and dance bands. The idea of the new school program was to get kids who didn't have any experience, didn't play instruments, into something. The music teacher was on some sort of a mission trying to prove something and get a track record going. He wouldn't let me into the band! In his bizarre outlook I could already play an instrument, so I didn't deserve to take music. That was a setback in a way. I didn't know that much, and anything I'd ever learned was by ear. I could read only a little bit. A year or two later I was invited to join a small ensemble that travelled around with the school orchestra as a feature. We played tunes by the Tijuana Brass. It was something else. We dressed up in sombreros, shawls, and in my case, being the youngest, a fake handlebar moustache. Our band was billed as The Marijuana Brats.
AW: Now, just for the record, you are a left handed drummer?
BE: I'm a left-handed person who plays a left-handed set of drums right-handed. I play the drums right-handed and left-footed. I don't know why I started playing right handed. By the time I started studying with Jim Blackley, he kind of scratched his head and said, "We're going to have to try and make this work." It's really a stupid thing to do, the way I'm playing. I didn't realize it, I didn't know any better, but the way drums have developed, most important is the association between playing the ride cymbal with your right hand and playing the bass drum with your right foot. It's the same side of your brain; you're playing time on the ride cymbal and you're going to catch some of it with your bass drum. Try and do that when you play the ride cymbal with your right hand and the bass drum with your left foot. When I studied with Jim and he started me on simple cymbal phrases, I tried to do it and the flams were unbelievable. It was so hard. Every now and then I'd take my left foot off the bass drum pedal and switch to the right foot and suddenly I'd be able to play them instantly. For some reason, I could never get to the point of making the switch permanently.
Physically, how I approach a fill or how I achieve certain sounds is different; the matched grip thing is much better, more even, playing this way. The location of things; I like to play things between hi-hat and ride cymbal a lot, and for me it's just a matter of flicking the wrist. Also, playing the hi-hat, I've never had to cross arms. I found learning to play conventional figures on the drums very hard. I can play all kinds of figures between hands and feet, just not the ones that have been developed over the years for the conventional setup. I thought for a while that I had reached my plateau, that I wasn't going to be able to learn how to play. The setup thing doesn't seem that important to me. When I first came to Toronto, Norm Villeneuve was using two hi-hat pedals. Nobody asked him if he had a third leg. I set up the drums backwards and all of a sudden it's a big deal. The fact of the matter is Daniel Humair plays the same way as I do, Lenny White plays left-handed on a right-handed drum set, Billy Cobham plays left-handed on a right-handed drum set. I didn't do it for any reason; it goes right back to when I was playing in the Kiwanis Youth Band. They used to let us bring the instruments home; I'd bring home two or three marching snare drums and use them as tom toms up on chairs. My Dad had made me a bass drum out of an old sawed-off laundry tub, and had even devised a pedal. It would go down but take about three seconds to come up. Eventually I got a hi-hat pedal labelled "Rajah Turk," whatever that meant. It wasn't much better than the bass drum pedal my father designed. I didn't know how to set up the drums. I remember the Ed Sullivan show was on TV then, and Gerry and the Pacemakers were going to be on. My Dad said, "Look, you've got these drums at home now. Sunday night you can watch and see how to set these things up. " I rushed upstairs with the drums during the commercial and set them up in front of the TV screen. This is very embarrasing; I only saw the drummer for a few seconds, so I positioned them to match the drums mirror image, completely backwards. I have set them up that way ever since.
AW: When did you first hear live jazz?
BE: Pretty late; there wasn't any live jazz to hear in Galt. My arrival into jazz was very gradual. It was through my own playing; the rock music of the day, high school dances, and then I started getting more into Blues and R & B. I can remember very clearly the order of events: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, all the far out bands of the day. You know, Hendrix, the Cream. Rock drummers back then were a lot more interesting. They were expected to play a lot more sophisticated rhythms than a backbeat. Their time usually wasn't the greatest, but they had a feel and personality to their playing. I don't care what anybody says, as far as I'm concerned Charlie Watts was the best possible drummer for the Stones and Ringo Starr was the best possible drummer for the Beatles. I learned things as a kid from both of them through their recordings. It's not about technique. I really got into James Brown after making a trip with a friend to hear a matinee performance at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. That concert killed me. We had seats in front of the stage in about the fifth row. He had 3 drummers in rotation, 2 playing together at all times for about 4 hours without a break. Then I heard other things. Al Henderson bought a couple of blues records around the time we were in grade 11, and I got into the blues big time. I started collecting records by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, both of the Sonny Boy Williamsons, Elmore James, Charley Patton, Leadbelly, and all the others. Once I got to Waterloo University some years later I started a Jazz & Blues Club and became friends with the guy booking the big concerts. Man, we had Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy, Mississipi Fred McDowell all on one concert!
