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Such Melodious Racket: The Lost History of Jazz in Canada 1914-1949

by Mark Miller

Jazz came to Canada in 1914 when the Creole Band from New Orleans played a Monday afternoon gig at the Pantages Theatre inWinnipeg. The local daily paper, the Tribune, noted that the six musicians, who included one of jazz’s early masters, trumpeter Freddie Keppard, played, “weird instruments in a wonderful way.”

The Creole Band was the vanguard for a music that came to transform Canadian life and leisure. While jazz was thoroughly execrated from the pulpit, the school board meeting, and wherever killjoys got together, it quickly caught on in dining lounges and clubs across Ontario and Quebec (it was an early hit in Montreal) as well as on the Prairies. All over Canada, jazz or jazz-tinged music became the musical choice of succeeding generations, until the three-chord-trick of sixties pop almost swept it away.

In Canada, as elsewhere, musicians took to jazz and made it their own, although not before they’d had the benefit of good tutelage from touring U.S. musicians – mostly black – for whom “Canadian time,” as they called touring north of the border, was a relief from the constant racism of the U.S. and a new, quite profitable source of revenue.

Mark Miller does an excellent job researching and detailing the development of jazz in Canada. Miller has dug through photo and newspaper files across the country, and pored over theatre bills and advertisements to work out who played where and when. Included are the great U.S. jazzmen and women who toured Canada, with dates and venues, and occasionally something of the flavour of their influence here. Miller has been painstaking and generous in recording the work and influence of the Canadians who emulated and, in some cases (Maynard Ferguson and Oscar Peterson, for example), equalled or bettered their U.S. mentors.

Bert Niosi, the Winnipeg Jazz Babies, Ollie Wagner, Guy Lombardo, the Sealey brothers, Kenney’s Western Gentlemen, and Jimmy “Trump” Davidson are not names that flash brightly on the marquee of the Jazz Hall of Fame. But they built jazz in Canada, and those who care about the music and the Canadians who made it, will want to read this book.

I do have a tiny cavil. Jazz is a music that has generated a wealth of eccentric characters and a library of racy, funny, and moving stories. I’m sorry Miller did not find room for more of them in his book, which is much more sober than the music and musicians it celebrates.Yet in the end, thanks to Miller, for those of us who love jazz, no better description of it and its practitioners has yet been written.


Reviewer: Roger Burford Mason

Publisher: The Mercury Press


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 288 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55128-046-9

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 1998-1

Categories: Art, Music & Pop Culture