Monday, 9 December 2013


Sunday Afternoon Jazz a Big Hit in Waterloo.

Thanks to everyone who came to see The John Tank Quartet in The Jazz Room on Sunday afternoon. The show succeeded on all levels and I could not be happier with the turnout and the music. We are going to do this again in the New Year.  More world-class jazz on a lazy afternoon with winter winds howling down King Street. Big Ups to the musicians --- John Tank on tenor sax, Dave Young on bass, Bernie Senensky on piano and Ted Warren on drums. 

The music was varied and flawless. The quartet started playing at 3:30 p.m. and stopped just before 7 p.m., with two short breaks in between.

"This was the best jazz show I have ever seen," Brent Needham said to me during the second break. It was Brent's first time to The Jazz Room, and I am sure he will be back soon.
From the first song to the last there was rapt silence in the room punctuated with intense bouts of applause and hoots of joy.  The audience was awesome. Period.
"I have never watched people listen so closely to the music," Ziggy Wiens said.

The set list was custom-made for lovers of straight-ahead jazz.

The first set: "Tune Up" by Sonny Rollins, "Emotion" by Harry Whitaker, "New Irk, New Work" by John Tank, "Blues for EJ" by Bernie Senensky, "Windows" by Chick Corea, "Moon in Sand" by Alec Wilder, and "Voyage" by Kenny Barron.

There are strong, emotional connections between this music and John. Harry Whitaker was a friend and mentor to many New York City jazz musicians, including John. Harry's musical spirit pervades the best jazz club in NYC to this day --- Smalls in the West Village.  There is a large portrait of Whitaker behind the piano bench where he often played before his death. His cat Minnow lives in Smalls. When Harry was not at the piano he was often in the backroom playing chess, taking on all comers. The first CD issued under the Live at Smalls label was Harry playing solo piano. Great stuff.  The John Tank Quartet brought a little of that into our lives on Sunday with a beautiful rendition of "Emotion."

The second set: "In a Mellow Tone" by Duke Ellington, "Now's Another Time" by John Tank, "Have You Heard This Song Before" by John Tank, "Come to me" by Bernie Senensky, "I Loves You Porgry" by George Gershwin and "Take the Coltrane" by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.

Coltrane has special place in John's musical heart. When John was growing up on Duke Street in downtown Kitchener, Ontario in the 1950s there was no jazz around.  John found a record store specializing in jazz on a shopping trip to Buffalo, New York with his parents. The store manager suggested two 45s --- Cannonball Adderley's "Jack of Soul" and John Coltrane's "Cousin Mary." After listening to Coltrane that was pretty much it.  John started playing the saxophone and eventually studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston from 1964 to 1969.  While driving taxi in Boston to help cover expenses John was pistol whipped and robbed one night  But he stayed and he learned. He moved into a tenement on 4th Street in the East Village of New York City in 1974.  He still lives in the same building.

The third set: "Lament for all the Young Lions," by John Tank and "Steppin' Up" by John Tank.

Sunday, Dec. 8 was the anniversary of John's Lennon's assassination.  The quartet played the lament in Lennon's memory.  It was a  sad and beautiful tribute to the great man.  John originally wrote it for the young jazz musicians who struggle to find paying gigs and tours in a world that is largely deaf to the music's magic. But inside The Jazz Room on Sunday the magic of jazz worked on every one --- from the little girl who sat on her mother's lap at the foot of the stage to John's 95-year-old mother Olive.

"I never miss a show," Olive said on her way out.

John Tank is back in Kitchener in the spring of 2014 as part of the Jazz at the Registry series.










Thursday, 5 December 2013

TORONTO --- Canada's biggest city is a hard go for jazz musicians.

No wonder the tenor-sax virtuoso John Tank loves playing The Jazz Room in downtown Waterloo.

John picked me up early this morning and we chatted on our way to an interview with Rando Johnston at CKWR --- a community radio station on King Street East in Kitchener.  John is doing his rounds of  the local media in advance of a gig on Sunday afternoon at The Jazz Room  Normally one of the most positive and serene individuals I know, John was in a foul mood.  The problem --- his Tuesday night gig at The Rex on Queen Street in Toronto.

John teamed up with two of the best for the gig at The Rex --- Bernie Senensky on organ and Ted Warren on drums.  After hearing all these cats several times I can tell you they are among the very best jazz musicians playing anywhere in Canada today.  That's all they do. Gig. Compose. Record. Repeat.

They played at The Rex for a percentage of the door.  But if anyone complained about the $10 cover, the doorman let them in for free. Huh?

"We don't care about the music, we came for some drinks and something to eat."
"Oh, okay, no problem, go on in."

At the end of the night John was paid $80 for the gig.  He had to buy his own food and drinks.  After gassing up the car and driving back to Kitchener, John figures he made about $40 for the night.  That's a shameful way to treat musicians.  Since 1974 John's lived in the East Village in New York City and made his living as a jazz musician in the World Capital of Jazz.

He has chops. John's played and recorded with Charles Mingus. He plays regularly at Fat Cat in the West Village. He has been a sideman in bands led by Sam Rivers, Paul Jeffery, George Coleman, Joe Morello, John Blair, Jack Walrath and Calvin Hill. He studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the Sixties. He has four CDs out and more on the way.

John is in Kitchener-Waterloo now to visit with his 94-year-old mother Olive. To help pay for the trip John had three gigs in Toronto --- The Pilot Tavern, The Orbit Room and The Rex.

We know how the Rex turned out. The Pilot was slightly better as it pays each musician $100, but the cats have to buy their own food and drinks, and pay for their own parking. For the gig at the Orbit Room only four people showed up.  John figures the three Toronto gigs netted him about $240.

