Friday, 26 March 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 12 2021 - Otepää Slim
It was the recent death of groundbreaking jazz/fusion pianist Chick Corea that got the slimster to thinking. (Dangerous practice, that. Avoid it at all costs.) On how many great musicians are no longer with us, but remain alive in their discographies, our vinyl, and tape and CD collections. Most vividly, though, in our memories, having seen, more precisely heard them live. In venues ranging from Massey Hall – or other classy such - to dingy dives. As in bars, good or bad, many no longer in existence. Albert’s Hall and the Hotel Izzy, to name but two. Missed, but not forgotten, just as with the musicians.
There was a time when the lean machine hoped to master the 88 keys. Tickling the ivories, however, proved more of a challenge that expected. So did drumming. And strumming six strings. The only four-stringer that was somewhat mastered proved to be the ukulele. Go figure. Don Ho did not need to look out.
During these hopeful years the movement from the imposed Beethoven, Bach and Brahms on the pi-a-no by Miss Klinck, a fearsome, large, hairy-lipped of unknown old age battle-axe, who only dressed in vast black dresses, or not knowing the term then, muumuus. (Can you imagine the psychological damage?) A surprise then, that a more than middle-aged music lover still noodles on the keyboard to lift the spirits, to more modern music. And it started with ragtime, falling in love with the genre. “Maple Leaf Rag”, Scott Joplin’s masterpiece is justifiably a classic. Not so easy to play. But after toil, time and trouble it was memorized, played with only a few errors.
That success led to meeting a curious oddball, also underscoring the age of your correspondent. It was at Harbourfront, at their Silent Film Festival (yes Dorothy, there certainly were movies in black and white with no talking). But there was a pianist present. Horace Lapp. Also known as one of Canada’s best organists. Who had actually provided the musical backing in cinemas way back when. After the picture concluded the gracile guy had the courage to approach Mister Lapp and thank him, saying also, that the piano was at present the instrument of choice. After the invitation – or was it a challenge? – to prove it, “Maple Leaf Rag” was executed to almost perfection. Raising Horace’s eyebrows. We did become first name compadres. However, Lapp was, even for the time, a few eggs short of a carton. (That may be, as the slimster discovered after piano lessons at Horace’s Lakeshore Road apartment his favourite external pursuit. Pelting neighbourhood cats with raw eggs. )
Other old-timers seen and heard include Eubie Blake, another ragtime great pianist, able to play flawlessly at the age of 95. Believe he lived to a hundred and five. A century and five days, that is. Oscar Peterson at the Ontario Place amphitheatre. Earl “Fatha” Hines at the wonderful Chick’n’Deli. Still have an autographed album of his. Somewhere in the out-of-control collection in the storage room.
Continuing with jazz – the incredible double bassist Charlie Haden. His Quartet West was a wowza band, but it was his duo work with great pianists such as Hank Jones and Brad Meldau that led to seeing him live at the TD Summer Jazz Festival. Another great bassist was Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report fame. T’was a surprise while fact-checking to discover that he, too, is in the great concert hall in the sky. Since 1987. Seems like only like yesterday, that we were able to hear him. Now only on CD with Pat Metheny. Who, of the entire list above is the fortunately still with us.
Then the blues bit, both in the attempts to play ‘em, not just live ’em and have ’em.. Had to hear and see ’em for that. Now gone are guitarists B.B. King on his fab axe Lucille, Albert Collins (heard ‘im in Chicago!). John Lee Hooker. Our own Jeff Healey, heard umpteen times at Albert’s Hall. Singer Dutch Mason, also at the Brunny’s legendary blues bar. Willie Dixon. Each and every one a master of the genre, acknowledged as the cream of the crop. Belgian master harpist Toots Thielemans. What concerts, energy-driven jams - classics.
And of course, one cannot forget the long list of Estonian popular musicians, whose achievements still bring pleasure. Many, unlike Blake and Hines, never made it to a ripe old and still performing age. From Valgre and Pori on, cut down in their prime. The slender one still enjoys listening to Mati Nuude, Silvi Vrait and even at times Jashka, Jaak Joala. All with memorable recordings.
Chick Corea reached fame and prominence working with Miles Davis, not only playing, but writing tunes for the master trumpeter, in fact bringing Latin jazz with his compositions on the classic album “Sketches of Spain”, other following LPs into public awareness. But it was his work with the seminal band “Return to Forever” that these ears will remember.
And while death, as in the case of Corea does trigger reminiscences, gotta be thankful that with recorded memories these stellar musicians remain alive and vital. Just as Brahms and Beethoven are still around. And appreciated for their contributions towards achieving solitary bliss. With headphones on. Natch.Otepää Slim