Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Moe Koffman - Goes Electric

61.3 MB
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from Jubilee LGS 8009

Time for some CanCon here at Soundological. For those not from the Great White North, this refers to the regulations set by Canada's communications watchdog requiring a certain percentage of Canadian content be played for broadcasters to maintain their licenses. We're kind of conflicted on it up here, since it allows our artists to get some shelf space and radio/TV play but it's also mainly responsible for foisting Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Barenaked Ladies on the world.

Moe Koffman is a giant figure in Canadian jazz and his compositions "Curried Soul" and "Koff Drops" are used as the opening and closing themes respectively for the CBC radio show As It Happens. You don't get more Canuck than that. It's the second longest-running theme song up here (almost 40 years now) and with the classic Hockey Night in Canada music in jeopardy, it may take first place. I've heard tell that our neighbours to the south are familiar with it as well, since AIH is syndicated on NPR in the USA.

Moe Koffman - Flute, Dual Saxes (Alto & Tenor), Tamboura
Art Ayre - Organ
James Pirie - Guitar
Gary Binsted - Bass, Sitar
Andy Cree - Drums

1 The Swingin' Shepherd
2 Dr. Swahili
3 Comin' Home Baby
4 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
5 Lord Have Mercy
6 Swingin' Explorer
7 Battering Ram
8 Trains and Boats and Planes
9 Pantano
10 Forest Flower
11 Now Is The Time

Here are some bits from the entry for Moe in the Canadian Encyclopedia. It's a lengthy article and if you're interested in Canadian jazz it's a good place to start learning about its history.

He began studying violin at nine and alto saxophone at 13, and soon afterwards attended the TCM (RCMT), where his teachers were Herbert Pye (clarinet) and Samuel Dolin (theory). In his mid-teens he dropped out of school and began playing in dance bands, working in turn with Horace Lapp, Leo Romanelli, and Benny Louis. One of the first Canadian jazzmen to adopt the new bebop style born in New York in the early 1940s, Koffman won a (CBC) 'Jazz Unlimited' poll as best alto saxophonist in 1948 and made his first recordings (78s) in Buffalo with US musicians for the Main Stem company that same year. He studied with Gordon Delamont at this time.

In 1950 he moved to the USA, where he played in the big bands of Sonny Dunham, Jimmy Dorsey, and others. In New York he studied flute with Harold Bennett (of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra) and clarinet with Leon Russianoff (principal of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra). Koffman returned to Toronto in 1955, thereafter dividing his career between his jazz group and studio work.

Moe on the set and in the media during the late 50's

He became the booking agent for George's
Spaghetti House in 1956 (remaining in this capacity and appearing there roughly one week each month with his band, the Moe Koffman Quartet and later the Moe Koffman Quintet, until 1994). The Canadian and US success, in 1958, of his recording of his "Swinging Shepherd Blues" (original version above photos) established his name as a flutist and at the same time helped to popularize that instrument in jazz. In the 1960s Koffman engaged in various experiments, none necessarily original - eg, playing two saxophones at once, employing electronics to amplify and modify the saxophone's sound, and incorporating elements of rock into jazz. These left Koffman straddling the pop and jazz worlds and brought him unusually wide exposure for a Canadian jazz musician, including appearances in the mid-1960s on NBC TV's 'Tonight Show.' He led his own big band as music director in 1974 for Global TV's 'Everything Goes'.

Moe in '59

Benefitting from the wide exposure received by his pop ventures, Koffman led one of the most successful jazz groups in Canada, a quartet or, latterly, quintet with the guitarist Ed Bickert as a longstanding member (see Discography for details of personnel changes). The group appeared at Expo 67, performed in 1975 at the Shaw Festival (in a Mozart program with Camerata), and travelled in 1979 to Art Park (Lewiston, NY) and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Although some jazz circles held Koffman's commercial endeavours in disdain, he and his quintet appeared at various festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Ontario Place Jazz Festival.

In 1982, with a performance in Stratford, Ont, the Koffman quintet began an occasional association with the renowned US jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. A few concerts followed each year until 1990, including those at the NAC, PDA, and Art Park in 1983, on a Canadian tour in 1987, and at the Budapest Spring Festival in 1989.

The wide range of Koffman's activities has been seen by some as evidence of an inquiring musical mind and by others as merely the exercise of a keen instinct for popular tastes. Peter Goddard (Toronto Star, 15 Jul 1972) noted Koffman's 'rare ability to bob buoyantly on the surface of whatever new wave comes along'. The same range, however, exhibited on Koffman's own recordings and in other studio assignments, attests to his technical skill and musicianship. As a flutist he married a pure, 'classical' tone to the breezy rhythmic and melodic freedom of jazz; as an alto saxophonist he remained faithful to the bebop tradition and demonstrated with the Boss Brass and Dizzy Gillespie his standing among Canada's most vivid stylists in that idiom.

