Fraser MacPherson was among
the most admired musicians in Canadian jazz. A prominent member
of the Vancouver jazz scene for over four decades, until his death
in 1993, "Fras" remains a much beloved icon to virtually every Vancouver
jazz player that's come along in the last fifty years. The following
interview by Mary Nelson was aired on the national CBC Radio program,
Jazz Radio Canada, in 1976. Comments by Stew Barnett and
Bobby Hales were included in the broadcast, at the beginning and
end of the interview, respectively.
Fraser MacPherson bio
MacPherson: Diary of a Musician (TV documentary)
Mary Nelson: Today is one of those times when
I wish we had several hours than the allotted 90 minutes because
we're going to pay tribute, long overdue, to one of the acknowledged
giants of music in this country, Fraser MacPherson. 'Fras', as he's
known to his fellow musicians, is held in high esteem, both professionally
and personally. And having met the man, I can easily understand
why. So will you. He's beautiful. The music you'll hear includes
the opener with Fraser MacPherson soloing as part of the Bob Hales
Big Band, a vintage album called The Shadow, and two CBC albums:
Fraser MacPherson with the Doug Parker Orchestra and an upcoming
release of The Fraser MacPherson Trio. To begin the program, here's
that mad Irish trumpet player from Bobby Hales Big Band, Stew Barnett.
Stew Barnett: Delightful player. Beautiful player.
(whistles) I mean, he's another real talent, you know? He's a fantastic
player. And a scholarly player, I would say Fraser is. He studies
all the horns, does all the things, and he knows how to do anything.
And he's also a superb gentleman. He's organized. I wish I could
be organized like that. It makes me feel like a total wreck.
Fraser MacPherson: I was born in Winnipeg. I left
when I was nine. It was much too cold there. My father retired.
We moved to Victoria, where I grew up until I came over here, Vancouver,
about 1948 to finish my last three years of university.
Mary Nelson: You went to New York in 1950 to
study your horn.
Uh, '56. All of '56. And '57.
Part of '57.
did you study?
Just privately. I was
a bit old to be going to a school and I had no interest in that.
I wanted to study privately with Jimmy Abato, who's a marvelous
classical saxophonist in New York. And I also wanted to take up
the flute. As it turned out, I arrived there in June and Jimmy Abato
was out for the summer doing clinics so I uncovered a flute teacher.
I don't know how I did it. I didn't know about him. I guess I asked
someone and lucked out he was a very good teacher. And he sent me
around to Haynes on 57th and I got a flute and started to work.
Growing up in Victoria in the '40s, it never occurred to me that
one could make a living out of music. So I went to university. Took
my first two years over there. Kept playing for fun, of course.
And I came over here to finish my final three years of the five.
I started working with Al MacMillan's band at university, doing
the sorority and fraternity dances and that sort of thing. And in
my fifth year I started to work at the late lamented Palomar Supper
Club six nights a week, which was a lot of fun since I had six 8:30
lectures every morning. And around that time I started doing some
shows with the Ray Norris Quintet, which was a group originally
from here that Phil Nimmons worked with. And they went to Toronto
and Ray came back and one thing led to another and I guess I had
– this would be just at the end of 1950 – I suppose
I had 20 straight years of nightclubs. And that's a lot of jugglers
and baton-twirlers and strippers and comedians and opening acts.
But it was a very good experience, you know? And things never got
too boring, as it can if you're just playing a lounge . . . dance
music or listening music. The acts always changed every two weeks,
or thereabouts, and a lot of good music to play. And of course during
the '60s, when I was at the Cave, I guess that could be called the
golden age of Vancouver nightlife. We played for all the big stars
who came through, like Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Anthony Newly,
Mitzi Gaynor, those kind of people. So for that kind of music, it
was absolutely the best of its kind, written by the top people and
it was copied so that you could see it, unlike the old days when
a lot of the music looked like it had been left out in the rain
in an alley and all chewed up. So that part was very good. And as
everyone got experienced, we had, I'd say, a pretty good nucleus
of seasoned professional nightclub musicians, you know, who knew
what to do in a show.
funny with that monstrous exodus from Vancouver of musicians over
the years – we went through it in Winnipeg, as well –
there still remained a nucleus of musicians here. Why did you decide
Well, there again it
wasn't a conscious decision. There was really no reason for me to
leave. As I said, I seemed to have been going from one club to another,
both as sideman and leader. I was always working at night. And there
was a lot of radio activity in those days. And then when television
started in '53, I guess it was, I seemed to be busy all the time,
day and night. So I couldn't get any busier. What's to go away from?
