Remembering Norm MacDonald (1959-2021)

One day in 1997, while walking down the street in New York I happened to run into eccentric Canadian comedian Norm MacDonald, yet another one of Canada’s iconic comedians that became famous in the USA.

He was hilarious and super-friendly, and we walked and talked for a good ten blocks before he announced he was off to a taping show Late Night With David Letterman, since he was one of the featured guests that night. Then all of a sudden he stopped and asked me if I wanted to hang out backstage while he was on the show. So of course I said yes. We were having a friendly chat, two Canadian strangers, and then he invites me backstage at the biggest comedic talk show on the planet at that time, an opportunity that led to being backstage a second time a couple of weeks later, which led to me eventually meeting David Letterman himself.

Norm was innovative, often controversial, and great fun to converse with, so it is with a significant amount of pain I must announce that he died yesterday after a 9 year battle with cancer, which he kept hidden from both the public and his peers, so as not to be defined by his fight with the disease. I don’t truly know him, but in that amazing afternoon I spent with him I got to know a generous, deeply funny, and wonderfully offbeat Canadian legend.

As with artists like David Bowie or Prince, the passing of someone like Norm MacDonald is such a huge loss. Many artists are original, but people such as these are so unique, there will literally be no one even close to being like them to ever emerge again. Norm was extremely intelligent, and yet he played off of his own image as semi-naive and slightly baffled by the goings on around him. But at any moment his ferocious wit would emerge and you knew Norm had thought long and deeply about what he was saying. He was also an absolute master of uncomfortable pauses, moments of unusually long or short silences after which he would unleash some of his funniest lines in that eastern Canadian drawl of his.

he was also not one to show emotions like fear or sorrow on stage, save for moments like his last appearance on the Letterman show, a perfect set of comedy and a beautiful moment of love. R.I.P. Norm… undoubtedly you are in Heaven now making God roar with laughter…

Fernandez!!!!!

WHAT A GREAT MATCH!! SHE DID IT!!!!!!!

Canadian teenaged tennis player Leylah Annie Fernandez (world ranking #73) beat World #3 Naomi Osaka the other day and just beat world #17 Angelique Kerber. She came back from early pressure and won the second and third sets to win a real match for the ages, a David vs. Goliath moment for the newly emerging Fernandez.

Kerber and Osaka are masters of tennis, so for this young Canadian to come out of nowhere and take them down is wonderfully shocking, a real treat for fans and a landmark in her career. She is now off to her first Grand Slam Quarter Final!

What an incredible year for Canadian women!!!!!

Charlie Watts (1941 – 2021).

It is with great sadness that I am passing along the news that Charlie Watts, the drummer for The Rolling Stones, has passed away at the age of 80 yrs. old.

Watts was always a personal favorite of mine, playing straight-ahead beats on a small, jazz-style drum set, never playing a single bit more than what was right for the song. This “unassuming” approach made him the perfect rock drummer: making the beat (rather than his own playing) the point of his career. He also had a unique way of playing: using the traditional grip favoured by jazz musicians (in the left hand), and skipping part of the beat on his (right hand) hi-hats, leaving more physical space for his left hand to hit the snare while also opening up the sound for a lighter, bouncier kind of beat. Though he did not use it all the time, this signature style of playing was often ridiculed by untrained musicians who thought he couldn’t play an ordinary rock beat with the hi-hat playing continuous eighth notes. But Watts proved his point: his style was perfectly fantastic and truly unimitible when it came to creating the flowing effervescence he added to the Stones bluesy rock.

He was also known (amongst drummers with good ears) for his taste; for the things he could have but chose not to play in the interests of the song. As songs like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”, “Emotional Rescue”, “Moonlight Mile”, “Dance (Part 1)”, “MIss You”, and “Mixed Emotions” progress, Watts opens up his drumming and practically disappears in the tapestry of sound. He is so expertly woven into the mix his drumming almost seems like an afterthought. “Emotional Rescue” as well demonstrates Watts’ penchant for this economic artfulness, playing a hi-hat ‘hiss’ on the “and” of beat 3 rather than the usual “and” of beat 4 one hears in disco music. Clever little touches such as these make Watts the giant that he was and will always be: thoughtful, tasteful, economic, buoyant, and wonderfully musical.

Charlie really got out of the way of the music, which was as turbulent and raw as the times in which it emerged: the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the assassination of people like JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rolling Stones own disastrous free concert at the Altamont Speedway (in Tracy, California), which many consider to be the place and time where the hippy spirit of 1960s faded away. It is no surprise that bands like The Rolling Stones and AC/DC have lived as long as they have. The sound of straight-up blues-influenced rock and roll has been the grounding soundtrack both figuratively and literally of successive generations: what humans have listened to to make it through such times as teens became parents, and parents became grandparents. When the world seemed upside down, you can always throw on a Stones album to deal with and escape your situation. This is the power of the blues influence and/or blues base of the Stones music, the base of Watts’ effectively simple approach. Feeling sad never felt so good when Charlie kicked “Satisfaction” into gear…

Nothing is permanent but change itself, so as the inevitable arrives, we mourn and celebrate this towering icon. R.I.P. Charlie… and thank you so, so much for a lifetime of great rock n’ roll. In Art less is more, but now that Charlie has passed, less is REALLY less, and we drummers will miss him forever.