Wow.  This is the same city that wants to become the Music Capital of Canada. The crack-smoking Mayor of Toronto was visiting Austin, Texas recently to promote the twinning of Toronto and Austin. What a sad joke.  Sorry Toronto, but you are no Austin.  No amount of marketing and branding is going to change the facts.  So good luck.  So how does The Jazz Room in Waterloo compare to John's experience in Toronto?

With the help of some friends I organized a gig for John at The Jazz Room. The John Tank Quartet will be paid $1,200.  That is $300 for each musician.  That is guaranteed. That is the way first-call jazz musicians should be treated.  Music fans get world-class jazz for $20 a ticket.  Everybody listens to the music. The musicians on stage love that kind of respect and play their hearts out.

Joining John for the Sunday gig --- Dave Young on bass, Bernie Senensky on piano and Ted Warren on drums. Young played bass for Oscar Peterson for 25 years. Senensky is among the very best jazz pianists in the country. Ted Warren is the artistic director of the Grand River Jazz Society.  Doors open at 3 p.m. Music starts at 3:30 p.m. and goes to 7 p.m.

Ted Quinlan, a brilliant jazz guitarist who heads the program at Humber College, played The Jazz Room a few times. After one gig, Quinlan said: "The best jazz club in Toronto is in Waterloo."

John Tank knows exactly what he meant.




Tuesday, 3 December 2013

John Tank plays a rare hometown gig

WATERLOO, Ontario --- In 1974 a young man from Kitchener, Ont. walked into the East Village of New York City and found a place to live on 4th St., between Second and Third Ave., in one of the tenements that line the streets of this storied neighbourhood.

John Tank and his tenor saxophone were home.



John still lives in the same building.  He wrote a song called Two O'Clock Sun about the light that came into his main floor apartment once a day for 15 minutes.  It is on one of his five CDs.  For 39 years John's made his living as a jazz musician in New York City.  He played the Village Gate in Greenwich Village with Charles Mingus --- one of the most famous jazz clubs in the history of the music with one of the giants of 20th Century jazz.  He opened for Sonny Rollins in Toronto. These days John plays regularly at Fat Cat in the West Village.  Not bad for someone who grew up on Duke Street in downtown Kitchener in the 1950s and 1960s.

John was inspired by a local music teacher named Mike Bergauer. After two years of lessons Bergauer sent John to Paul Brodie in Toronto for more advanced schooling.  John drove into Toronto once a week for lessons with Brodie.  At the time, Brodie was the most recorded classical sax player in the world.  Brodie was so impressed with John's playing, he helped John get into the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. In 1969 John returned to Kitchener and played gigs in London, Stratford and Toronto.  But he was way too ambitious, restless and talented for the small jazz scene in Ontario.

In 1974 John organized a farewell show in Kitchener.  It was at the Lancaster Hotel.  After the gig John headed for New York City.  He went there with no Green Card, and lived illegally there for 15 years. After coming forward during an amnesty he was given status as a legal resident.  That's was the price and John happily paid it. He was living in New York City and making his living as a jazz musician.  He returns to Kitchener once, sometimes twice a year, to play for hometown fans and supporters.

 The remarkable story behind this incredible musician continues.  

This Sunday, The John Tank Quartet plays The Jazz Room in downtown Waterloo.  Doors open at 3 p.m. Music until 7 p.m. Joining John for this hometown gig are some of the best jazz musicians playing today.
Dave Yonung on bass.  Young was the bass player for Oscar Peterson for 25 years.  Bernie Senensky on piano.  Bernie recorded 15 CDs as band leader, many more as a sideman and earned multiple-Juno nominations along the way.  Ted Warren on drums.  Warren is the artistic director of the Grand River Jazz Festival.  This will be one of the best jazz shows in Southern Ontario for all of 2013.  Tickets are $20 at Words Worth Books in Waterloo.  Also at Encore Records and Far Out Flicks in Kitchener.

  

Monday, 2 December 2013

What promises to be one of the best jazz shows in Southern Ontario this year takes place on Sunday, Dec. 8 in The Jazz Room in downtown Waterloo.

The John Tank Quartet is coming to town. Tank is an incredible jazz musician based in the East Village in New York City.  He played and recorded with Charles Mingus.  Check out the Mingus recordings of "Me, Myself and Eye," and "Something Like a Bird."  That is John Tank on the tenor saxophone. Tank played as sideman in bands led by Sam Rivers, Calvin Hill, Jack Walrath, George Coleman, Joe Morello, John Blair and Paul Jeffrey, among others. Not bad for someone who was born and raised on Duke Street in downtown Kitchener.

Tank wanted to be a jazz musician so badly in New York City he moved there in 1974 and never left.  He lived there illegally for 15 years before coming forward during an amnesty and getting a Green Card. Based in a tenement on 4th Street in the East Village, he has played all over New York City and toured Canada, England, Holland, France, Switzerland, Spain and Germany. Tank recorded five CDs, the last is called Live at the Registry Theatre, one of the most memorable jazz shows ever held in that beloved venue in downtown Kitchener, just blocks from Tank's childhood home.

For the show on Sunday, Dec. 8, Tank will be joined by Canadian jazz royalty.  Dave Young will be on bass.  Young played bass for Oscar Peterson for 25 years. Bernie Senensky will be on piano.  Bernie has recorded 15 CDs as band leader, garnered multiple-Juno nominations and play jam sessions that lasted all night with Roy Hargrove at Smalls in Greenwich Village.  Bernie is among the very best jazz pianists playing today.  Keeping time for The John Tank Quartet will be Ted Warren, the artistic director of the Grand River Jazz Society and a first-call pro.

Tickets for this show are only $20.  You can buy tickets at Words Worth Books in Waterloo.  Also at Encore Records and Far Out Flicks in Kitchener.  Tickets will also be available at the door.