Besides, take a look out the window.
that's some view out the window. English Bay on one side, the mountains
everywhere. A gorgeous view.
I don't have to go
anywhere, I'm already here.
used to play organ in one of the clubs.
Oh, not really. They
had an organ there and we just had a quintet, so... How did you
know that? Well, I used to fool around on piano when I was a kid
so I thought, 'Well, the thing's here, so I'll learn a few tunes
on it.' I think I had a whole repertoire of about four tunes. I
could go through the whole thing in about 20 minutes.
How many instruments do you play, Fraser?
Well, let's see. I
play the clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor, piccolo flute, alto flute,
bass flute, Clavietta, all with varying degrees of success, I may
add. That's about it, I think.
you have a favourite?
If something's happening
well for me, that's my favourite. You know, if it comes off. Otherwise
if I've got a bad reed on the clarinet, I tell myself I'm a tenor
The comment I heard from a rhythm section player was that Fraser
always lays back from the time. Is that true?
Uh, I suppose so. What's
the hurry? I guess that can be a bad thing at times. Laying back
is one thing; dragging is another, you know? Of course, the brass
players always say the saxes drag. You know, that's the traditional
thing. That's one of the things that trumpet teachers teach them
to play: "Now, when you get in a band, you tell the saxophone players
that they're dragging."
That's part of the learning process.
tried to talk you into becoming a radio announcer in New York.
Oh, boy. Well, I've
been getting this thing about my voice, I guess. It became a joke.
And when I did go to New York, here I saved my money and went down
there and was going to study the flute. So I checked in the President
Hotel, where I lived at 48th and Broadway, and rented a studio a
couple blocks up on 48th Street and practiced. I didn't know anybody
there. And I put my card in the union but I wasn't interested in
working right away. And I met a few guys who used to practice. All
the musicians used to rent these rooms by the hour. So this trumpet
player said, "Come on, I'll take you over to the union floor and
introduce you to some contractors." And the union floor, for those
who may not know it, is like an exchange floor. It was in the Roseland
Ballroom on 52nd Street, right next door to Charlie's Tavern, which
was the informal music exchange!
And musicians would go there, I guess, two or three times a week
it was open for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Two thousand
musicians in there, all scrambling around looking for work. So he
said, "Come on over. I'll introduce you." So I said, "Well, okay.
I might as well get my feet wet." So he introduced me to this contractor.
I suppose he was typical. You know, one of these guys who smoked
an evil-smelling cigar and he was wearing his rug on sideways, you
know? And when we were introduced, I guess I didn't say more than
four or five words. Something like, "Hello, I'm glad to meet you."
So he took the cigar out of his mouth and he says, "Kid, I don't
know how you play. Maybe you play good; maybe you don't play good.
I'll give you a tip: Sell the saxophone, go over to CBS and audition
for an announcing job." And then he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
And that was my introduction to music in New York.
Obviously you didn't take his advice.
long did you stay in New York studying?
A year and a half.
Well, I went in and out of town and did a few one-nighters. The
last casual gig, I guess you could call it, I went out with Richard
Maltby's band. And there's a lesson I learned there. I thought,
"Oh boy!" Johnny Frosk from Winnipeg got me on. He said, "Come on,
they need a second alto player." So I went to the audition and fine.
So we went by car from New York to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
And I think the scale for the gig was 35 dollars. And I got back
and I thought, well, so much for the name bands. And a few weeks
later I got a chance to go up to Grossinger's, which is in the Catskills.
This was just a commercial gig playing nightclub shows and dance
music. A room-and-board thing, and they gave you some money. So
that suited me fine. The band wasn't all that good, but I could
stay in one place and practice, and go in on my day off and take
a lesson and hear some music. So I was there a year and a half,
to answer your original question in a roundabout way.
won't ask you if you were tempted to stay there because obviously
if you were, it was a fleeting thing because you didn't.