The first jazz record I heard, other than the stuff I had at home, and maybe Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album, I heard one night when I was trying to pick up this blues station on the radio. The station was in Chicago, and there was a storm or something, and where the station was supposed to be on the dial, another station was coming in from Kitchener. They were playing the Jazz at Massey Hall recording. I'd never heard that before, and that really pinched a nerve. I remember at that point I was kind of sick of everything I had been doing, and I just decided, "I'm going to figure out how to do that!" I remember the announcer saying, "That was Max Roach on drums..." and I didn't know who Max Roach was.
Shortly after that I heard a trio from Kitchener who played really well. I'm not one of those guys who can claim to have heard Trane's band. I was only three years old when Charlie Parker died.
AW: When did you start working professionally?
BE: It depends on what you mean by professionally. If you mean playing gigs for money, then that started when I was twelve. I played somebody's graduation in Sheffield, Ontario. In terms of saying, "This is what I do for a living," that was a very conscious decision and I moved to Toronto to act upon that. I'd gone to the University of Waterloo and had taken ecology and urban planning, and picked up a B.A. in that, but by the time I got to my final year, I was playing many gigs around that area, because that's how I put myself through school. I was starting to hear a few jazz records by then, and I was already thinking, "I don't think urban planning is the way to go.."
After I got out of University, I didn't really know what was happening. I was playing some dance gigs, and I raised some more money by working for a year at the Eureka vacuum factory. That was a great gig, far as a factory gig can go, because I was the 'reject' man. It was a self-created job; the bass player in the dance band, who was much older than I, was one of the head salesmen there. He decided to help me get a gig, but they didn't have any positions open. I saw that they didn't need anyone on the assembly line, or in shipping, but over at the end of the plant there was this mountain of bizarre looking multi-colored hoses and things. Every time there was a part that didn't fit or work, it got thrown into a barrel, and then once a week someone would pick this stuff up and take it to the end of the room and heave it onto this mountain of rejected parts.
The manager said, "Look, we don't really need anybody but if you can figure out a way to solve this problem..."
I said, "Well, give me a set of tools, and I'll strip all the parts off these things, and we can put the good parts back, and you can save a fortune." So that's what I did; I didn't like the idea of working on an assembly line. I was happy to be on my own, a kind of twisted individual taking wheels off vacuum cleaners (laughs). No one bugs you. I made some hip vacuum cleaners for friends that you could never buy. They had industrial motors, with better wheels, and a green bottom with a pink top, all mismatched stuff, but very happening vacuum cleaners. I actually came up with one model that they were thinking of manufacturing.
That went on for a year, and then I remember deciding, it's time to do something else. I'd heard about this jazz program at York University. My friend (bassist) Al Henderson went down there during my vacuum cleaner year, and he seemed to think it was pretty happening. It was small and new and exciting, so I went the next year. I remember taking a packing slip, I had this little ceremony on my last day at Eureka, and I put ten dollars inside and stuck it on the outside of my bass drum case and made a pact with myself that the ten dollars was there. I'm off on this adventure, and if I get really stuck somewhere, I can always at least have a hamburger. No matter what goes wrong, I'll always have at least ten dollars.
This seemed very symbolic to me, and the goddamned thing stayed on there for about two years. Finally I needed it one day, and I thought, this is the big moment, and I tore the packing slip open and it wasn't there. Somebody had ripped me off; it was probably gone within hours of me putting it in there.
That was 1973; I moved to Toronto with the idea of studying music formally, and being here where I suspected there were players I could hang out with and learn from. Al and I grew up together, he was also from Galt, and we have played together off and on all our lives, both musically and as kids playing together too.
I met a lot of guys here some of whom I still hang out with now: Lorne Lofsky, Frank Falco, Kieran Overs, Mark Eisenmann, Del Dako. There were about ten of us at York. It's interesting that most of the guys ended up becoming players.
