When Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7th, I was thoroughly shocked. After all, he had just released You Want It Darker (his 14th recording) and, like David Bowie, was still making important, high-quality art.
Memories came flooding back to me...I’d met him several times - but it was the first meeting that I’ll never forget. I was in my mid-20s at a press conference in Zurich and I went to the mic, dressed in black with silver hair, cut short and just slightly dishevelled like his, and said "People tell me I look like you. What do you say to that?" He leaned into the mic and with a deadpan whisper answered: "People must love you very, very much!"
He once told me, “I want to shake the hand and personally thank anyone who covers my songs,” but this was years before he was quoted about his song "Hallelujah," saying: "I think it's a good song, but too many people sing it." Of course, this signature song reached the Billboard Top 100 in the week following his death (32 years after it was first released) with 33,000 downloads and almost 4M streams.
I like that his song "Jazz Police" contained ambiguous imagery and that my jazz friends have spent hours debating its meaning. People always want to dissect his lyrics and find autobiographical proof to back up any theories, but in this case, Cohen explained the lyrics himself once. He said he was working with a fusion group called Passenger and that they would often sneak jazz riffs into his music…and he would call them on it. I am certain it wasn’t because he didn't like it – more likely to prove he could recognize a flatted fifth. Some might even say he was the Jazz Police at one point.
The line "Jazzer, drop your axe - it's the Jazz Police," takes the typical notion of people policing jazz and turning it around to mean the police want to eliminate jazz, not control it. I loved that he tossed in references to John Paul Getty (uptight businessman) and JP Getty II (basically a hippy in comparison) to illustrate those against jazz (free thought) and those for it.
And turtle meat? I know in many south seas islands, it's believed that turtle meat gives a man power and I imagine Cohen meant he'd need all his strength to keep his music true, or, in the bigger picture, to remain free. While Cohen never claimed to be a jazz artist, it’s not surprising he’s inspired so many musicians and vocalists with his music and poetry.
When it comes to jazz, favourites include “Dance Me To The End Of Love” by Madeleine Peyroux, “Take This Waltz” from Patricia O’Callahan, “I’m Your Man” by DK Ibomeka, and “Suzanne” by Roberta Flack, with guitar from Bucky Pizzarelli.
In a couple weeks, JAZZ.FM91 will air a Toronto tribute to Leonard Cohen that features jazz versions of many of his biggest hits. The Leonard Cohen Tribute will air at 7pm on December the 8th and feature performances by Dione Taylor, Ron Sexsmith, Lori Cullen and Steven Page. The MD is Aaron Davis and anyone can listen via jazz.fm, or 91.1fm (there are also free apps for iPhones and Androids) but if you want to be in the audience you’ll have to be on guard Saturday morning when Ross Porter and Brad Barker kick off the on-air Fund Drive. Anyone donating $175 or more (annually) to this not-for-profit charity will receive a full tax receipt and a ticket to this exclusive show.