My main reason was
to have a look around and, as I say, take some time off and do some
studying and take up the flute. So I worked pretty hard on the flute
there and the other instruments. And I had left a steady job at
the Cave here. I was the leader and the piano player, who worked
for me, took over the band. And he called me, oh, I guess this would
be in the fall, and he said, "Look, I'm going to move to Los Angeles
so the job is open. If you're coming back, you can have it." So
I thought, well, it's a good chance to come back to
something, you know? So I did.
When I was in New York, oh
boy, I was, let's say, friendly with a young lady who used to record
for Columbia Records. And I'd only been in New York two or three
weeks and she came into town and she had to go up to see her manager
at GAC. So I had nothing to do so I tagged along and sat in the
outer office while they did their business, whatever it was. And
she'd just had an album out on Columbia and her manager had booked
her the very next day on a radio show at CBS to, you know, plug
a couple of the tunes. And the album was just a small group: rhythm
section and three horns, and the guys just played head arrangements.
And so she had no arrangements. So her manager said, "Do you think
you could scratch out a couple of arrangements. She only has to
do two tunes for the show." So I said, "Oh, um, yeah, I guess so."
Somehow at that very moment it escaped my attention that I'd never
written an arrangement before for a 16-piece band. Or any other
kind of band. So I'm stuck with it now. So seven o'clock in the
morning I got up the next day. And the rehearsal's at five. I came
up with something. I thought, well, I know a bit about where the
saxophones go and the trumpets. Trombones are kind of a mystery,
so I gave them lots of rests. So I got to the studio about quarter
to five and then the enormity of the situation became apparent.
I looked up in the stands and I recognized Jimmy Nottingham in the
trumpet section, because he had been through here years before with
Lionel Hampton. The drummer was Specs Powell. Bernie Layton, one
of the top studio piano players, was in the band. There was an instrumental
guest on the show who was Roy Eldridge. My goodness. I thought,
what am I doing here?! You know? And now for the coupe
ville, the conductor's name was Alfredo Antonini. Now, he's
an Italian opera conductor who was doing this show under an assumed
name. I guess he was on staff at CBS. So you imagine how I
felt going up with this forlorn-looking manuscript up to the podium.
So I explained the situation to him. I said it was a hurry-up thing,
I'm new at this, a favour for a friend, and all that. And he was
very gracious. He says, "Don't worry. Stand up here while we go
through it." I said, "Try it. If there's any trouble, forget about
it. Have the rhythm section play it and get somebody to put a harmon
mute in the trumpet and no problem." You know? So he went through
the whole thing. And they played it. It wasn't very good; I guess
it was usable. And in spite of what you hear about the coldness
of New York and the people there, the musicians were nice, you know?
They should have thrown me out of the place! And Bernie Layton came
over and chatted, wanted to know where I was from and what I was
doing. So that was my introduction to arranging. I left it alone
a kid from Canada.
the album that you've just finished, there's a tune called Waltz
For Willi. Who's Willi?
He's a local jazz fan and he
promotes jazz concerts. And he books various groups in the Planetarium,
where this concert was. His name is Willi Germann. And he booked
us for a concert with the trio so I thought I'd write an original
and it needed a name so that seemed to be as good a name as any.
So that's what we called it.
As far as the jazz programming
goes, there are a lot of good things, going back to the beginning
in 1954, Jazz Workshop, we
got to do. Later on when Dave Robbins was doing a lot – I
think his band was on every second week at that time alternating
with Phil [Nimmons] in Toronto – and the CBC here used to
commission specially written material by Dick Grove and J.J. Johnson
and Lalo Schifrin and we got to play some of the bigger things like
Gillespiana, which we played,
which was pretty exciting. Conte Candoli came up and played the
trumpet part on that. And I got to do the Jazz
Suite on the Mass Texts (stumbles over it) – that's
hard to say; I never would have been an announcer anyhow –
by Lalo Schifrin. That was pretty challenging. So over the years
there've been a lot of things worth doing. And it's been fun, which
is the first consideration.
it's nice, isn't it, to be able to do what you want to do, enjoy
it, and still make a living. You've had a happy life in that respect.
Oh, yes, no complaints.
And thanks largely, if I may say, to the CBC for... I think all
musicians should be grateful for the opportunities which we've had.