Toronto was fantastic; Claude Ranger was here, Terry Clarke was here, Bob McClaren, Stan Perry, Jerry Fuller and many others. I didn't hear Marty Morrell until later. It was a great period for music here and also personally for me as well, because I didn't have any money, but I was here! The person who had started the program at York, John Gittins, invited me to live at his house, and I lived in his basement. The idea was that I was going to soundproof his rec room while he was away for the summer, and I could live there. He had a set of drums and a piano, a stereo and Al Henderson was there for a while as well. I'd spend all day listening to John's fantastic record collection, and then at night I'd go downtown to Bourbon Street, sometimes to George's and I'd hear Claude playing with somebody, and I'd think "that's the way the drums are meant to be played," and then the next night I'd go down and hear Terry Clarke, and I'd hear something completely different, and I'd think, "Oh, man, I'd love to be able to play like that," and then another night I'd hear Jerry and he'd be just laying it down, simple and perfect, and I'd think, that's how you're supposed to play. There was all this stuff going down then. I must say, though, that I don't think I've heard a drummer in this country that is more significant than Claude. It seems as though whenever you get somebody that is that talented and creative, there are other aspects in life that can get in the way of the music. I don't care about that stuff, all I care about is that I can remember at least half a dozen occasions hearing him play so brilliantly that it remains a goal for me, something I think about all the time. Sometimes I'll hear a tape of my playing, and I'll think, you know, it's not bad, but it's nowhere near what Claude was doing twenty years ago, not even close. It's nice because it gives you something to shoot for; you need that.
AW: What were the recordings that had significant impact for you?
BE: Well, I already mentioned the Jazz at Massey Hall recording; that led me to a lot of Charlie Parker recordings. I have a huge Bird collection, one of the best collections there are of Bird stuff, both issued and unissued. I've stopped working on that collection, but it's still pretty good. That led me to other drummers that played with him.
I had favorite records, not so much to say "I'm trying to sound like this," but just that they spoke to me as wonderful things. Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard was one, an unbelievable record. The Mingus quartet records with Eric Dolphy and Ted Curson, and one tune in particular, Folk Forms, just because of the way it develops. That had a profound influence.
Last night, playing with Marian McPartland, she played something, and I found myself starting to play something that I remembered from that Mingus recording. It struck me that she was trying to build something just like in that piece. It's nice when you have the sounds in the back of your head, it's like a vocabulary. Somebody presses a button, and these options pop up, you think, "OK, this is the language being spoken now."
What else? Ellington at Newport, Bill Evans at the Vanguard, all the Charlie Parker records, all the Miles records, all the Jazz Messengers records, almost all of Coltrane's records, Soul Station by Hank Mobley, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing Ballroom, there's zillions of them! I don't have any really bad jazz records, just a couple of strange ones, like my Screamin' Jay Hawkins record, a true party album if there ever was one!
When I moved to Toronto, the first thing I noticed was that there were these camps of musical taste. I'd been listening to Monk records and Mingus records and when I got here I thought, "Great, I'm going to get a chance to play all these tunes. Wrong! If there was a band with horns, then it had to sound like the Miles Davis Quintet; that's what everybody wanted to do. If it was a piano trio, it had to sound like Bill Evans and drummers were supposed to play like Paul Motian. The idea of playing like the Jazz Messengers just wasn't happening here. Eventually I went to a couple of sessions and it was the same there; everybody was playing Maiden Voyage. It almost became an attitude, a certain sound that was in. The idea of "Toronto time," where all the drummers had to play time like Tony Williams, on the front edge of the beat, I didn't like that. I didn't play that way, and I wasn't prepared mentally or technically to deal with the concept of every drummer trying to play way up on the time supposedly to make it exciting. There's nothing exciting about nervous time.
AW: Did you ever talk to the representative Toronto drummers at that time about it?
BE: Yeah, and it wasn't a very cool thing to do. You don't talk to Terry Clarke about that, although being young and stupid, I did. Claude played like Claude, he just played. It wasn't just the drummers, it was also talking to pianists and bassists. I couldn't understand it at all. I barely knew Jerry Fuller at the time, and I asked him about it, and he said, "I've only started playing this way recently because I want to work." And I thought, where is the tribunal that decides this? Later on this problem worked out, because eventually a lot of other musicians felt the same way. It's all wonderful playing. I'm old enough now that I get these young guys coming up to me that tell me when they first came to Toronto they heard me play, and they talk about what I was doing.
