Four - One More TimeSaturday, September 26, 2009
Right after lunch today, Lauren and I decided to try out the psychiatric couch that is now ensconced in the living room. It is facing in the perfect location to listen to music. I wanted to play something that might appeal to Lauren. It was sometime in 1993 that I received a phone call from my alto saxophonist friend Gavin Walker who told me, “You must buy the CD called Paraiso with Gerry Mulligan and with vocals by Jane Duboc. This is the kind of music you like since you were always partial to Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba.” Gavin was right and it has been one of my favourites since. Lauren and I had a nice listen in our comfortable couch. It was special. It made me think of those wonderful Thursday nights at the Classical Joint on Carrall Street in the 80s. I went often to listen to Gavin Walker, usually with his guitarist of choice Michael Wild.
Of course it has all changed and jazz joints are smoke-free (I don’t remember how I added all the smoke to these pictures! I suspect that my subjects added smoke from their own cigarettes.)
When I found out that the Classical Joint was going to close its doors I proposed a little story to then Straight editor Charles Campbell. He said yes and the little piece was one of my first published ones.
Four Play Out Jazz Rituals
By Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
October 27, 1989
Pause outside the window of the Classical Joint on any Thursday night around 10 and you will witness a scene that has not changed for 15 years. People sit at small, candle-lit tables playing chess or sipping their mysterious coffees.
You walk in and pay Jorge, the Argentine owner two dollars. You avoid the hard uncomfortable and look for the cushioned bench by the wall.
In one corner, never quite managing to fade into the darkness of the black walls, sits the sophisticated lady. Like many before her, she made her way in to sit entranced by the man hunched over the alto sax.
The man with the sax is Gavin Walker. Wearing a striped shirt, flapping loosely over tight jeans, he manages to nestle a lit Kool in his right hand while playing. At his feet, two more packs of cigarettes wait – “Just in case.”
Behind Walker, a drummer and a string bass player provide accompaniment. Sitting on the edge of the stool by the upright piano Michael Guild and his guitar wait for Walker’s nod to start their solo.
Gavin Walker’s jazz quartet, in a milestones of sorts, has been playing for 15 years’ worth of Thursdays at the Joint. Thelonius Monk’s “Straight no Chaser”. Miles Davis’s “Four” or “So What”. Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa”. These tunes, as Walker calls the jazz standards in his repertoire, are laced with originals like “Up in Gavin’s Flat” or “The Worm Turns Again”. Played so many times, they have evolved into something intensely personal.
Between numbers, in a deep FM Radio voice, Walker throws little tidbits of jazz trivia at the audience. You may learn that Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” takes its names form Bird’s Catholic roots. Or that bassist Wyatt “Bull” Ruther, who used to frequent the Joint for years before migrating to California, might have shared fame with Dave Brubeck had the former not passed out in a bathtub and missed a crucial recording session.
Regulars will try to stump Walker with the kind of obscure information that has ripened into a bona fide ritual over the years. One patron never fails to inquire about the health of Richard Twardzik, an obscure if brilliant piano player of the late 50’s. Walker’s dry retort, “As far as I know, he’s still dead,” never changes.
Sooner or later, a bearded man will walk in. A cigarette in his mouth and an Oz scarecrow hat on his head he carries a small wooden rectangular case with a violin inside.
Known simply as Ed, he’s a busker who plays Water Street almost every day. “Except when there’s a hockey game on television.” Although he never plays, Ed is at the Joint every Thursday. Between sets he will go out and work his favourite corner by the Town Pump. When the quartet is especially hot you might spy a smile on his face.
At about 1:30 the group begins to wind down. The last #4 Blanca bus passes by. And the rain-like noise of the street flusher blends in with the last notes of “Softly,As in a Morning Sunrise”.
I took the two grainy photographs ten years before in September 1979. The film I used was Ilford FP-5. I pushed the film to something like 3000 ASA and then I used Kodak Chromium Intensifier to nudge out some detail from the shadows.