Obituaries, Jan. 12, 2023

Chris (Christopher) Daniels, the founder, leader, and bassist of the Climax Jazz Band has died, at age 84.

The Climax Jazz Band, which he founded in Toronto in 1971, is still going strong. Craig Morrison notes that "their style is a kind of dixieland based on the British trad jazz movement of the 1950s, and their performances and recordings show them to be topflight organization with a vast repertoire, delivered with great drive and verve, excellent musicianship and ensemble cohesion - a joyful, upbeat and fun band."

The British-born Daniels was born in Cheshire, England, and was a self-described “troubadour, skiffler, bass player." The Climax Jazz Band was renowned for its long-standing residency at The Chick’N’Deli (now SmokeShow) in Toronto, but it also made club and festival appearances at home and abroad, including at the Sounds of Mardi Gras festival in Fresno, California.

Last year, Daniels traced the history of his group in this blogpost, one for a meeting of the Toronto Musicians' Association: "It’s an honour to receive TMA’s Fifty Years Membership badge — one which I’d like to share with all the guys who’ve performed with the Co-op Climax Jazz Band since May 1971, when we began at Albert’s Hall in Toronto’s Ye Olde Brunswick House.

Climax joined the association in 1972, persuading owners Albert and Morris Nightingale to sign up (after a two-week strike by the band and our fans). We played six nights a week until moving on in 1974. Over the years we’ve performed at Canadian festivals, sporting, company, political and fund-raising events, hosted jazz stars at DJ’s Tavern in the Hydro Building, made many recordings, T.V. appearances and annual Moonlight Jazz cruises on the Trillium Ferry Boat. The Chick’N’Deli (now SmokeShow) has been our home base since 1983.

Toronto City Council helped put us on the world map by granting $5,000 towards sending Climax, Downchild, Cliff Bastien’s and Jim Galloway’s band to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1972. 

Climax chartered DC9s to perform and take fans to the festival from 1974 to 1984, leading to invitations to festivals in the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Japan and 20-plus jazz cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska and up the Amazon to Manaus.

Thanks to TMA and federation staff for navigating our way through U.S. Homeland Security regulations to play multiple times at festivals in 28 U.S. states. We’ve made lots of friends representing Canada in our travels: OVER A MILLION MILES, 1.6 million kilometres. That’s why we like to call ourselves ‘Canada’s Jazz Ambassadors."

On Facebook, bandmate Thumbs Hughes offered this tribute: "It is with a heavy heart I must tell you of the passing of Chris Daniels. Founder and Leader of The Climax Jazz Band and a really good friend and mentor to many. I met Chris when I was 6 years old, my mum would take us kids down to see The Climax play at Harbourfront. I considered it an honour when he asked me to play with Climax at the Dutch Pavilion at a 'Caravan' gig over 20 years ago. Chris took me to Fresno with the band just a few years ago and was making plans to return now that travel restrictions had been lifted.

"Chris always had a story, he had a quick wit and was always super caring and helpful to young players that were interested in the 'Trad' Jazz style. He told me he wanted to form a skiffle group again as he had in the UK many years ago. Chris missed his first gig in 40 years when he didn't show up for our performance last Sunday. A Legend has left the building. RIP Christopher Daniels." Sources: Craigmorrison.com, Facebook

Michael Snow, an internationally lauded Canadian painter, sculptor, filmmaker and jazz musician, died on Jan. 5, at age 94, from a respiratory infection.

The Globe and Mail observed that "renowned artist Michael Snow mixed conceptualist coups with witty populism in his long career. Millions of Canadians know the art of Michael Snow. His work is familiar to anyone who has walked under the glass arcade of the Eaton Centre in Toronto and admired the flock of Canada geese overhead or anyone who has laughed at the figures of gesticulating fans on the facade of the Rogers Centre. And yet, if Snow is a figure of renown in the international art world, it is not for these accessible sculptures but for Wavelength, an experimental film of 1966 that featured a single 45-minute zoom shot. If Snow can be called the leading Canadian artist of the post-Second World War period, it is because he enjoyed the widest international reputation."