While students at York we were a bit isolated, and so during the day we spent a lot of time organizing what we wanted to learn to play. Al Henderson was there; he was a big Mingus maniac, so we were doing a lot of that music. We did older things too; we were playing Coleman Hawkins tunes. You wouldn't dream of playing a gig at that time in Toronto and playing a tune like Disorder at the Border . The Toronto scene was a little too tight. I'm happy that in some small way Time Warp has had a hand in opening things up a little here. You have to remember, Toronto has always acted like a small town, regardless of its geographical size. There were a few clubs that were being booked by one or two people. Most of these clubs featured musicians who were part of the Boss Brass. Rob McConnell, Ed Bickert, Jerry Toth, Eugene Amaro would do a week, and so it went. When we formed Time Warp, we called Moe Koffman for a gig, and at first we couldn't get one, and then we asked again and he finally let us have one. We were one of the first real bands playing something other than the usual to play at George's. By "real band", I simply mean that almost all the local jazz groups appearing in Toronto clubs were put together for that one week gig. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, it's just that Time Warp was an ongoing real band. We played whether there were gigs or not. Apparently our entry into George's had something to do with the manager, John Bowie, who had heard the band and liked it.
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AW: When did Time Warp start?
BE: Well, it actually started in the late seventies; it was just a trio with Al Henderson, myself and Bob Brough. I finished York and had studied with Jim Blackley, but I couldn't buy a jazz gig because there were so many good drummers here. It was almost ten years before I got a really good jazz gig. Within that period I had gotten married, had a kid, and so I had to make some bread. I was working those gigs that don't exist any more: six nights a week lounge lizard dinner-and-dance music in places like Inn on the Park, the Waldorf Hotel, the Skyline Hotel and the Constellation Hotel. Bobby, Al and I decided to form a jazz trio. The real predecessor to Time Warp was a trio with Jane Fair, but she bowed out at some point and Bobby was in the same dance band. We all wanted to have a chance to play our own compositions, to keep writing more.
AW: When did you start writing tunes?
BE: Probably when I started going to York. I don't remember who told me, but it was made clear to me that as a drummer it would help my playing to continue trying to write music. So I started, usually with a blues or something, short melodic things, which I still prefer doing. Some of them were just god-awful, just so dumb, but others were pretty good.
AW: So when did you meet Mike Murley and Kevin Turcotte?
BE: Murley I met first, because he was at York briefly. I remember that Al kind of hipped me to this new saxophone player, and it was clear that he was going to be a player. He was looking for information, and he was either going to get it at York or New York, or out of a book. I thought, I gotta get with this guy. I know I did a gig with him and we asked him to join Time Warp almost immediately. The first gig we did was at the Bamboo Club, around 1984 or something like that. Somewhere around there, possibly later, we were having a session and he brought over this bass player named Jim Vivian, who wasn't yet living in town, fresh from the National Youth Orchestra. These guys were great. Mike took Vivian and me back to Halifax to play Peppe's. That's where I met bassist and bon vivant Skip Beckwith. But that's another story. Suffice to say I hung out with Skip one night and I lived to tell about it.
Turcotte came along later. Bobby was going to leave the band. Bobby has such a huge sound on the tenor that we couldn't think of anyone that could replace him on the saxophone. It had nothing to do with what he played; it had to do with this guy who played from his guts with a big fat tenor sound. Next to him was Murley, who has great technique and a great depth of emotion; they complimented each other perfectly. When it was time for Bobby to go, I thought, "We can't replace that." We had a little gig somewhere on Yonge Street, probably part of the Jazz Festival, and Kevin Turcotte was hired for it. Somebody had told me that he played well, so we hired him. At the end of the night, during the last break I told Al Henderson that we should hire this guy permanently. Al agreed. At the end of the gig, I told Kevin we wanted him to join the band. He thought I was joking, so he never called me back. He said, "Yeah, right!" Eventually we got it straight.
The band was started by Al and me, and it was a very organized kind of thing. Al and I shared an apartment while we were still going to York. We were living and breathing records every day, analyzing them; it was a great time for learning. We'd go out and hear music and then come back and play a session late at night. We'd get inspired downtown and come back and step all over it ourselves. When it came time to put this band together, which wasn't yet called Time Warp, it was pretty clear what it was about.
