Friday, January 19, 2018

Ed Bickert: - The Views of Other Musicians

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“One of the many charms of Ed Bickert's guitar playing is that he can be enjoyed on so many levels. Bickert provides music that is seemingly simple, yet deceivingly complex - an amalgamation of swing and bop-based lines, tonicization, moving inner voices, chord substitution, and more.

Entire courses in music schools could be devoted to Bickert's use of passing chords, contrary motion, and deceptive resolution within his chord solos. Many of the voicings Bickert uses just don't get used by a lot of other guitarists, save perhaps in the music of fellow Canadian jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. In an age where, 40 years after the death of Wes Montgomery, most guitarists are still resorting to Wes' block-chord voicings in their solos, Bickert's more intricate approach to this style of playing is refreshing.

If a guitarist exists with a stronger command of "chordal playing" than Ed Bickert, I am not aware of him. Many of Bickert's chord voicings are tricky, and can only be played in one particular area on the neck in order to be logistically possible. In beginning the process of transcribing some of Bickert's music, I was immediately struck by his ability to imply four, five, or six-part chords with three-note voicings. After repeated listenings to numerous passages, I finally came to the conclusion that the fourth note I was often hearing in Bickert's chord voicings wasn't actually being played - it was simply being implied.

At the heart of Ed Bickert's style is one of the fundamental jazz concepts - tension and release. I've heard from people who have listened to Bickert's music and pronounced it "tension-free"... I've even heard the phrase "easy listening".
These are wildly misguided proclamations. The truth is Bickert's command of harmony is so masterful, he has resolved much of the tension he creates before people realize there was ever dissonance.”
- Dan Cross writing in

Richard Cook and Brian Morton reviewing three of Ed’s recordings on the Concord label in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Ed Bickert, I Wished On The Moon,  Concord CCD 4284

“Bickert's self-effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled hallad. This was one of the best of several Concord albums.  Although the music is rather too evenly modulated to sustain attention throughout, Bickert adds interest by choosing unhackneyed material and this disc in particular hasa fine program of rare standards.

Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

Bickert's subsequent records for the label continued the formula but, like so many other Concord artists, he inhabited the style so completely that the records took on a sp├ęcial elegance and grace.

Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414

The quartet with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky, though, is a little sharper, with 'Ah-Leu-Cha' pacifying the contrapuntalism of the playing without surrendering all of the bebop fizz which underlines it. Very agreeable.

Gene Lees, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz with John Reeves

Born: Hochfield, Manitoba, November 29, 1932

“Some time in the early 1970s, when I was living in Toronto, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond called me from New York. He had been asked to play a Toronto club and wanted to know what I thought. I urged him to do it.

‘But what will I do for a rhythm section?’ he asked. I told him to get a bass player named Don Thompson, either Terry Clarke or Jerry Fuller on drums, and a guitar player named Ed Bickert. "Oh yes," Paul said, "Jim Hall told me about him. Jim said he's the one guy who scares him if he walks into the room when Jim's playing."

Paul came, saw, and was conquered, and thereafter recorded a number of times with Ed, Don, and Jerry. In the liner notes to one of their albums, Paul wrote: "I find myself turning around ... to count the strings on [Bickert's] guitar . . . I'm reasonably sure that it's less than eighty-eight."

As it happened, Ed told Paul, when he was learning guitar in his home on the Canadian prairies he had listened to early 1950s broadcasts from San Francisco by the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond.

Ed is remarkable for the extraordinary technique that he uses in deceptively unprepossessing fashion. Because it is a fretted instrument, the guitar has inherent intonation problems. It is even a nuisance to tune. But Ed's intonation is so accurate that, according to members of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, the band tunes up to him.

Ed is taciturn. Usually he sits on the bandstand with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, taking in the world around him. But he can talk when he wants to, volubly and articulately. I once did an interview with him. Next day I told the guys in the Boss Brass, "You won't believe what I got on tape yesterday. An hour of Ed Bickert talking."

Since Desmond first stood there open-mouthed over Ed's playing, Ed has recorded with all sorts of major players and groups, including the Boss Brass, of which he was a founding member, Benny Carter, and Oscar Peterson. He has recorded with his own groups and toured extensively.”

Paul Desmond, insert notes to THE PAUL DESMOND QUARTET LIVE AT BOURBON STREET [A&M Records SP 850]

“I’ve been quoted - actually, enough times that I’m beginning to be sorry I ever brought the whole thing up - as wanting to get the alto to sound like a dry martini. I mention this now only because there are moments on these records which could justifiably be said to sound more like three dry martinis.

All part of the giddy euphoria of playing in a club again after years of concert.  Or, because of the musicians I was working with - Ed Bickert on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, Jerry Fuller on drums.

