Jazzy Canadian art
By Randy J. Fisher
Music fans are in for a treat when the diversified Paul Fleming plays fast and spontaneous jazz on his alto sax, while his paintings are on display at the Grad Lounge Friday. Quick and full of ideas, he performs standards and some of his own fine compositions as he's backed by the finest London jazzers.
Born in Windsor in 1942, Fleming first picked up a musical instrument at the age of 17. He started playing the trumpet and discovered jazz. "Jack Kerouac was around then with his bookOn the Road," says Fleming. "Because of this mystique I got into jazz. I heard Charlie Parker and got his record Now Is The Time."
Fleming's twin brother played keyboards and together they hitch-hiked to Toronto. In Toronto, guitarist Ed Bickert and jazzer Jerry Toth were mainstays at the House of Hamborg a 24-hour coffee house. Fleming was playing trumpet and began on the vibes. "I had a few gigs with Tony Colacutt, a pianist," he remembers.
Since then, Fleming has played sax with London jazz groups Jack Kerouac's Dream and Norley, Fisk and Westmore. He's also a pianist in the Stratford Soul Singers, a gospel group performing Oct. 25 at the Central United Church in Stratford. He'll also appear with that group on Breakfast Television in November.
Tonight Fleming's group will appear at the Grad Club, performing Benny Golson tunes, some Horace Silver compositions and other jazz favourites. Other possibilities are JoySpring and Coltrane's "Giant Steps". Two excellent tunes Fleming composed are "Nightscapes" and "Back on the Street" which will also be performed.
Fleming describes his own playing as "hard be-bop on the cusp of be-bop and Coltrane." He also adds, "I might be unconsciously influenced by Coltrane. I love Cannonball Adderly he's my favourite on alto sax. Johnny Griffin is also my favorite. If he was a horse, he'd win the Queen's Plate."(Griffin is known for his super fast sax pyro technics).
Fleming is expected to show his paintings at the Grad Lounge. Some are of jazz musicians, southern sharecroppers and a baptism by the Mississippi River. The busy Fleming is also working on illustrations for a children's book written by Ben Heywood, the guitarist in his band.
In 1965, Heywood was playing pop hits by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in his band the unknowns. But while studying classical guitar in B.C., Heywood turned a musical corner. "I was 26 or 27 and I heard Jim Hall with Bill Evans on the record 'Undercurrent'," says Heywood. "I bought that record and Hall was the first guitarist I fell in love with. From there I listened to other jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Ed Bickert. Montgomery is the most melodic guitar player ever."
Heywood is a tasteful master of understatement, equally comfortable playing folk, blues, classical and jazz but improvisation will be the common element in today's performance. His style is an amalgamation of guitar legends Hall and Bickert.
Heywood has casually talked to jazz greats Lenny Breau and Oscar Peterson and jammed with Zoot Sims in 1980, an experience he remembers fondly. "He was a nice person and kind-hearted. Zoot was his real name," says Heywood. "People would come to him and ask him what his real name was."
Not only is Heywood a tasteful guitarist, he writes music and teaches. One of the trends Heywood sees while teaching is "an awful lot of young kids are caught up in technique playing fast and playing scales. It's hard for them to slow down and play melodically."
Heywood and his bandmates Steve Litman (bass) and Bert Hamer (drums) have plenty of technique and can play slowly which can often be more difficult than playing fast. Heywood urges emotion, taste and feel over strict speed.
"When it's all said and done, a fast gig can leave the listener with technique and no feeling. A good blues player can move you with a few notes but a fast player can leave you with nothing. Technique comes later. When you're beginning the emphasis should be on feeling."
Tonight's show begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Grad Club.