It was about the idea that you could build a band from the rhythm section, the role model being the Mingus band. We were very influenced by Charles Mingus and Dannie Richmond, the way those guys played together for so many years, and going to hear them play, hearing and watching how they worked together; it was like one thing. That was a big lesson, this idea that it's not a good bass player or a good drummer, it's a good rhythm section. We were singlehandedly trying to reinvent the wheel; we were trying to offer a rhythm section unit kind of thing. The tradition has always had great rhythm sections: Elvin Jones with Jimmy Garrison or Wilbur Ware, Philly Joe Jones with Paul Chambers, Connie Kay with Percy Heath, Vernell Fournier with Israel Crosby, Ed Thigpen with Ray Brown, and so on. We were also doing a lot of writing, and it was a workshop kind of thing; we'd all bring in our tunes and work through them.
The other element that we liked was not having a comping instrument. That was by design; I learned all kinds of things doing that because you're so exposed on the drums. How you tune them: you can't be banging on a tom-tom that's tuned to a B when you're playing a song in Bb.
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AW: How does your band differ from Time Warp?
BE: Well, it differs immediately in that Time Warp performs only original compositions by its members. As Time Warp has come along over the years, Al's contribution has grown. The bulk of the writing for the band is Al's, not because he particularly wants it that way, but he is much more prolific than I am. There was a period where I was doing a lot of playing as a sideman, working a lot, and he wasn't working as much, so he spent a lot of time writing and writing and writing. He writes about five or six tunes a week all the time, and I don't write that way; I write very sporadically and slowly. He'll write six tunes and discard some of them. I just don't work that way. His influence compositionally is much stronger in that band.
I had written a number of pieces over the years that had never been played by Time Warp because they were really meant to be played by more horns, or different combinations, or I heard other sounds, piano or whatever. I had an opportunity, a self-created opportunity to do my own record. That was the Climbing record. There was no band; I put it together for the record. The compositions determined the instrumentation. In my head I could hear Ed Bickert playing on certain tunes, so I called him and he was interested. I knew Murley and Turcotte's sounds and I called Terry Lukiwski on trombone and Gary Williamson on piano. They were all just so good. I could hear Steve Wallace on some tunes just because of his feel; I'd known Steve ever since I'd come to Toronto, but for a variety of reasons we'd rarely worked together. I saw this as an opportunity to do some playing. I also had some tunes with a bit of bowing involved, and not a lot of 4/4. I thought Jim Vivian would be the obvious choice for that.
Out of the recording came the opportunity to tour with the band. It was probably the first time I'd had a chance to tour with my own band. I couldn't take everyone, so I pared it down to a quintet. Today that remains the band; the second CD was called East West . The new one is a bit different; I started hearing other voices for this project, and I was lucky enough to get Sonny Greenwich to play, and I always look forward to playing with Gary Williamson. The compositions determined who played on what.
AW: Did you find it interesting to play several nights in a row with musicians of that caliber?
BE: Oh yeah. I often think unless you're incredibly astute, if you were to go out and hear Ed Bickert play, it would be very difficult, unless you were a gifted listener, to appreciate how good he is, and to really get the full package. It's so fantastic for me to have him in the band, because you play night after night, and you start to realize the depth of what's going on in his playing. He plays perfectly and creatively every time. There's a standing joke about Ed: I was in Moe Koffman's band for ten years plus, and Ed was in it before I got there, during my stay, and he's still there. I got to know him fairly well, and Don Thompson said to me one time that he'd never heard Ed play a wrong note...ever. I said, "Well, I'm not trying to be a prick, but I did hear Ed make a mistake." We were playing at George's Spaghetti House one night, and Ed was sitting there with a cigarette going, and in the middle of his solo, a glowing ember fell off the cigarette onto his pant leg, burnt through his pants, and started burning his leg, and he played a wrong note! Aside from that...
AW: You're still waiting for the second one...
BE: Yeah. He's so subtle, and what he brings to my band on the road is so remarkable. Everybody knows that when he's on stage, you don't mess around. That's the way I was taught. You know, you're on the road, you can clown around during the day if you like, you do whatever you want, but the instant you're on the bandstand, it's serious business. It doesn't matter whether you've been fasting or drank a case of beer, that's your problem. You better be ready to play. If you're on the bandstand with Ed Bickert, to waste that opportunity, you'll pay the price. He just keeps everything up at the level where it's supposed to be. He approaches his life that way; it's just wonderful.
