Thinking Inside The Box
I was an odd little kid, about four-years-old, during the 1960s in California when my mom and dad got a new refrigerator. It arrived in a giant cardboard box. The box ended up in our living room and for a few weeks that summer (indulgent parents!) it became my private retreat.
What was I doing in there hour after hour while the rest of the world was discovering the Beatles? I listened to big band and vintage jazz on a tiny transistor radio. I imagined that cardboard box as my own swinging, sophisticated nightclub straight out of a glamorous 1930s movie. Inside that box, I started thinking….
Johnny Come Lately
Sometimes it seems every musicians’ biography has them starting as a tiny tot, but it wasn’t until I was 32 that I finally had the opportunity to begin playing a musical instrument. Ever since my early cardboard-box days, I’d been transfixed by the sound of the jazz clarinet, and so once I decided to apply myself obsessively, I found an exceptional instructor and began practicing, practicing, practicing.
Dancing on The Edge Of a Continent
20 years of scales and arpeggios (and at least as many twists and turns in my professional and personal life) landed me in Nova Scotia, Canada. There, several local jazz combos were gracious enough to allow me to grab a few years of invaluable experience as a sideman. Perched on the edge of North America, the provincial capital of Halifax is quite isolated. But perhaps because the next metropolitan area is many hundreds of miles away, it’s become something of a cultural outpost with an active music scene. Turns out, it’s the perfect place to launch a swing band!
And Now… Jack’s Cats
I’ve always avoided the over-played, popular hits of the era and prefer to focus on less-heard gems that retain the edgy grit from which jazz was born. (Sorry, fans of Glenn Miller.) There is so much material from this era that has been largely forgotten, which now resides only in the dusty digital libraries of vintage jazz obsessives.
When starting to think about forming a new band I knew the music I wanted to play and more than that, I hoped to treat our audiences to the best jazz musicians in Atlantic Canada. But there were a lot of unknowns: Would these in-demand players be available? Would they be willing to take a chance on an unknown, start-up project? Would they enjoy breathing artistic creativity into a musical style considered obsolete by some? It can be pretty intimidating to approach a musician you greatly admire and ask them to back you up. Occasionally folks politely declined, but so many said yes that we soon had something resembling a regional “All-Stars” roster of players. I’ve been delighted and flattered by the interest folks have shown in the project. In fact, building the band around these sidemen and women is opening up unexpected positive opportunities and turning out to be — beyond my best hopes! — a defining theme of our group.
By mixing and matching these great players, every Jack’s Cats performance becomes a unique event with a slightly different sound. I ask each of our guest Cats to share a favorite tune or two that features them at their best — and I think those numbers are, for me, the very best part of the whole experience. I get to set down my horn, step back, and enjoy the finest, most swingin’ jazz around. We’re all like a bunch of happy little kids in our big cardboard box!
Jack’s Cats had its world premiere in Halifax as the largest blizzard in a century bore down on the East Coast, What a party! The word-of-mouth advance anticipation our premiere generated in the community and the excitement of the crowd on the big night exceeded our hopes. As professional jazz players we were, frankly, a little surprised to be given a rock-star reception — not that we’re complaining! We were so flattered by the response that plans are now in the works to record a CD within the year, go on tour… all this between bookings for additional concerts, private affairs, festivals, and events.