“Michael Snow was undoubtedly the most influential postwar Canadian artist,” Adelina Vlas, head of curatorial affairs at the Power Plant art gallery in Toronto, told The Globe. “One can hardly imagine the history of Canadian contemporary visual arts without his work, nor can one imagine the history of structuralist film, improvisational music or artists' books without Snow’s brilliant and game-changing contributions.”

A truly multi-media artist, Snow made a mark on the Toronto jazz scene as a stride pianist of real skill and then had a wider impact as the co-founder of the CCMC. The CCMC was founded by Peter Anson, Graham Coughtry, Larry Dubin, Greg Gallagher, Nobuo Kubota, Allan Mattes, Casey Sokol, Bill Smith and Michael Snow. Three of the founding members (Graham Coughtry, Nobuo Kubota, and Michael Snow) were members of Artists' Jazz Band, a seminal Toronto free-jazz ensemble. CCMC's music is described as "based on 'improvisation-as-composition' and is inspired by free jazz."

In 1976, the group founded The Music Gallery as an artist-run centre where they performed twice weekly. The group was formally associated with The Music Gallery until 2000. Members of the group were also founders of the Music Gallery Editions record label, which issued CCMC's first six albums. The ensemble remains active to the present day, though through its various incarnations, with Snow (on piano and synthesizer) the group's only constant member. The group currently performs as a quartet of Snow (piano/Octave Cat synthesizer), John Oswald (alto sax), Paul Dutton (sound singing, mouth harp) and John Kamevaar (electronic percussion/electroacoustic sounds).

Snow is credited with striking a blow for artists' rights via his famed Eaton Centre installation of Canada Geese. During Christmas 1982, the Centre festooned the geese with seasonal red ribbons, much to Snow's horror. He sued, claiming this"cheapened and altered" his work without his permission, and Snow won the case, creating an important legal precedent.

Upon Snow's passing, The Music Gallery in Toronto offered this tribute in a statement: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of artist, musician and CCMC co-founder Michael Snow. Michael’s contribution to audio and visual art in Toronto, in Canada and worldwide is tremendous. With CCMC, Michael gave the Music Gallery its name and its fundamental ethos. We extend condolences to his family and artistic collaborators and will mark his passing more fully in the near future."

Younger musicians and artists impacted by his work quickly responded on social media. On Facebook, composer/trombonist Tom Walsh posted this tribute: "Michael Snow was a legend who created monumental public sculptures/installations that brought joy to any&all. A legend who loved to improvise freely without any boundaries. A legend who created new dialogues in film & video & art. Also, a pianist who had some serious stride piano chops. And a man who had the sweetest sense of humour, who was generous & humble & eager to learn. The epitome of a "Canadian Artist". I played with him three times. Every time was tender & violent; perfect & flawed. Every accident was an opportunity; every sweet moment had wolves waiting. And yet there we were, doing it, & having fun."

Toronto artist and musician Kurt Swinghammer offered this FB tribute: "A couple of nights ago I pulled out the Michael Snow album I bought 45 years ago at Art Metropole with the idea that it would look great hung on the wall by our stereo. Such a radical record and a super cool cover design by a true Art Hero. I was stunned and saddened to hear he died yesterday, but also a bit freaked out by the coincidence.

"Reflecting on all the work of his that I absorbed, and was inspired by, or challenged and confused by, the stuff that made me laugh out loud, his omnipresent Walking Woman that I paid homage to with a series of painted cardboard cut-outs called Standing Man, having my teenage mind blown seeing Wavelength at the AGO, watching him play with the CCMC at the old Music Gallery on St Patrick and completely expanding the concept of what music could be. Thanking my lucky stars and being quite star-struck meeting him a few times."

Toronto jazz artist Diane Roblin shared this: "I first met Michael Snow back in the 70's when I played with the Artist Jazz Band.....a great collaboration....and then 35 years later we reconnected and started giving two grand piano concerts at Array....we did 10 performances over 5 years!! (thanks to Mickle Lynn)....he was the most amazing musician...we had an amazing pianistic and musical connection...I am so grateful for this relationship and will truly miss this amazing artist, friend and his wonderful laughter full of glee."

