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.