You know, gained wider experience as professional musicians. Not
only playing jazz, although this show is about jazz, but just in
broadening our experience and honing our skills, if you like.
would have been a shame in so many instances just judging from the
music I hear from different musicians, basically in Toronto and
Vancouver, had you been restricted
to jazz, because the spreading out I don't think hurts any field.
Oh, no. I guess it's
like anything else, if you're doing the same thing all the time,
that can get pretty boring, too. So if you're looking forward to
your jazz concert next week or next month, that brings an element
of freshness to it which might otherwise not be there.
you like working as a leader?
I fell into it by accident.
I think I was off for a couple of months and the owner at the Cave
asked me if I'd like to take a 5-piece group in there. I'd never
done it before and wasn't doing anything so I said sure. And of
course we were at the age then when we spent a lot of time jamming
after hours and doing that sort of thing. I suppose we had a reputation
of being the kid..., you know, the jazzbos. And even our friends
said, "Ah, you guys won't last two weeks in that place." We were
taking over from a society band leader, you know? Every opening
night he used to show up at ringside to see what kind of trouble
we'd be in in the shows, you know? He eventually stopped coming
by because we didn't get into any trouble. So that's how I got into
it. And I thought, well, somebody's got to do it; it might as well
be me. I don't at all mind being a sideman as long as the leader
is taking care of business. You can enjoy the music a little more.
It's always headaches with phone calls and all that stuff being
a leader. It has its rewards if you can get a good band. I was happy
to be leader during my period at the Cave because we had a lot of
good guys there. And I knew what to expect of them and they knew
what to expect of me and we all worked together. So it was a good
would you say were your heaviest influences?
Oh, well, my first
instrument, apart from fooling around on the piano when I was 12,
was the clarinet, which I got when I was 14. I was always kind of
a bookish kid. In fact, I used to work in the public library in
Victoria. And I was always kind of interested in jazz. I didn't
know much about what it was, and I used to read a lot, so I dug
out all the history books on jazz. Of course, at that time it was
about four books. And I read them and re-read them. So when I got
interested in the clarinet, I started listening to the early players,
which I might otherwise have overlooked. I used to love the early
New Orleans clarinet players: Sidney Bechet, Jimmie Noone, Albert
Nicholas, Omer Simeon. And I still
enjoy them, listening to the recordings. And I guess when I was
about 15, I got an alto saxophone, so my interests centred around
Johnny Hodges. And it's an interest which has even increased over
the years. I just love his playing. Even more so now. And then I
became 16 or 17, of course, Charlie Parker. I heard him and I just
took to it. I just loved that. I couldn't understand why everybody
didn't play that way. It seemed such a logical way to play. And
then when I took up a tenor I started listening to more of the tenor
players. Pretty well everything by Stan Getz. I just loved the way
he played. Such a lyrical, melodic player, in tune. And I went backwards
from there to catch up on what I missed of Lester Young. And I have
simply hours of him on cassette. All the small group sessions in
the late '30s and '40s and the marvelous records he made with Billie
Holiday. I listen a lot to Ben Webster. And I guess that about covers
anything you might call an influence.
are one of the rather unique breed of musician in that you're one
of the musicians who is pretty much dedicated to music. You do a
lot of listening and I'm told you still do an awful lot of practicing.
Well, I haven't figured
out any other way to get by without practicing. I wish somebody'd
let me in on it. You have to. I don't know what else. I've just
got a routine that I do just to try and keep the chops in shape.
Especially with jingles. It's always last minute. They want everything
yesterday. They phone up and say, "Can you make a session tomorrow?"
Well, if you're not in shape, you're not in shape. And you can stay
up all night and you're still not going to be in shape. So you have
to practice. I think everyone does. Don't tell me Moe Koffman plays
like he does and doesn't practice because I know he does. And if
you haven't got time, well, you make time. It's as simple as that.
It's just common sense. The thing that goes first is the embouchure,
the muscles in the mouth. And they don't seem to last too long.
Two or three days is enough to get you in a lot of trouble if you
lay off that long. For any, you know, critical kind of work. And
especially in recording, with 16-track things where everyone, in
effect, has a separate tape recording of their own, you know. There's
no place to hide.
would imagine, too, you would have to have an entirely different
feel on your mouth and in your head to go from instrument to instrument.
