Thursday, 5 December 2013

TORONTO --- Canada's biggest city is a hard go for jazz musicians.

No wonder the tenor-sax virtuoso John Tank loves playing The Jazz Room in downtown Waterloo.

John picked me up early this morning and we chatted on our way to an interview with Rando Johnston at CKWR --- a community radio station on King Street East in Kitchener.  John is doing his rounds of  the local media in advance of a gig on Sunday afternoon at The Jazz Room  Normally one of the most positive and serene individuals I know, John was in a foul mood.  The problem --- his Tuesday night gig at The Rex on Queen Street in Toronto.

John teamed up with two of the best for the gig at The Rex --- Bernie Senensky on organ and Ted Warren on drums.  After hearing all these cats several times I can tell you they are among the very best jazz musicians playing anywhere in Canada today.  That's all they do. Gig. Compose. Record. Repeat.

They played at The Rex for a percentage of the door.  But if anyone complained about the $10 cover, the doorman let them in for free. Huh?

"We don't care about the music, we came for some drinks and something to eat."
"Oh, okay, no problem, go on in."

At the end of the night John was paid $80 for the gig.  He had to buy his own food and drinks.  After gassing up the car and driving back to Kitchener, John figures he made about $40 for the night.  That's a shameful way to treat musicians.  Since 1974 John's lived in the East Village in New York City and made his living as a jazz musician in the World Capital of Jazz.

He has chops. John's played and recorded with Charles Mingus. He plays regularly at Fat Cat in the West Village. He has been a sideman in bands led by Sam Rivers, Paul Jeffery, George Coleman, Joe Morello, John Blair, Jack Walrath and Calvin Hill. He studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the Sixties. He has four CDs out and more on the way.

John is in Kitchener-Waterloo now to visit with his 94-year-old mother Olive. To help pay for the trip John had three gigs in Toronto --- The Pilot Tavern, The Orbit Room and The Rex.

We know how the Rex turned out. The Pilot was slightly better as it pays each musician $100, but the cats have to buy their own food and drinks, and pay for their own parking. For the gig at the Orbit Room only four people showed up.  John figures the three Toronto gigs netted him about $240.

Wow.  This is the same city that wants to become the Music Capital of Canada. The crack-smoking Mayor of Toronto was visiting Austin, Texas recently to promote the twinning of Toronto and Austin. What a sad joke.  Sorry Toronto, but you are no Austin.  No amount of marketing and branding is going to change the facts.  So good luck.  So how does The Jazz Room in Waterloo compare to John's experience in Toronto?

With the help of some friends I organized a gig for John at The Jazz Room. The John Tank Quartet will be paid $1,200.  That is $300 for each musician.  That is guaranteed. That is the way first-call jazz musicians should be treated.  Music fans get world-class jazz for $20 a ticket.  Everybody listens to the music. The musicians on stage love that kind of respect and play their hearts out.

Joining John for the Sunday gig --- Dave Young on bass, Bernie Senensky on piano and Ted Warren on drums. Young played bass for Oscar Peterson for 25 years. Senensky is among the very best jazz pianists in the country. Ted Warren is the artistic director of the Grand River Jazz Society.  Doors open at 3 p.m. Music starts at 3:30 p.m. and goes to 7 p.m.

Ted Quinlan, a brilliant jazz guitarist who heads the program at Humber College, played The Jazz Room a few times. After one gig, Quinlan said: "The best jazz club in Toronto is in Waterloo."

John Tank knows exactly what he meant.