Veteran concert promoter Gary Topp shared this tribute on Facebook: "Michael Snow was an 'artist' of the nth degree. He had no boundaries. His iconic Walking Women in the film New York Eye and Ear Control (Albert Ayler soundtrack), and, a few years later, in person at Expo 67 were my first exposures to him. I wasn’t sold on everything he did but what more can an artist ask for? His installations can be seen in Toronto's public spaces like the Eaton (Flight Stop) and Rogers Centres (The Audience). Michael Snow Lane lives on in his honour at Cottingham West and Avenue Road. RIP Mr. Snow."

Toronto art curator Jim Shedden (on FB): "No artist has taught me as much as he did. I was showing Wavelength at Berkeley (BAMPFA) in October, and I had such an incredible experience. This was was probably the 20th time seeing this film, but it remains the most powerful and persuasive reminder that cinema can be a phenomenological experience (eyes, ears, brain) rather than a narrative or didactic entertainment. Snow’s films have shaped my world and my understanding of what art can be and do.

I first encountered Michael’s work 40 years ago (at a screening of So Is This), and then I got to know him personally 5 years later. Since then, I seem to have always had a Snow project, collaboration or other encounters on the go. Screenings, premieres and film retrospectives, the International Experimental Film Congress, serving on the Music Gallery/CCMC board of directors together, and several books together including My Mother’s Collection of Photographs, which will have been his final completed project I presume. It was such an honour to work with Michael on such a poignant and ambitious venture.

"And then there’s the Michael Snow Project, a very intense collaboration: I was one of the four curators, led the AGO public programs and coordinated the city-wide programming, co-wrote and edited the film book. All of that led to my documentary on Snow (co-directed by Alexa Frances Shaw), a naive project, but it seems to get better with time   Three of my absolute favourite books in the world were edited and designed by Snow: Michael Snow/A Survey (1970), Cover to Cover, and Music/Sound.

Sources: Toronto StarThe Globe and Mail, Wikipedia

 

International

Jeff Beck (born Geoffrey Beck), an English guitarist and vocalist considered a genuine rock legend, died on Jan. 10, at age 78.

 Yesterday (Jan. 11), Beck's publicist, MAD Ink PR, issued this statement: "On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family asks for privacy while they process this tremendous loss."

The Guardian notes that "Beck rose to fame with the Yardbirds before fronting the Jeff Beck Group and making forays into the jazz-fusion sound he pioneered.

"Often described as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Beck – whose fingers and thumbs were famously insured for £7m – was known as a keen innovator. He pioneered jazz-rock, experimented with fuzz and distortion effects and paved the way for heavier subgenres such as psych rock and heavy metal over the course of his career. He was an eight-time Grammy winner, recipient of the Ivor Novello for outstanding contribution to British music, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of the Yardbirds.

Beck's musical peers and many of those influenced by his work rushed to pay tribute. On Twitter, Jimmy Page wrote, “The six-stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique is unique. His imagination apparently limitless. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans.”

“With the death of Jeff Beck we have lost a wonderful man and one of the greatest guitar players in the world,” Mick Jagger wrote. “We will all miss him so much.”

Gene Simmons called it “heartbreaking news … no one played guitar like Jeff. Please get ahold of the first two Jeff Beck Group albums and behold greatness. RIP.”

“Now Jeff has gone, I feel like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him,” Ronnie Wood tweeted.

Ozzy Osbourne tweeted, “I can’t express how saddened I am to hear of Jeff Beck’s passing. What a terrible loss for his family, friends & his many fans. It was such an honour to have known Jeff and an incredible honour to have had him play on my most recent album.”

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour wrote, “I am devastated to hear the news of the death of my friend and hero Jeff Beck, whose music has thrilled and inspired me and countless others for so many years … He will be forever in our hearts.”

Johnny Marr called him “a pioneer and one of the all-time greats”, while The Kinks’ Dave Davies tweeted, “I’m heartbroken he looked in fine shape to me. Playing great, and he was in great shape. I’m shocked and bewildered … it doesn’t make sense I don’t get it. He was a good friend and a great guitar player.”

Robert Plant's contribution: "Jeff always appeared timeless, ever evolving .. He embraced project after project with limitless energy and enthusiasm.. He surfaced in an extraordinary time..he took his place side by side with the virtuosos of the period .. his mates. The scene was on fire, he introduced a cool template moving from Yardbird to Bolero to Truth, Beck Ola with Rod the perfect foil…the singer and guitarist syndrome..plenty of sparks…great results...

