Ottawa jazz musician Keith Hartshorn-Walton can play the bass, piano, and organ, but his musical true love is the tuba. He has a Doctorate in Music (D. Mus) in jazz tuba from McGill University (yes, that is as rare as it seems) and he's brought his tuba to many different musical pairings in the last decade, including deep sounds with Safe Low Limit, French jazz and chanson with Mélanie E., and even Dixieland jazz.
Last year, he organized a tribute show to his tuba mentor, Howard Johnson, playing many of Johnson's compositions and music Johnson made famous on tuba. This Saturday, he's back with a second tribute, this time to what was likely the first jazz album to feature the tuba as a melodic, soloing voice in the front line alongside the trumpet.
In 1959, renowned jazz trumpeter Clark Terry recorded the album Top And Bottom Brass with tuba player Don Butterfield [listen on YouTube]. Butterfield was the go-to session tuba player in jazz at that time, appearing on releases by Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk, and Dizzy Gillespie. As Hartshorn-Walton describes it, “the session had a decidedly bop and west coast feel, with innovative combinations of the two instruments.”
At Record Runner Rehearsal Studios this Saturday, Walton's quintet, with Montrealer Bill Mahar on trumpet and flugelhorn, Peter Hum on piano, Dave Schroeder on bass, and Michel Delage on drums, will play Hartshorn-Walton's recreation of the entire album, plus other jazz pieces from that period with a similar sound.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor OttawaJazzScene.ca McGregor interviewed Hartshorn-Walton this week about the concert and his love of this album.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What inspired you to do a tribute to this specific album?
Keith Hartshorn-Walton: Well, it goes back to the Doctorate. I was just digging for any hidden treasures of when the tuba turned up, in anything other than doing bass lines. And I came across this album. I read about it a few times and managed to get hold of it. Although this was in 2010, so it wasn't on YouTube. I had to go on a McGill University online service to hear it.
So I was always intrigued that there was this early jazz tuba album that stood on its own pretty much. It wasn't followed up. It was a one-off that Clark Terry did with Don Butterfield. And it just had these great arrangements and I thought, “I’d love to perform this one day” and it was in the back of my head to maybe perform it. And when the time came to do another show at The Record Runner, “Well, what should I do?” And I thought I’d like to invite a guest, and maybe I should do that Top and Bottom Brass I’ve been talking about forever. That’s why I decided to do it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What was your reaction when you heard the album? What did you like about it?
Hartshorn-Walton: It was great to hear the melodic tuba playing, and even taking some solos as well. Clark Terry is amazing. He’s just one of those players who stands alone. Every note just sounds perfect.
I got to play with Clark Terry once. When I was back in Winnipeg [in the late 90s] there was a high school all-star jazz band I was part of in my last year of high school. We got to play with Louie Bellson [as a guest] in this high school band. It was an amazing experience. And then a year or two after they had Clark Terry as their guest. And the director called me and a few other people and asked if we’d do a couple of tunes with him as a feature during the concert. So I got to play some songs with Clark Terry!
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You mentioned that this album mentioned the tuba as a melodic, soloing voice in the front line. Was this the first time that this had happened?
Hartshorn-Walton: I was thinking it might be. The only other one that comes close is an album that Red Callender did called Speak Low, but even that one the tuba, what it was doing was pretty low... ballads, mostly. This is the first time I thought anybody had taken the solos and played the melody like that. I think it was one of the first ones.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Why do you think the trumpet and tuba work well together, in this album?
Hartshorn-Walton: It’s a little of the contrast I think. The more I listened to this album the more I kept thinking about the Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker stuff [baritone sax and trumpet]. Because you have the high and low playing unison together or playing harmony or playing off of each other. I think it’s the high and low stuff that works. But when they’re both brass [like tuba and trumpet] they’re going to articulate the same way and phrase the same way. So that’s the thing that really makes it!
On the blues stuff, they can just match each other. It’s really cool. They're just … one is four times as large as the other, but other than that, they’re pretty much the same instrument.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I got about two-thirds of the way through the album listening to it on YouTube. I liked “Top and Bottom Brass”, and “Blues for Etta”. Those two certainly showed the interesting contrast and the way they could fit together.
Hartshorn-Walton: I think that’s it. I think it’s that they’re in the same family but it’s the contrasting high and low is always fun. It certainly draws the ear. It’s a unique sound.
And there’s the surprising agility displayed on that record by Don Butterfield, some of the really fast licks he plays. I've been practicing and man, that’s (laughing) some crazy stuff to play there.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I noticed most of the album was Clark Terry’s originals and I was wondering if these were specifically written for tuba.
Hartshorn-Walton: I don’t know. There’s precious little information out there. And of course they’re both gone. The only tune on there that I could find that turned up again was “Top and Bottom Brass”. There’s a big band recording somewhere with Clark Terry playing that tune. But they’re not published anywhere. I had to transcribe everything. Nothing was available.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: And certainly, “Mili-terry” has got to be one of the worst puns I’ve ever heard of.
Hartshorn-Walton: Yes. I’ve got to think, and just listening to the session too, it was just one of those things that was rattled off in an afternoon. They probably didn’t get a chance to make many retakes either, judging from [how] some of the stuff is not as tight as it could have been.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Yes, it was recorded over only two days. Did the album have much impact?
Hartshorn-Walton: Again, I think it’s more of a novelty or curiosity. I never heard anybody talk about it except for me (laughing). Reading about it was about it. If you look it up on allmusic.com they just say it’s unique and that’s it. They don't have much more to say about it. They say that it’s interesting that the tuba is given the equal voice and even solo space, which is super-rare and wouldn’t be seen for a while.