Jerry is a charter member of a unique and endangered species - a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive, intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment

Don of course is a walking miracle. Here are some things about him: he plays bass, somewhat reluctantly, if required. He plays piano in the manner of Keith Jarrett. He writes charts like an angel. (As a matter of fact, he looks a bit like a second cousin of Christ, and plays bass as if the family were a bit closer.) If you’re into space music and feel like sitting on a B minor chord for 45 minutes, he either swoops around the bottom register of the bass or flutters about like a giant butterfly trapped in a Stradivarius, whichever is most appropriate. And if you’re an old curmudgeon like me and feel like playing some old standards, he plays all the right changes. (In this case, also recording the proceedings with his other hand.) In all of the above situations, his solos are dependably, unbelievable.

Ed Bickert is unique. Chords, for instance. I play a sort of horn player’s amateur piano. Ten fingers, 88 keys. When I work with Ed, I find myself turning around several times a night to count the strings on his guitar. Even with my eyes closed I’m reasonably sure it’s less than 88. (Perhaps I should count his fingers more often.) My question, then, is 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. (Unlike some other musicians capable of this,
Ed doesn’t have it to beat you about the head and shoulders during his solo; the impossible chord occurs more often quietly in the background.)

(I realize, suddenly, that I’m violating one of my basic principles it’s dumb for liner notes to rave about the music, in view of the fact that you’ve presumably already bought the album . . . like those packages you bring home and the first thing you see when you open them is ‘CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU HAVE JUST ACQUIRED THE BEST CASSETTE RECORDER AVAILABLE!!! etc.)

Why I continue to ramble on in this fashion about the records is because I feel if I were you (and, incidentally, I am), I’d be curious about the people who played on them.

Jerry Fuller and me you probably know enough about for now. Don Thompson sounds clearly impossible as described earlier, but he is. Nothing seems to change that.

Ed Bickert, then, remains the mysterious figure in this group, and I’m not sure I know much more about him than you do. A picture of him would look a lot like the Marlboro Man (he smokes more than I do, which is impossible, and is much healthier, which is easy. Unless you have a motor-driven Nikon, it would be unlikely to find him without a cigarette heading towards either his face or his guitar, both dearly indestructible. [The cigarette, incidentally, is always a MAVERICK—a Canadian brand which, if it didn’t exist, Ed might have invented.) When he talks, which is not all that often (not that he’s anti-social; he just doesn’t waste words), he sounds surprisingly like Gary Cooper. He has four children (ages 14, 12, 10, 7 roughly, but don’t trust me - who knows what birthdays have roared through that hectic house even as I write this?), and shares the attendant chores with his frighteningly capable, disarmingly charming wife.

He grew up in a small town in British Columbia (do you begin to get the feeling that this album is actually a short novel with records artfully concealed among the pages?).

All I know about Ed’s home is that it’s on the western side of Canada (since both Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller, among many others, came from Vancouver, they must be doing something terribly right out there), which brings us to a very personal and slightly eerie coincidence.

During the same period (early 1950s) that Jimmy Lyons, a San Francisco disc jockey at the time, later the founder of the Monterey Festival, was helping Dave Brubeck and me get out of town, Jimmy’s show was bouncing nightly from many ghostly Canadian mountain-tops.  Fortunately, the show got through to Ed Bickert each night as he was figuring out what to do with the guitar.

It took us long enough, Lord knows, but I’m glad we finally got together.

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

“Edward Isaac Bickert is never one to blow his own horn — figuratively, he's one of the most modest and unassuming men in jazz. But literally —he blows up a storm when needed. Just listen. The pace is set in the opener. Duke Ellington's Band Call. From the first chord you know you are in the hands of a master guitarist.

Bickert is content to remain in his native Canada so fame and top American musicians usually have to come and seek him out, which they have done Among them is his special guest on four of the numbers here, pianist Dave McKenna.

Ed and Dave have a lot in common, though not build — Ed is wiry and compact, Dave full blown and b-i-g. They are both on the laconic side; neither is given to boisterous behavior; except on guitar and piano. They both learned their instruments early, Bickert as a schoolboy in British Columbia's Okanagan valley, McKenna in New England (born in Woonsocket, R.I., weaned in Boston) and they belonged to musical families: Ed played in a family band with his fiddler father and pianist mum while Dave's dad was a drummer and his mother a pianist.

The other members of the group are also Canadians in much demand around the world: Toronto bassist Neil Swainson, a favorite of George Shearing following in the fingersteps of Don Thompson, and drummer Terry Clarke (bom in Vancouver, sometime of Toronto, sometime New York) who has played with everyone from John Coltrane to the Fifth Dimension. They all know each other musically inside out and the empathy is stunning.”

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414.

“When I called Ed Bickert about this session he was on the top of a ladder. ‘Home maintenance,’ he explained in his loquacious way, ‘I keep close to home.’ It's almost as hard to get him out of the country as it is to get him to string more than half a dozen words together. But when it comes to stringing music, that's another matter, and plenty of top musicians would like to overcome his extreme modesty and homebody ways.