More Canadian History!

Well, as the Olympic games were coming to a close on its final day, Kelsey Mitchell won Canada’s second ever track cycling gold medal. Four years ago she was working as an Alberta county weed sprayer, and hadn’t even owned a bicycle since the age of 12, and now she is the Olympic gold medalist, beating out Ukraine’s Olena Starikova. What an Olympics we have had: great performances by so many women, men, and Quinn, the first transgender non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal (soccer gold).

Farewell, Tokyo… 楽しかったですね!

CANADA WINS!!!!!

Is this Tokyo 2020 logo better than the official design? | Creative Bloq

YES!!!!!!!!! It is kind of hard to believe but Canada has beaten the USA in the Olympic women’s soccer semi-final!!! We haven’t beaten them for a long time (20 YEARS!!!), and the Canadians played almost no offence in today’s game. But thanks to great goaltending by Stephanie Labbé and a penalty kick, Canada went up 1 – 0 late in the game and kept the Americans at bay until the end.

This is a great victory because our star player Christine Sinclair did not score, so the entire team rose to the occasion and made sure Sinclair’s awesome talents were not necessary for victory. The team played great, Labbé was fantastic, and Canada has gotten sweet revenge for our loss to the USA in the 2012 London Olympics.

I have said it before and I will say it again, Canadian women are setting the pace and kicking major amounts of ass this year. Next up Australia will be playing Sweden to see who plays us, but for now…for the first time at the Olympics…WE’RE OFF TO THE GOLD MEDAL MATCH!!

GO LADIES GO!!!!!!

CANADIAN WOMEN’S SOCCER!

AND THE GREAT CANADIAN WOMEN KEEP ON SHOWING UP!!

Canada defeated Brazil in a penalty shootout to advance to the Olympic Women’s Soccer semifinals!! We are not exactly a nation known for soccer, so for our women to step up and play for a medal yet again is a fantastic achievement.

Unfortunately for Brazil, this is not the first time they’ve lost to us. In 2016 at the Rio Olympics Canada beat Brazil to win the bronze medal… even though Brazil’s team (then and now) included the legendary Marta (full name: Marta Vieira da Silva), possibly the best female soccer player of all time. To move past a team containing Marta is a sure sign Canada’s soccer programs are developing players of the highest quality.

Next up we will be playing the USA in a sequel to the 2012 Olympics in London where Canadian Christine Sinclair scored a hat-trick (3 goals) but we still lost 4 – 3, thanks to a controversial decision by the referee (who called a foul for what she thought was a delay of the game through time wasting). Many on the Canadian team thought they were robbed of a medal via that call, so this upcoming match between Canada and the Americans is going to be a chance for us to get a little revenge.

Sinclair, by the way, is the world’s all-time leader for international goals scored by a woman (or man) with 187 (!). She is also the second footballer of either sex to score at five World Cup editions, preceded by the mighty Marta herself. So congratulations to our great Canadian women for another great accomplishment in sports!

We have had many great heroes. Now look at this new wave of great Canadian she-roes!!…

More Canadian and (Ukrainian) Success!

The other day Canada won its first ever Olympic medal in women’s judo, a bronze awarded to world champion Jessica Klimkait in the under-57-kilogram division. And if that wasn’t enough 24 hours later now Canada’s Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard too has won a bronze medal in the women’s under-63-kilogram division!! Two historic Olympic medals in the same sport in 24 hours… Canadian women just keep on rising to the top!

We have been competing in judo for years, and the Russians and Japanese have been the dominant competitors for decades. They are absolutely brilliant at this sport, so to rank near them or become an Olympic medalist is a huge deal.

GO CANADA !!!

And while we are at it, what a great day for Daria Bilodid as she won the Ukraine’s first women’s judo medal (bronze) after the country became independent. She attacked aggressively using her ground fighting techniques and achieved a great result for their national judo team. Then, Ukraine’s Anzhelika Terliuga went on to win silver in women’s karate (55kg division of karate, so another great job by Ukrainian women too!

Великий день для України!

Congratulations, Daria!!

Hooray For Canadian Women!

The other day Canada won its first ever Olympic medal in women’s judo, a bronze awarded to world champion Jessica Klimkait in the under-57-kilogram division. Though she lost a semifinal which would have given her the chance to go for gold, she rose to the occasion, and won the bronze medal match by receiving a half-point (waza-ari) in “golden score”, a period of extra time where the first point(s) awarded wins the match.

