Dobbin's Den


I wasn't looking at a calendar when I wrote a remembrance of trombonist Butch Watanabe yesterday. The day I first heard Butch play "live", the very first meeting of the Montreal chapter of the New Jazz Society, was in fact November 11, 1950, 52 years ago today. The New Jazz Society was the brainchild of Metronome magazine, down beat's main rival back then. The idea was to set up chapters in as many cities in the world as possible with New York its hub. In exchange for our dues they would send us lecture material etc. In 1949, the year he made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall, there was an Oscar Peterson Fan Club in Montreal and many of its members were among those who decided to form an NJS chapter here.

I was 15 and a regular reader of the aforementioned magazines. In the late summer / early fall of 1950 I was in the downstairs record department of Lindsay's, a Ste. Catherine Street furniture store--a place where I had earlier, when the Dizzy Gillespie big band was playing an engagement at Chez Maurice Danceland, located a bit west on the same street, asked Diz to sign a peanut, this was during an autograph session (although not yet a teenager, I had his "Salt Peanuts" in my collection). These were the pre-lp days and one would take the 78s that one wanted to audition to a clerk who would then assign you to a numbered listening booth. The crew that were trying to interest people in a Montreal chapter of the NJS simply asked the clerk which booths had people listening to jazz and then knocked on the booth door and presented the listener with promotion material about the Society and its aims. I must say that I didn't know what was going on when this group approached me that day, I grew up in an area of town that was mostly Anglo and Irish--there was (from first grade through high school) but a single black student in the school I attended. For the record, his name was Billy Taylor and he was later active in the Quebec show business world. That said, I was a bit startled to be face to face with a group that included a Black, an Asian, an Italian, a Jew and a French Canadian. When presented with the material I told them that I was aware of the NJS but never thought that there were enough jazz fans in Montreal to form a chapter. When I gave them my name I found that it was familiar to them from my requesting jazz material on Bob Harvie's "Club 800" radio show on CJAD. They were quite startled to find I was a little skinny 15 year old. That fateful day not only brought me into contact with other jazz fans older and more knowledgeable than myself but was also to give me an insight into their different cultures. After a year the executive decided that we weren't getting much from New York for our dues and decided to continue under our own steam. A vote of the membership saw the name "Emanon Jazz Society" decided upon. (The tune "Emanon" had been recorded by the Gillespie big band and would be played to open each meeting). The whole thing lasted into the late 50s when one of our aims--to get more jazz heard locally--was fulfilled. The EJS members also worked hand in hand with the musician's organization, "The Jazz Workshop" [formed by people like Keith White, Paul Bley, Billy Graham, George Kennedy and Neil Michaud] in promoting the music locally.

Shortly after the NJS was formed I pleasantly surprised that not only were there others that shared my love of the music of Lennie Tristano but actually a group in Montreal that played his music. Keith White was the leader and clarinetist Al Baculis and guitarist Jerry Kirkey were in the group he brought to an early meeting. It was here that I also met another [along with White] of my mentors in years to come, pianist Art Roberts. Americans living here at the time like the boys from Brooklyn, Valdo Williams, B.T. Lundy, Buddy Jordan and Walter Bacon, tenorman Moon Mullins, Joe Perry, the Butterfield brothers, Sadik Hakim, Kenny Edmonds, Eve Smith [then Yvonne Lanauze] and Al Cowans were also encountered at these meetings along with the Canadian heavies of the time Steep Wade, Bob Rudd, Clarence Jones, Willy Girard, Bob Langlois, Hal Gaylor, Gordie Fleming, Roland Lavallee, Bobby Malloy, John Lanza, Guido Basso and Walter Batagello. Among the musicians I introduced to these organizations were Armas Maiste, then a recent arrival from Sweden, and later the Henstridge brothers, "Wimp" and Ian, who I heard one night at a jam session on Montreal's "south shore" not far from where they lived.

The original NJS membership? A quick search of my brain comes up with people like Alfred Wade (the president), Rene Egli, Carlton Baird, Huguette Rajotte, Ron Kobayashi, Malew "Chips Bayem, Phil Savage[au], Pat Sorrentino, Rodney Smith, Willy Lauzon, Peter Tiedemann and Rey Desormeaux. Many of the NJS and EJS members have remained friends all these years and of late we have been having luncheon reunions on an almost monthly basis. If you were a member and would like to join us here in Montreal, an email to me will bring news of our next get together.

More on the NJS, EJS and Oscar Peterson Fan Club [along with a picture of some of the members] can be found in John Gilmore's history of jazz in Montreal, Swinging In Paradise.

© Len Dobbin 2002