Lorne Lofsky, however, caught the phone on the first ring. This brisk, keen young Canadian guitarist is just waiting to grab the next chance to hit the road, and he'll chatter freely about his ambitions, his love of travel, his musical adventures.

So there's the contrast: the smooth, mature, Bickert, oozing experience (listen, he made a record with Duke Ellington in 1967) and the younger, adventurous, crisp-chording Lofsky. But they match well. In fact, musically, they've been hanging out for five years, playing club dates in Toronto with the same two guys on this recording, bassist Neil Swainson and veteran drummer Jerry Fuller.

So it's a made-in-Canada date: a quartet of Canadian musicians jamming in the comfortable Toronto studio of Phil Sheridan, the engineer to call north of the 49th parallel. "In fact it was very comfortable—no being isolated behind baffles and things," said Ed. …

This is a recording to get you down off a ladder, too; forget the chores and stay home awhile, with Ed and Lorne.”

Donald Elfman insert notes to Like Someone In Love: Paul Desmond Quartet [Telarchive CD-83319]

“Listening to the playing of the late Paul Desmond might be likened to the experience of watching a lovely leaf being wafted in a gentle breeze on a clear and beautiful day. Thoroughly individual alto saxophonist who rose to fame through his work with the Dave  Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and 1960s, plays all the parts in the above metaphor. He had a clear and beautiful tone and played lightly spinning, drifting melodic lines that, in their simplicity, revealed colors that were personal and individual

Cannonball Adderley, who was at one point was a rival of Paul's in the various polls and whose robust gospel-drenched playing  was worlds apart once said: ‘He is a profoundly beautiful player.’ Writer Nat Hentoff said. "He could put you in a trance, catch you in memory and desire, make you forget the garlic and sapphires in the mud."

The Jazz world came to know Paul Desmond through the hugely popular Dave Brubeck Quartet. He was a quiet and unassuming man, brilliant, witty, curious, but never particularly eager for the role of star. … After the dissolution of the Brubeck group, Paul played rarely, usually only to work with someone he admired or to help someone out. One of his few ventures outside New York was to Toronto to play at a club called Bourbon Street. There he met and developed a fruitful relationship with the players who grace the performances on this album.[Ed Bickert, guitar, Don Thompson, bass and Jerry Fuller, drums.]

He called Jerry Fuller "a charter member of a unique and endangered species, a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment."

Bassist Don Thompson who is now a "regular" in jazz performance and recording was, in 1975, more or less a Canadian treasure who, said Desmond, was "a walking miracle." (He said of Desmond, "Paul was one of the great artists in jazz. One of the most pure melody players, probably, of all time. Playing with him was much more of a challenge than many would guess.")

Ed Bickert is still one of the most thoughtful, sensitive and quietly swinging jazz guitarists. Desmond called him "unique," relishing his extraordinary chords and chord sequences, his melodic and beautifully paced solos, and his unprepossessing manner. …”

Gene Lees, insert notes to Pure Desmond [CBS Associated ZK 40806]

“Ed Bickert is one of the most successful studio musicians in Canada. Legend, and I believe it, has it that he grew up on a farm in the western prairie province of Saskatchewan, which is at least as flat as Indiana. He somehow acquired a guitar, and taught himself to play it, analyzing the harmony of Stan Kenton records by ear. Which may explain his incredible harmonic hearing.

Bickert is a taciturn, soft-spoken, very retiring man. I think they'd been playing together about four days before he and Paul bom got up the nerve to say hello. Bickert is a richly imaginative, always tasteful, and technically accomplished jazz soloist. He is also a thoughtful accompanist, acutely sensitive to the needs of another player. Desmond was thrilled by him, and at the end of their two weeks of working together, ne rushed back to New York with tapes of their playing to sell Creed Taylor [producer at CBS Records at the time] on the idea of bringing Bickert in to do an album. As the preparations for it were made, he said, "My God, to play with Ed, I'm going to do nothing but practice scales for the next month."

I was not at the session, I'm sorry to say. (It gave rise to one of the better Desmondisms: Paul said Creed had been "so busy for two weeks that the top of his head was spinning like a police car light.") I wonder how they all communicated, since Creed is fully as reticent and shy as Paul and Ed Bickert. [Maybe recording engineer] Rudy Van Gelder semaphored.

The result is this album, about which Paul is very pleased, which is a novelty, since he spends most of his fine devising newer and more persuasive causes for self-derogation. ‘I consider it Ed's album, really,’ he said. ‘He's never recorded in the United States before, and I wanted people to hear him.’”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles hopes that if it has accomplished one thing with this two part feature on Ed is that those of you who have not heard the accomplished guitar playing of Ed Bickert will be inclined to seek it out.

The following is but one example of the musical splendor of Bickert in combination with Desmond. Thankfully, there are many more awaiting your discovery as most of this music is still available for purchase in both analog and digital formats.

The following audio only file features Ed along with Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums on Charles Lloyd’s Third Floor Richard.

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