Tuba players obviously would know about it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So it would be part of the canon for them?
Yes. I was talking to Howard Johnson about this and he mentioned another record that Don Butterfield did. So Howard was listening to these things when he was growing up and waiting to get his chance to join in. It might have caught the ear of some tuba players. But other than that, it was probably an inside baseball kind of thing.
Don Butterfield, you look up his discography, he turns up on a lot of small orchestra recordings that were done after Birth of the Cool. People imitated Birth of the Cool, they would get these nine-piece, ten-piece groups, and you would always have a tuba and maybe a French horn. And Don Butterfield turns up on a lot of them. And Howard told me a story, when he was talking to Don about another one of these recordings he did, and asking him about a particular track. The tuba players had the ear for it but I think other than that I don’t think it made much of an impact.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Tell me about Don Butterfield. What do you like about his playing?
Hartshorn-Walton: I just love his agility and the fact that when he plays the jazz straight he knows how to phrase. The language is being spoken directly.
I’m assuming this [music] was all arranged by Clark Terry. I don’t know how to confirm it. The written stuff, the stuff that has obviously been written, they match perfectly. I love his agility and just his sound. It’s a very beautiful sound. Trying to reproduce something makes you really understand what went into it, and just how lovely he sounds when he plays “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”. It’s just gorgeous.
It makes you wonder how many other players didn’t get a chance to be recorded or heard. Maybe they would do things in rehearsals and we didn’t get to hear it, but this one happened to be recorded.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How long have you been working on this show?
Hartshorn-Walton: I conceived of it and started calling people up in the summer and I actually sat down to write the music in September. I had to wait for the girls to go back to school before I had time to sit down and write it all out. I had everything sent out to everybody about a month ago, and I’ve been playing it ever since.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Was it very laborious doing the parts or was it straight forward?
Hartshorn-Walton: It was just a joy. I really enjoy that sitting and listening. Jazz musicians I know, we like transcribing stuff. I was just at the computer 20 minutes here, half an hour there. It was a very enjoyable process.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You’re going to do the entirety of the album at the show, right?
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What other tunes are you going to be playing at the concert?
Hartshorn-Walton: Actually, we’re going to do a couple from Birth of the Cool. The more I listen to it, Top and Bottom Brass really has that West Coast Cool flavour I think. That’s again why it makes me think of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. It’s these baroque-like counterpoint lines in it. It seems to me to to be coming from that cool tradition.
So when we were talking about what other songs we would do, Bill mentioned that he had all the Birth of the Cool tracks and he ended up rearranging two of them for us. So there will be small group versions of two songs from Birth of the Cool. Plus the idea of the tuba and trumpet got people interested and Peter Hum has rewritten one of his tunes, “Big Lou”, for us. There are maybe a few things that have yet to be decided but I think we’ve pretty well much got it all.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you pick the musicians for this show?
Hartshorn-Walton: The first person I asked was Bill Mahar, because we played this spring with Rob Frayne’s band and I knew him years ago when I went to McGill because he’s always been teaching there. He was one of the first person I noticed that would use tuba players in his bands, whether it was Streetnix or whether it was Altsys, there was a tuba in his band. So I knew he was a friend of the instrument.
We just really hit it off in the spring! We were reconnected and I thought I’d really like to do something with him in the future. And this [concert] just presented itself as a great opportunity. And also because he plays the flugelhorn so nicely. And I think if you’re going to do this Clark Terry stuff, you have to be a flugelhorn person.
Originally I wanted to have the same group that did my first Record Runner show last year. That was John Geggie, Michel Delage, and Peter Hum. John wasn’t available and I ended up looking around for some other bass players. I ended up with Dave Schroeder who was also in the Howard Johnson Tribute show last year.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So people you know, people you’ve played with before.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What do you like about Bill’s sound on trumpet?
Hartshorn-Walton: I love his agility and the way he gets around. There’s a sweetness to his whole range, and just the ideas that seem to flow out of it. He’s a great player.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Was he a bit floored trying to recreate Clark Terry?
Hartshorn-Walton: No, he hasn’t indicated that at all. I think he’s looking forward to it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So far you’ve done the tribute to Howard Johnson, and now you’re doing one to Don Butterfield. Are there other tuba players you’d like to do a tribute to?
Hartshorn-Walton: Yes! Another one I have in mind to do is Ray Draper.
He’s the guy in the 60s who did albums with John Coltrane, Max Roach, and Jackie McLean. He was the hard bop tuba player. He was really young and he did all these albums and had some severe technical limitations, but again it was a bit of a novelty that the guy was playing tuba and did a bunch of records. He had a tough life, and he disappeared as quickly as he showed up. But I would love to do a tribute to him at some point, and all his stuff. That would be with a saxophone player.
That will be the next one I have in mind.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: In other projects, you’re going to be back in Barrhaven at the Anabia Cupcakery Cafe on November 9
Hartshorn-Walton: That’s true. We have that coming up with Richard Page. I’m looking forward to that. I really want to hear him play Dixieland clarinet. We’re going to have Craig Kennedy on the banjo, and myself on the tuba.
Top and Bottom Brass can be heard at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, Unit 6, 159 Colonnade Road South (between Prince of Wales Drive and Merivale Road [map]) on Saturday, October 27, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets are $25, and are available on the Record Runner website and at the door. The hall seats 35. OC Transpo route 89 stops by the building.
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