AW: Did you find your playing changing on the tour?
BE: Yeah, but my biggest problem was trying to deal as a bandleader with the whole thing. It took me ages to get the nerve to talk over the microphone; it doesn't happen easily for me. On the first announcement I usually say something quite stupid. Every now and then I'll try to break the ice, and say something that's mildly amusing, and then I discover that it's not amusing at all. You can tell by the silence in the room. It's a very humbling experience, but I love it. I wouldn't want to just have my own band, because it's nice to be a sideman with other leaders; it's nice to be able to play all kinds of different music with other people. I enjoy the responsibility of having my own group and it's a pretty heavy responsibility if you make it what it can be. The musicians are good players; you want it to be good. And it always is good. I've never heard the band play badly, not ever.
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AW: What about Cornerstone Records? How did that happen?
BE: Well, again, a lot of these things happen by default. There was sort of a sequence of events. I joined up with Unity Records a number of years ago when it was time for Time Warp's next recording. The project was a live recording at George's and the previous record had been put out by a Detroit-Windsor label, Parkwood. Hugh Leal who owns the label wasn't prepared to do another project, so we were label shopping. At that time there wasn't much happening, kind of like today; everybody's label shopping. Unity Records had been established and was already going and I decided to get involved. My involvement led, over a period of a few years, to me becoming the administration. We created an executive board. I had a lot to do with trying to organize it into something a little more business-like. I don't really have any serious business chops, I just knew I didn't want someone taking my house away because we screwed up.
This went on and on; the fax machine got moved over here, and the mailing address became my home address. It was a cooperative of jazz players from all across the country, and there had to be an office somewhere, and it ended up being here. The problem was that it was a non-salaried position and I was putting in six hours a day on this stuff. I was doing okay; it just got to the point where I started getting complaints from people in other parts of the country, and fair enough, they wouldn't understand or know what was happening here, and finally I thought I had outgrown it. Al Henderson was also on the executive board, and we decided to take the company to the point of being incorporated so that no individual member could be liable for anything. After that, we wanted a break.
I learned a lot of stuff from doing all this, and Al Henderson and I decided that we should form our own company. We had both done a lot of the advertising for Unity, and a lot of the accounting, so we felt equipped to do that. We knew a lot of people now, and so we invited Mike Murley to be the third person. Mike was up for it, but we also knew that he would not be a big contributor in terms of the business side; he didn't want to do a lot of that. He was interested in being one of the three owners, and I thought it advantageous because he's a well-known player. I also didn't want to be part of a company owned by two people, especially two very close friends. Al and I are friends, but we think about things very differently sometimes, and I thought there has to be a third person to break the tie.
At first we did all our own distribution, which was really remarkable. I went down to HMV in Toronto and argued and harassed them until they gave me a vendor's account. I told them: "We are a distribution company; we distribute ourselves." They were laughing, they were saying: "You know, we get guys like you all the time; you're musicians, you're not going to be equipped to deal with this. The first time we place an order and you don't show up, we're not going to be happy." And I said: "Listen, let's try it for a year", and it worked great.
We were shipping stuff all over the place; it drove me crazy but now it was a labour of love. I wasn't answering to twenty-odd people. This went on and on, and we did well. That doesn't mean making huge profits. I mean we were able to put out what I thought were good records, oversee the project from its inception through the manufacturing right down to seeing the copies get into stores, and coordinate tours for whoever's record it is. It's a small operation, but we have been effective, and we have been able to identify where the market is for our records and make sure we have a mail-order service available to service fans of the music in smaller towns. Self-distribution did what it was supposed to do.
Unfortunately it got to the point where I just didn't have the time anymore to do that, and so now we have Festival distribution. They're out of Vancouver.
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AW: Is there anything that you'd like to do that you haven't done?
BE: We all dream about stuff, about playing with certain players, but I've been lucky in that I've actually had the opportunity to play with a lot of those people. The funny thing is that it's never the way you think it's going to be. I'll say that in almost all cases it's every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be, but you don't get there by the same route you thought you would, and what's wonderful about it might be different from what you were expecting.
One of the hip things for me was getting to play with Dizzy Gillespie. I remember the first night: we were up on stage playing A Night in Tunisia and I remember hearing the original recording; it wasn't that many years earlier. I remember hearing it and thinking, " I would love to figure out how to play this." I thought, "Christ, here I am playing it now with the Guy. I'm in the band!" What more can you ask for?