Oh, yeah, that's a
never-ending problem, switching. I don't know what the hardest switch
would be. I used to use a very tight embouchure on clarinet, so
going from clarinet to flute was pretty tough. And I'm fairly new
at the piccolo, so going from anything to the piccolo is... well,
the outcome is problematic. I don't know if that's the word I want.
But if I can get it set, I'm fairly safe, but I never know when
that's going to happen. I'm always afraid I'm going to drop the
thing, anyhow, it's so small. That's a tricky one. They all have
their own problems. The bass flute is a little bit different. It
depends on the kind of work you're doing, too. You know, you can
relax a bit more on a dance job or even a nightclub show, but when
it comes to radio or television or recording that's another thing
you play a lot of flute?
I practice that one
more than any of the others. I like to get maybe an hour and a half
or so a day, or two hours if I can. And that's not to improve; that's
just to stay even, at whatever level that may be. But I don't consider
myself as a jazz flute player because I've never really worked at
it, I guess. The seemingly simple things are really the hardest.
You know, when you go into a recording, there's not usually a lot
of technique required or an overly busy part. It's not at a symphonic
level. The things that are hardest to get, and are most noticeable
when they're not there, are things like tone and intonation and
vibrato and phrasing and control, you know? So I work mostly on
I guess you'd call them lip flexibility studies and scales. And
try to improve, but those are the first priority.
must be awkward, too. One of my passions has always been the flute.
And I have one sitting at home that I walk longingly past everyday.
And I know that it'll take me an hour just to get that one clear
beautiful note out and I'm just so completely wrecked by the sound
of it that I can't do anything else. Is that an awkward instrument
insofar as if you're in a large band and you're not electrified,
the flute doesn't have that big, booming, ballsy sound that a saxophone
would have? Is that difficult to try to get a volume and that tasty
sound as well?
Oh, sure. It's not
made for that. Especially in the low register. I used to wonder
why, when we were playing in clubs, we'd be playing an act, say,
like the Supremes, and we've got a 16-piece band and they have their
own Motown rhythm section and they're thrashing away, and the guitar
players and the brass section is going, and we're playing flute.
In the bottom of the bottom octave. Obviously recording arrangements,
you know, where they have all the separation or overdubbing or whatever.
It doesn't make any sense at all. You might as well go out and have
a drink. Who can hear it, you know? It's crazy. But in the right
context, and properly orchestrated, there's no problem. But you
obviously can't play it like you're playing tenor saxophone. It's
a whole different approach. In fact, if you do, that's one of the
big problems of doublers. If you try to approach it with that hard
approach, it just distorts the sound and you're overblowing, then
you're playing sharp all the time because of that. So you can't
treat it like that. You have to treat it like a lady, I guess.
you still get nervous before a performance?
Yeah, sure. Well,
depending on what the performance is. I was quite nervous doing
the Planetarium concert oddly enough. I said, "What's the matter
with you? You've been doing this for years." But I'd been away from
doing the concert thing. Like in the '50s, we had the Vancouver
New Jazz Society, I think it was called, and we did concerts a couple
of times a month, you know, and huge crowds. We'd go out there without
thinking anything about it. But I haven't done much of that in the
last few years. Just since I started working with this trio. I was
at the point where microphones didn't frighten me but people did.
So I was nervous before it but I settled down as soon as we started
Are you ready for another anecdote? About being nervous? Okay.
I've done a few things with the symphony. I'm not trained as a symphonic
player by any means, but occassionally I get called when they do
a pops concert of Gershwin's Porgy
& Bess or something, I play the alto part. And I love
that because I like that music. And a few years in one of the pops
concerts, they had programmed a piece by a Toronto composer, Harry
Freedman, is it? And it was written for alto saxophone, electric
bass and jazz drums, I guess you'd call it, and the symphony orchestra.
So they asked me if I would do it. And I said, "Well, I'd like to
see the music." So they got me the music and played me a tape of
a performance with the Toronto orchestra, which Bernie Piltch played.
And he played it beautifully, too. So I thought, well, I guess I
can do something with this. So I agreed to do it. I always get .
. . I'm getting over it now, but I used to get very intimidated
because of my lack of formal training, I guess, going into the symphony
with all these conservatory graduates. Anyway, I said okay. So first
rehearsal, it was going pretty well. There were no big technical
problems on the horn and the jazz part would go all right, but there's
one section in it that was unaccompanied and it was written so you
had to play it as is. No accompaniment at all. And it was slow.