Writing in the Globe and Mail in March 2001, Mark Miller assessed Koffman's crossover contributions: 'Mr. Koffman made music according to the principle of moderation. The best of his jazz and jazz/classical crossover LPs and CDs combined cautious experimentation, expert musicianship, keen intelligence and good taste to light and breezy effect.'

While writing this on Saturday afternoon, I discovered that his grandson Josh Koffman announced
the previous day he had written, produced and directed a film called The Jazzman based on Moe's life. Although recently wrapped, it might be ready in time for Sundance this year.

If you'd like to learn more, I definitely recommend an interview Moe conducted in 2001 for a retrospective on CBC Radio titled Swingin' Moe Koffman which you can listen to over at the CBC Digital Archives. You'll also
hear an assload of excerpts from his catalogue throughout the show.

As far as the other players go, there's not a whole lot of documentation. Art Ayres was best known for his time in Jack London & The Sparrows who would eventually transform into Steppenwolf. Guitarist James Pirie is probably not nearly as well known as the theme song he arranged for the Canadian TV series The Littlest Hobo. Bassist Gary Binsted looked pretty young when this was made, so it's no surprise he's still sluggin' away in the jazz scene. Andy Cree has also enjoyed a long career drumming in rock, pop, jazz and country bands as well as doing session work.

Fulfill your CanCon requirements with Soundological HERE or HERE.

Mo' Moe tomorrow so stay tuned!

Photos from the Canadian Jazz Archive website


E-mile said...

Thanks, I'll try this Canadian Mann
peace, E-mile

cheeba said...

Nice one, e-mile!

If you happened to read the old article in the post you'll see his son was named Herbie and he wanted to teach him the flute. Herbie went with the trumpet & sax instead and played with a Canadian jazzfunk pop band in the 80s called Manteca that was fairly popular.

J Thyme...kind said...

Er, when I think of the great White North, I tend to think of Joni Mitchell, Neal Young or the Poppy Family, not the list of lame-assed artists listed above.
Always ready to learn more about my neighbors to the North & South of me, so I'll try this. Thanks.

cheeba said...

LOL! I know what you mean J! The fact is those NON lame artists you mention built their careers w/o the help of CanCon rules and the first 2 did so after moving to the US.

A recent example of how CanCon doesn't work is Arcade Fire. From the CanCon Wiki: In fact, artists who are not established are sometimes forced to build an audience outside Canada before Canadian radio will play them, the very thing the Canadian content rules were designed to remedy. For example, Arcade Fire had no commercial radio airplay in Canada until months after the band was widely anointed rising stars in the American music media.

It does give a break here and there to new acts, but mostly those using tried-and-true formulae and creates bland mega-stars who would do well on Clear Channel or its equivalent in any part of the world.

avocado kid said...

very groovy!

Simon666 said...

thankyou sir
About to download and "grow a moe". ..
My knowledge of him thus far is his track "Days Gone by", which is in my "schmaltzy but necessary and beautiful" category .... came across it as a sample in Jill Scott's track "Slowly, Surely"

cheeba said...

My pleasure, Simon. Hope you find some sounds you enjoy. There'll be a few other nuggets from later years in tomorrow's post, including the Jill Scott connection.

Moe definitely had more than his fair share of schmaltz and cheese, that's for sure. I think most of that was due to his coming up in the 40s/50s and his desire to help jazz reach a bigger audience in Canada. Like Iron Leg said in a post a while back, the jazz crusader was hardly a "straight" but straights made up the bulk of his audience.

Personally I like the late 60s stuff best because it's fun and it has that modjazz psychpop sound and some chunky beats and riffs here and there.

J Thyme...kind said...

Sheeba, If a groovy flute session is your thing, then I hope that - Conversations With The Silhouettes [1969 Segue] by The Silhouettes is in your groovy collection? It's such a sleeper!

J Thyme...kind said...

Plus, you can compare versions of "Norwegian Wood". OK?

cheeba said...

No, don't have that one J. Always coming with the nuggets! Is that the same Silhouettes as the doo wop band?

Emile said...

"Personally I like the late 60s stuff best because it's fun and it has that modjazz psychpop sound and some chunky beats and riffs here and there" ... AMEN to that,
CHeeba :-) Returning here today I see some fresh Mo(v)e(s) already, I enjoyed going electrical, so I'm in for a treat :-)
thanks & peace,

mrG said...

I see you haven't been updating here in a while, alas that happens, but I just wanted to say that while yes, thank you for sharing this bit of Canadian jazz history, I also have to thank Moe for leading me to your wonderful soundblog (via a search on Ontario Place 1983 actually) -- funny how the internet sometimes really takes us places where we wanted to go, but never suspected existed :)