Up North, They’re Celebrating Ed Bickert

Ed Bickert will observe his 80th birthday on November 29, but some of his admirers are starting the celebration early. They will honor the guitarist, one of Canada’s foremost jazz artists, Tuesday evening, November 6, at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto. Among the celebrants will be members of the music’s Canadian elite; Don Thompson, Lorne Lofsky, Mike Murley, Neil Swainson, Terry Clarke, Steve Wallace and many others. Veteran CBC jazz broadcaster Katie Malloch will host the event. The network will record the festivities and broadcast them nationwide on Bickert’s birthday.

Bickert’s decades of work with Moe Koffman, Rob McConnell, Phil Nimmons and as one of Canada’s most reliable studio musicians earned him great admiration. In the 1970s Paul Desmond—at the urging of his longtime guitar colleague Jim Hall—began using Bickert as a sideman and recording with him. The guitarist moved into the international spotlight as a member of what Desmond enjoyed calling “The Canadian Quartet,” which also included Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clarke or Jerry Fuller on drums. In his liner notes for The Paul Desmond Quartet Live, recorded at Bourbon Street in Toronto, here’s what Desmond wrote about Bickert:

When I work with Ed, I find myself turning around several times a night to count the strings on his guitar… how does he get to play chorus after chorus of chord sequences which could not possibly sound better on a keyboard? Or, in some cases, written for orchestra? This all becomes more impressive when I play a tape of Ed’s for a guitar player and suddenly realize, between the hypnotized gaze of fascination and the flicker of disbelief, that what I had cherished as a musical phrase is also totally impossible to play on guitar.

When I was writing Take Five: The Public and Private Live of Paul Desmond, I talked with Bickert about the experience from his viewpoint. He and Thompson used the same adjectives, “loose,” “easy-going.”

“We sort of jelled right away and it felt really good,” Bickert said. “The music that Paul played was always melodic and pleasant, as opposed to the angry fireworks kind of things that a lot of people were doing. That suited me just fine. Paul was such an easy-going person, and it was contagious for the rest of us going along that route.”

Bickert retired a few years ago, but not before he made this European festival appearance with bassist Dave Young and drummer Terry Clarke.

While we’re at it, here’s another beautiful Bickert performance, with Don Thompson, bass, and Claude Ranger, drums. Thanks to Ted O’Reilly for alerting me to this. The video quality is a bit dodgy. The sound and the playing are not.

For more about Desmond, Bickert, The Canadian Quartet and a strange recording episode, go here, then here. Finally, Bickert’s colleague Steve Wallace has a heartfelt tribute—with videos—on the CBC website.

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  1. says

    Those interested in Ed Bickert will want to have a listen to a “new” recording Ed did with Steve Wallace and Mike Murley. (New in the sense of previously unreleased.) You can hear it streaming Monday November 5 at CBC Music, on the jazz page. (cbcmusic.ca/jazz) The album will officially be released in December.

    The concert that Doug mentions will be broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s Canada Live program on November 29, and we’ll have a web feature that day as well, featuring many of the guitarists who are playing the concert talking about Ed.

    And last, but certainly not least, starting Tuesday November 6th on the website you can read a great piece Steve Wallace wrote about his experiences playing with Ed. It’s a kind of portrait of Ed, written by someone who played with him a great deal over the years.

  2. says

    What a great post – thanks! I love your book on Paul Desmond – it is definitive.
    When I met Ed for coffee a few weeks ago, he mentioned he had been to the book launch. :-)

    Very best,
    Jennifer “Red” Thorpe, producer of Ed Bickert At 80 – A Jazz Celebration

  3. says

    I first heard Bickert on those ideal pairings with Desmond. Love his work with Dave McKenna too. Credit Carl Jefferson at Concord and John Norris at Sackville for doing valuable public service in recording Ed. I’ll forward this to Bickert acolytes around town, and feature his music in Jazz a la Mode on the 29th.

    Thanks, Li, for the CBC link.