And that's where everything shows up: you know, control, intonation,
vibrato, phrasing, breathing, nerves! So I was anxious to see how
I'd make out at the rehearsal, you know, if my knees would shake
or I'd collapse altogether.
So we get to the spot and that's when the conductor turned to me
and said, "If you don't mind, Mr. MacPherson, we'll go on to bar
230." So I said, "Oh, okay." I didn't know what the usual routine
is with symphony orchestras so I figured, well, tomorrow or the
next rehearsal he'll want to hear the whole thing and I'll get a
chance to test my nerves then. Then next rehearsal, and final rehearsal,
we get to that spot and I'm just about to try my best and he says,
"If you don't mind, Mr. MacPherson, we'll go on to bar 230." I thought,
oh boy. Just missed the last chance saloon. The next thing is the
performance. So we're playing the thing, and I guess it's going
all right. I didn't play any wrong notes and didn't get lost. So
we come to this section, and with a flourish of his left hand he
indicates that, "Okay, kid, it's all yours." And I very nearly said,
"If you don't mind, maestro, we'll go on to bar 230." But I didn't.
I should have. It would have made a better story.
you do a lot of studio work, Fraser?
Uh, I guess so. Yeah.
I do the Irish Rovers show on television and the Tommy Commons show
on television and I did the Banjo Parlour series and the Rolf Harris
series. And I'm doing one tomorrow with Bob Hales. And jingles.
A fair amount of jingle work. Did one this morning. So I guess you
could say I can't complain. Keep it coming.
don't have much free time then.
Oh, sure. Since I'm
not at nightclubs, it just changed my life around. I'd find I could
go to bed early for the first time in my life, get up at 6, 6:30
or 7 or 7:30 and get my . . . I have to practice so I get that out
of the way in the morning. And then I have lots of free time. That
20 years of six nights a week in clubs was a loooong grind, you
know? And as long as I can keep away from that, it's fine. It gives
me a chance to do some things which I couldn't do. Like, you know,
theatre shows, the Liberace show and Sinatra at the PNE and the
Joffrey Ballet. That kind of work I couldn't do when I was in the
clubs. I suppose now that I've got this CBC jazz album, I think
I would like to have, if the opportunity presented itself, something
like that that would be commercially available. We do get asked
about these things. I have had one album, which was an MOR sort
of thing. I was happy to do that, but that's a different kind of
music again. And the other recording I've done under my own name
had been the CBC things. And I was certainly delighted with those,
but I've had no album available in a jazz sort of thing. It would
be nice to do something like that.
There seems to be a big interest
now, it's a whole big industry, with stage band, jazz band programs
in colleges. About three years ago Douglas College asked me if I
would like to give a short course in improvising, of all things,
to the music students out there. With some reluctance I said yes.
I think I'm in kind of agreement with a statement that Paul Desmond
made about teaching jazz and about creative writing courses. He
says you can learn how to do it, but you can't teach it. I think
that's probably right. However, I tried it. And I've had a few students
this year at Vancouver Community College and they're in the stage
band program, I guess it's called, and the thing that I see that's
missing in all these programs is some sense of where the music came
from, of historical perspective or continuity.
You know, when the players my age came up, let's say in the middle/early
'40s, if we wanted to go back to the Louis Armstrong Hot Five or
Hot Seven, how far back did we have to dig up records? Twelve years,
15 years, tops. Now there's 50 years, 60 years they've got to go
back. You get young players, some of them talented, naturally they're
young, they all want to fly around their horns all over the place
and they all want to play like John Coltrane, for example, which
is great, but they don't seem to know where John Coltrane came from.