He cooked up magic through all the passing eras, always up for the next, unknown, unlikely collision, back in time to homage Cliff Gallup, forward to Johnny Depp. His gift was enormous. He was funny, challenging and eager. My feelings are with Sandra today.. RP."

Canadian guitar ace and top rock producer David Bendeth offered this on FB: "Today, we mourn the passing of the best guitar player in the world. Jeff changed the guitar, made it cry, and made it sing. Thank you Jeff for every single note, and every era of your career. What may have been one of the best days of my life was hearing about Jeff recording one of my songs, I remember almost passing out when told the news. He was and still is my hero, my favourite. Jeff, you gave us all the most incredible gift of soulful playing, and a sound no one else could ever create. Your legend will live on forever in everyones heart. Today we lost one of the most innovative musicians that ever lived. RIP Jeff Beck."

Beck was born in Wallington, south London. As a child, he sang in a church choir and began playing guitar as a teenager, getting his first instrument after trying to dupe a music store in a hire-purchase scheme. 

After briefly attending art school in London, Beck began playing with Screaming Lord Sutch until, after Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page recommended Beck as his replacement. Although already successful by that time, the Yardbirds had many of their biggest hits during Beck’s short tenure in the band, including the 1966 album Yardbirds and the No 3 single Shapes of Things. Beck was only in the Yardbirds for 20 months, leaving the group in 1966 due to inter-band tensions that had arisen during a US tour. 

After being fired from The Yardbirds, Beck recorded a number of solo singles produced by Mickie Most, including Hi Ho Silver Lining and Tallyman. He went on to form his own band, the Jeff Beck Group, featuring vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Nicky Hopkins, and the group released two albums together, 1968’s Truth and 1969’s Beck-Ola.

Truth, his debut solo album, drew on blues and hard rock to form a prototypical version of heavy metal. One year later, he released an album with the Jeff Beck Group, Beck-Ola but had his solo career derailed after he suffered a head injury in a car accident.

In 1970, after recovering from his skull fracture, Beck formed a new incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group and released two records – 1971’s Rough and Ready and 1972’s Jeff Beck Group – which displayed his earliest forays into the jazz fusion sound he would become known for.

In the ’70s, Beck briefly formed a trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge and Cactus.

In the mid-70s, Beck supported John McLaughlin’s jazz-rock group Mahavishnu Orchestra on tour, an experience that radically changed how he saw music.  Inspired, Beck embraced jazz fusion fully on the George Martin-produced Blow By Blow. A platinum-selling hit in the US which peaked at No 4, it was Beck’s most commercially successful album ever, but he later expressed regret. Despite his later feelings about Blow By Blow, Beck continued to experiment throughout the 70s, releasing another platinum-selling jazz fusion album, Wired, in 1976 and There and Back, in 1980.

Beck’s output slowed dramatically in the 80s, in part due to his suffering from tinnitus. In 1981, he performed with Clapton, Sting and Phil Collins at Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Other Ball benefit concerts, and returned with his first solo album in five years, Flash, in 1985, produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers.  People Get Ready, a collaboration with Rod Stewart, became one of Beck’s rare hit singles under his own name, charting in the US, NZ, Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland.

The 1989 album Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop was his last solo album for a decade, but he remained active through the 90s, collaborating with Jon Bon Jovi, Kate Bush and Roger Waters, among others; in 1999, he released Who Else, which incorporated techno and electronic elements.

In the 2000s and 2010s, Beck only released a handful of albums but began to settle into his role as an elder statesman and lauded influence, performing with artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Joss Stone. 

Beck’s most recent project was last year’s 18, a collaborative album with Johnny Depp that featured original songs penned by Depp and covers of Marvin Gaye, the Velvet Underground and other classic artists. 

Beck was nominated for Grammy Awards 17 times throughout his career, winning eight, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — as a member of the Yardbirds in 1992 and as a solo performer in 2009. 

Sources: The Guardian, Ultimate Classic Rock, Billboard, BBC News, Rolling Stone

 

 

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