Leading up to the launch of the Burgundy Jazz interactive documentary in June, this series of interviews aims to explore the project creators’ vision, as well as reach out to key members of Montreal’s jazz and interactive communities. We sat down with friends Antoine Maloney and Dave Turner. While Antoine wears many hats as an IT Strategist & Developer, film buff, and lover of jazz and community history; Dave Turner is an accomplished Saxophonist, composer, and professor at Concordia’s Jazz Studies program.
Antoine, what was your experience of the jazz scene in Montreal in the 60s and early 70s?
I grew up in Brooklyn, listening to records and going to big shows, like the Newport jazz festival in ‘65. When I moved back to Montreal in ‘67, I bought a place in Little Burgundy, and discovered all these great clubs within a couple blocks of my place. Black Bottom was a regular hangout of mine at the time, where I got to hear great musicians like Charlie Biddle and Nelson Symonds. It was my first experience of a small club, where the musicians were right there, so much more exciting and intimate than the big festivals.
Dave, how did you first get into jazz music?
I’ve loved jazz since I was 5 years old, I’d listen to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller on the radio, and just got hooked, bit by bit. With the saxophone, I’m essentially self-taught, I only started playing when I was 20. There weren’t any jazz programs in universities yet, Concordia was the first program established in Canada in 1976. My experience of sneaking underage into clubs like La Bohème to see musicians like Nelson Symonds, Norm Villeneuve or Charlie Biddle was also a huge influence. I would bring my friends who were into Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. They would initially complain about going to a “boring jazz” show, but by the end of the night they were always hooked.
We've heard a lot about Nelson Symonds, who led the band at the Black Bottom. What was he like, as a performer and fellow musician?
Antoine: If you sat with Nelson with any length of time, he would start talking about sports or jazz. His mind was like a sealed trap, he remembered everything in detail. He had an incredible talent for recounting stories, like one of the times Miles Davis was playing in Montreal. Musicians playing at the uptown clubs would often go the Black Bottom at the end of their shows. According to Nelson, Miles Davis showed up one night at the Black Bottom just as the musicians had gone on a break. He said, “Come on, I just showed up! I want to sit in with you guys!” But Nelson and the other musicians stuck to their break schedule. So they headed around the corner to Whitey's Hideaway. Miles very grumpy at this point, as he usually was. They walk in, and Miles had a look at the juke box, which the owner Bob White always had stocked with the latest jazz 45s from New York. Miles noticed that many of his recordings were in the juke box, finally lifting his mood, and he bought a bottle of booze for everyone to share, so the night ended well.
Dave: I first got to know Nelson by just going to see his shows, I wasn’t even playing music yet. Once I was more established as a saxophone player I had the chance to play and record with him. Although he was a very accomplished guitarist, recording made him nervous. When we did the “Thank You For Your Hospitality” album together in 1995, we recorded over the course of an entire weekend. Nelson eventually forgot that we were recording and was able to play naturally, so we had a lot of material to choose from in the end. I also got the chance to know his family in the Maritimes, they are all musical in some way, playing banjos and ukuleles and fairs and travelling shows. His entire life he was always saying “I’m not ready yet”, when in reality he was an incredibly talented musician, and a great group player.
Dave, how would you say the landscape for a young musician today compares to when you were starting out?
It’s completely changed. You used to be able to get steady gigs at restaurants, clubs and hotels, playing four or five nights a week. It wasn’t always jazz, but you could make a living with it. When I was getting started, all the hotels had live bands, the Queen Elizabeth for example, used to have a 12-piece band playing six nights a week. Today students need to have a different kind of steady job to get started, or busk; you can’t get by on only music at the beginning. On the other hand, students have so many programs to choose from today, whether at Concordia, McGill, Université de Montréal, UQAM, Université de Sherbroke, or Université Laval. So jazz is far from dead, you just have to be more creative to make a living at it.