Judo is a tough sport and though it may look easy at times it is really hard to do well, thus Klimkait’s victory is a major feather in the historical cap of Canada’s national judo program. World champ and now Olympic medalist? Canadian women just keep on setting the pace!

UPDATE:

And if that wasn’t enough 24 hours later Canada’s Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard too has won a bronze medal in the women’s under-63-kilogram division!! Two historic Olympic medals int he same sport in 24 hours… Canadian women just keep on rising to the top!

GO CANADA !!!

Jazz As Food (Part Two).

In my previous post I gave you all an overview of the art of improvised music known as “jazz”, using the preparation of food as a metaphor. Well today in the this second part of the series I am going to focus on one particular aspect of jazz that makes it so fantastic: space or density, from a jazz drummer’s perspective.

We all know that music is made up of “stuff”: sounds, categorized as rhythm, melody, harmony, theory (scales, note names, varying types of chords) and so on. But there is something else that is lost in the mix that makes all of the notes and chords and rhythms work, that which is “not” note and rhythms, the stuff know as silence. It is so vital to music, creative artists in places like Japan consider it the essence of music and things like painting, etc.

To make it easy to understand how, imagine a nice frothy milkshake. A nice homemade raspberry milkshake is amazingly delicious… because of “nothing”: air. Technically it is something, but since air is flavorless it is not an ingredient. But the vigorous frothing of a milkshake is essential or it is just raspberry milk. Nothing wrong with raspberry milk but it is just not anything near a raspberry milkshake because of all that air thinning out the shake and “fluffing” it up into something that tastes way better because the air thins the milk into its most delicious density.

Space or silences in music do the same thing, give music a beautifully perfect density somewhere between too much space and too little. It is amazing looking back on the career of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and his endless innovation. yet through that innovation one thing remained: his almost supernatural ability to “say” with a single note what it took many others practically an entire career to say. His feel for space and silences in music was second to no one, and I have no doubt it will remain that way for the rest of recorded time. His sound was dark and complex but surprisingly sweet as well, like being kissed while stabbed in the back. The modern jazz drummer’s job is to find that balance as well, using a mix of traditional and avant-garde techniques to find that proper density for whatever music they are making. Moving on from foundational bebop drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, the birth of modern jazz drumming arrived in the music of Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones, and others; a brilliant response to and advancement of jazz from the early 1960s on. And it comes as no surprise that a list of such drummers will reveal most of them were and/or are Miles Davis alumni.

So I would like to introduce you to the flavor of jazz density through a lesser known cocktail from the Basque region of Spain, the Kalimotxo (pronounced kali-mock-so or cali-mo-ko). This simple, fantastic “cocktail” is a mixture of red wine, Coca-cola, and a slice of lemon, enjoyed by Spaniards as early as the 1920s though not well known outside of the country. When the first Spanish Coca-cola factory opened the drink become more commonplace, and is now considered a classic of Basque edible culture.

It was originally made of cola and any cheap red wine laying around, so there basically is no wrong way of making it, thought certain grape varieties and certain colas may be more to your taste. To test this theory I bought a de-sugared Pinot Noir wine, and Coke Zero (sweetened with aspertame) and still found a mixture that tasted great. The secret is in the mix. Though they say the wine and cola should be in equal amounts, a 2/3rds glass of cola mixed with 1/3rd of wine seems to be best overall. Think of it as the wine as existing in the “spaces” in the cola, the spaces where the wine can do its part to “kalimotxo” the cola. Then the slight tinge of lemon: another “space” filler where cola would have been. It all depends on how you look at it: red wine with cola added, or cola with red wine in it? That is up to your taste buds.

red wine

ice cubes

cola

a fresh lemon

1). Pour two thirds of a glass of cola. Coca-cola products in particular taste great (Pepsi has the wrong flavour profile and tastes terrible in this instance).

2). Add 1/3rd of a glass of wine (Pinot Noir is a decent option).

3). Add a quarter slice of lemon.

4). Enjoy!

5). Though red wine is not usually chilled, a cold red wine added to cold cola on ice is really refreshing. I introduced the cold kailmotxo to a friend who doesn’t drink and they now drink a tiny glass of it daily as their afternoon snack!

The humble kalimotxo is a delicious and inexpensive way to entertain guests, a great conversation starter (Spanish wine-cola; who knew?), and a great way to taste yet another great quality of jazz, the strategic study of density through adding another thing. The wine thins the cola to a certain density, ergo the cola thins the wine to a certain density, and as such the flavours of each are brought out in delicious balance as they fill the space between pure cola and pure wine.

I am sipping some freezing cold kalimotxo right now. Like Miles Davis’ jazz… it is really good!