So we finish the concert in Thunder Bay. It's a Saturday night, Dizzy is off to somewhere else, we say goodbye and fly back to Toronto. I'm on a high, and I get back home and there's a message from one of my students. His voice is all messed up; he has the flu. "Barry" he says, "You gotta help me. I'm sick, and I've got one of my first gigs and I can't find anyone to do it. You gotta do it for me." And you know, I'm pretty much on top of the world, so I phoned him up and left him a message to call me with the details and leave it on my answering service. That night I'm down at the Orchard Park Tavern, a country & western draft room, playing with retired wrestler Sweet Daddy Seke, who comes out with the WWF belt that he won in 1958 or something, and his stomach is covering most of it up. He comes over and says, "OK, I don't know you from Adam, but just follow me, go where I go and you'll probably be okay." He grabs the mike and starts singing, "Your Cheatin' Heart..." I'm thinking: thanks for this dose of reality, because for a minute there I was really enjoying things. Inside I was thinking: this is just great. You go from being in a limousine with Dizzy to a forty-dollar gig with Sweet Daddy!
AW: What about teaching? When did you start teaching?
BE: I started teaching at York a long time ago. When I finished there as a student, I had a gig as Concert Manager, and then I was out of there for a couple of years, just playing around. Eventually they called me back to run one of the workshops, probably about fifteen years ago. I've been there ever since. I like teaching very much.
I started at the University of Toronto more recently; I came on staff when the jazz program started. They are very different programs, although they probably both get you to the same place. At York it's small band oriented. I've had a quintet two years in a row as my workshop band and that's perfect. We get together for three hours and work through a whole bunch of stuff and then there is another three hour rehearsal later in the week. There are no private lessons for credit; they have master classes. I do four two-hour master classes spread out over each term.
At U. of T. it started out with a big band influence because Phil Nimmons helped create the program. Paul Reid is the director, the on-the-job everyday problem solver, and he came from the same gig at Humber College where they had the big band model as well. There are small groups, of course. The first year I was there, my small group had eight or nine students: four horns and four rhythm, and we'd only meet for an hour. I found that quite tough. On the other hand, the major course in that program is private lessons. I have drummers coming over here; they come to the house once a week. The good thing about it is that I can sort of monitor their progress; I know that they'll be working on the material, because if they don't, then it's a waste of everybody's time.
A lot of what I teach comes from an approach that Jim Blackley had; a few of the exercises I use are the same because I know that Jim spent a lot of his life devoted to teaching. I figure, this worked for me, so pass it on. There are other things that I feel strongly about, approaches I have developed that are different from Jim's. I try to reduce everything to its simplest form. I'd rather have a handful of good, musical cymbal phrases than a book the size of the Toronto phone directory that contains every mathematical possibility.
AW: What about Different Voices?
BE: It's entitled "Different Voices" for several reasons. First of all, I've been wanting to make this recording for almost two years, but every time I thought the time was right I'd hear another sound in my head and I'd need time to write something or re-think instrumentation. The music reflects both the current working repertoire of the band plus some other new things. Gary Williamson played piano on my first CD and I wanted that voice again. I also kept hearing Sonny Greenwich's unique guitar sound in my head for some of the tunes, so I waited until I could incorporate his voice into the recording. It has been a really interesting project for me because it led to all kinds of other parts of the whole recording thing. It's not just writing a tune or playing it; it's not even trying to get the tunes recorded. It's things things like: how will the CD be programmed, something I find very interesting and very important because it largely determines the success of the whole project. I had to decide whether the session Sonny played on was one CD and the one with Ed another. Or are these sessions one thing together? It was intended at the outset to be one thing and that has made programming it so much more fun. There's variety and yet there is a connection between the two sessions. You know, you put your heart and soul into a recording project like this one, much like a painter or sculptor, but once it's completed you have to be prepared for people's individual reactions to it, and some of the reactions are usually bizarre. There's always somebody, if you are playing a gig somewhere and your CDs are for sale, who wants to know how long the CD is. They don't care who's on it; they want to know if they're getting their money's worth. I've had somebody look at one of my CD's and say " This is seventy minutes long; you could have gotten another tune on here." And I said, "We're not charging by the minute." It's some other kind of weird numbers thing that I don't understand. It's like saying "if only the Mona Lisa had been bigger!" I wonder if this person has a collection at home of CDs that are all chosen exclusively by how long they are. I love recording. Toronto is a great spot because there are so many good players here, and in Montreal as well.
