jazz & blues music blog with news, reviews, concerts & more, with a Canadian focus

June 17, 2005

Jazz Encyclopedia

Written by
cindy mcleod

My jazz education has come from a variety of sources, the composers and musicians that have influenced me, the informative books and reference materials I’ve collected, and the colourful audience members that support my performances and buy my recordings. Some of these aficionados have deeply touched me, sharing their experiences from their own unique perspective, built from attending concerts, buying huge discographies, and personally being connected to jazz artists.

Dick Cowie comes to mind first and foremost, a man who became a dear friend through our mutual love of the muse. Richard (as I called him) was a walking encyclopedia of jazz history, particularly Canadian jazz history, a rare gift in a country that has a wealth of talent, and a history largely untold and barely documented.

Richard grew up in Toronto, and as a young man (he passed away three years ago at 75 years of age) he experienced the birth of jazz in Canada, going on to being a ‘grandfather’ of jazz in his own right. His archives are fascinating and meticulously compiled, every memento lovingly documented with dates, band personnel, photographs, and autographs, including those of Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Oscar Peterson, among others.

It was always inspiring and educational to get him talking about his favourite topic, he had a never-ending supply of anecdotes and facts to whet my appetite. For a time he owned Swampbird Records, a fine store here in Calgary, where if you wanted to find your favourite recording, talk to an expert, or buy concert tickets, that’s where you’d head, because that’s where you’d be sure to find what you were looking for, and have a delightful and insightful visit while you were at it!

One story he told was about Chet Baker, who came to Calgary to perform very near the end of his life. When Chet walked into Swampbird one day, nearly unrecognizable from the ravages of drug addiction, he found home and family in that little shop, as so many of us did. Richard was reduced to tears relating the mix of pride and sadness he felt with that visit from this great musician who had so little time left on this earth. Chet played in town for two weeks, and I for one will never forget those shows and the profound beauty and grace that oozed from that man’s horn. As a vocalist, Chet was one of a kind, cool and simple, clean and sparse, just like his playing, and had a powerful impact on the way I phrase.

Richard had a soft spot for ‘girl’ vocalists, he was one of the first people I met in the jazz scene, and perhaps the most influential. He contributed greatly to my growth as an artist, and when he died, I discovered he’d kept a scrapbook of every step of my career, complete with photos, media releases, reviews, and interviews. This scrapbook is one of my most treasured possessions, a reminder of the many steps I took along the path, with his hand holding mine, leading the way.

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