Future projects? I'd love to do a recording with a bunch of bass players, a different bass player on each tune. I'd work out each tune with the bassist: are we going to play my tune, his tune, maybe a rarely heard standard, how many people will play on the tune, what instruments, etc. It goes back to building from the rhythm section. I play slightly different depending on the bass player. Steve Wallace brings out something that allows me to play in a certain way, Pat Collins, whose playing I'm very fond of, makes me play another way.
AW: Seeing you last night with Marian McPartland was different too.
BE: Oh, sure. Don Thompson is so lyrical on the bass. You can't go in there and play the drums like Art Blakey or something. You'd be in big trouble. Don can handle anything, but shuffles and a big backbeat wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be the best choice. Playing with Don is very interesting because he makes me play all kinds of different levels and ways. What is a high priority with one bass player may not mean anything with another bassist. I try to be positive about it; a lot of people came up to me and said they appreciated what I was doing with Marian, the soft brushwork, the sensitivity, etc. The egotistical part of me thinks: it's not like I've never done this before. I played gigs for years where I played nothing but brushes and I have studied this music. But. you can't expect everyone in the club to have heard those gigs. The stronger a person plays, the more they get pigeonholed. It's like the curse of playing well.
On this CD, Steve is playing some arco stuff, and he is a wonderfully well-rounded musician, but there are times when people think of him as the Ray Brown of Canada. He's being limited because his time feel is so strong. Having a strong time feel is a liberating thing; it's not a restriction.
I played a gig with Richie Beirach one night, which is a completely different thing, and then the next night with Joe Henderson. In both situations, you've either done your homework or you haven't. Some of the audience may not hear the difference, but Joe Henderson sure will, and I'm playing for him. At this point in my life, I feel satisfaction knowing that one actually has to know a few things to play these gigs well. It's got nothing to do with drums, it's way beyond that. It's nice when you can feel effective and that you are speaking the right language.
AW: What about your drums?
BE: Canwood. I got them around 1985; they've been all around the world. I've never used cases for them unless I'm flying. They still sound fantastic. They are wonderful drums. The shells were selected to have a low fundamental resonant frequency to maximize the effective tuning range. I can tune them very high or very low and they speak the same way, with a consistent length of tone, and the stick response is virtually the same at any tuning. When I first played them, I was used to my Gretsch and other sets, none of which have such consistent stick rebound on all the drums. I'd play the floor tom and my arm would fly up into the air because I had developed a muscle memory over the years where it's necessary to hit floor toms harder to get the same volume and response as the snare and smaller toms. I soon got used to the Canwoods ... too used to them. I find it hard as hell to play provided drumsets at jazz festivals both here and in other countries, especially when they put those thick, sluggish, clear plastic heads on the drums. Playing drums like that becomes an Olympic event because, since they have no pitch or tone, you can't tune them and you have to beat them to a pulp to get any useable sound out of the drum. I prefer thin Remo Diplomats. I hit the drums hard, but I've only broken one drum head in over 25 years, and that one broke only because it was so old the glue around the rim had dried out and cracked.
Around the same time I got the Canwood set Sabian offered me a sponsorship. They allowed me to have a set of cymbals and I spent a day at the Sabian factory in Meductic, New Brunswick choosing them. I like large, 22" thin cymbals. Good luck trying to find them at a music store. You're not likely to see me out there doing clinics for either Canwood or Sabian, however, because I'm not good at dazzling percussion displays involving a set with 12 tom-toms and 20 cymbals, most of which are out of reach, gigantic gongs, and wearing gloves. I can do clinics where music is involved, where I can take a good bass player and demonstrate how rhythm sections work together, and so on. I've spent 40 years trying to figure out how to play a small, basic drumset and every now and then I think I'm getting the hang of it. Then I put on a Max Roach record or something with Elvin, or Sid Catlett, or Shelly Manne, or Tony Williams, or Connie Kay, or Art Taylor, or Kenny Clarke, or Philly Joe, or Sam Woodyard, or Jo Jones, or Jake Hanna, or Art Blakey, or Vernell Founier, or Arthur Edgehill, or Baby Dodds, or Dannie Richmond, or Jack de Johnette, or Ed Blackwell, or Billy Higgins, or Frankie Dunlop, or ...
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