For instance, that he played in the band Johnny Hodges had. So a
lot of that must have rubbed off on him. Stanley Turrentine, when
he was here, was talking about what he learned from Earl Bostic,
which is kind of interesting to know. I heard an interview on the
Bob Smith show with Elvin Jones and Bob had asked him what sort
of records that he wanted to bring along to the show. Guess what
he wanted to hear? Chick Webb. So that's interesting. And I think
that sort of thing is missing from these programs. There's all sorts
of books and exercises and you fill 'em up with mixolydian modes
and all that stuff, which is useful, but I've yet to see a book
that will teach a student how to improvise two bars of melody that
counts. The only way they can get that, I think, is by just steeping
themselves in the music of the master musicians. It's fair to call
them that. The Lester Youngs and Louis Armstrongs and Bechets and
Goodman and Johnny Hodges and all the way up. So I think if I ever
did anything like that again, or had the time to, I would like to
do a history course. You could combine it with cassettes and lectures
and make it a credit course which they had to take examinations
in and had to be marked on, not some course that they took because
it looked easier than Psychology 100, which is a snap, and they
could sleep. I think that's the sort of thing that would be of more
value than a lot of the theoretical sort of knowledge. Just get
the continuity of the whole thing and hear where these great players
came from and what they did because so often they figure they're
going to take a course like they're going to learn some trick. You
know, "There's a trick to it. If I can just get that trick down,
I'll know how to do all this stuff." And it doesn't happen that
way. It takes a lot of listening and playing.
wonder if what prompted the release of a lot of old, long-deleted
albums was that some people are realizing that. There are mainline
musicians – you're a mainline musician – and all of
a sudden, the kids discover, God, what they're doing really isn't
new because it was done way back. And it was probably done better
if you consider that it was done without all the help of all the
Oh, sure. When I was
giving this course, I used to bring records out and talk about people.
I played some... Well, Armstrong's famous West
End Blues. That knocked them on the floor. They couldn't
believe it: "1928?!" They just didn't understand. Roy Eldridge and
people like that, they never heard of these people. And I think
that's very important. After all, in the, what would you call it,
traditional music, if you're studying you have to go through the
whole thing: Palestrina, I suppose, and Mozart and Bach. You know,
they don't start off with John Cage or Stockhausen, do they? Because
all of this stuff is available! I'm going broke here. I'm up to
my armpits in records coming out. I'm filling in my, oh, Lester
Young, who's one of the masters. Louis Armstrong, I must have 20
of his albums. I gather them up and put them on cassette. Ellington.
You can buy a 1923 King Oliver record easier now than you could
in 1923, I suppose. All this stuff is out. Somebody somewhere suddenly
decided that jazz music has a history.
Bobby Hales: What can I tell you about Fraser
MacPherson that everybody doesn't already know? Good saxophone player.
Well, great saxophone player. Individualistic style. Traditionalist.
In the true sense, traditional. I mean, he's traditional.
And thank goodness because it's sure a treat to play with a guy
that has all this background and knows where it came from and knows
where it's going. As a studio musician, he's just flawless. I'll
say this without... I don't want to offend anybody, but on the west
coast – and this will apply to all western Canada –
I would say that Fraser MacPherson is the best musician on his instruments.
The only guy that practices everyday and that works out and plays
everything. He plays all the flutes, the saxophone players get green
with jealousy. He plays alto flute... He plays all the flutes. Bass
flute. He plays them all. He plays piccolo, right? He plays tenor
sax, he plays alto sax. He's never played baritone, but if he had
to, he could play baritone. And he doesn't just play these instruments,
he plays them very well. He's a virtuoso in his field. Like the
jazz field or the pop field. He's a one-take guy. You do sessions
with the guy and you figure, well, this is hard. And you turn the
machine on and away you go. The session's done and you say, "What
was that? Is he already finished?" Plus, he's like a very good
person. I've worked with him not as long as a lot of people like
Stew Barnett and Jack Fulton have worked with Fras, but I first
met him when he had the band at Isy's Supper Club when I first came
into town. And he was a great player then. I don't like to tell
you how many years ago that was. Like I say, he's one of my favourite
Of course, anything I do, he's involved with. I mean, he's first
call. Because the way it really goes in Vancouver here, if Fraser
can't make the gig, you better try and change the date. That's not
putting down the local saxophone players. We have some very good
players, as you know, Mary. But I'm just talking about a guy who
is a dedicated musician. And dedicated to jazz. He never did once
waver. Even though the rock scene came in and everybody says, "Hey,
we better get this together, we better get that together."
Everybody gets on the fad trip; Fraser, right down Jazz Street.
He'd say, "Nope, that's not jazz." And you know, he's
right in the long run. Jazz-rock has its place, I think, in creative
music. But once a jazz musician has evolved into his music like
every other music he absorbs. Fraser still plays jazz-rock. He can
do it. But he's a traditionalist, which I admire. Because if you
want to hear a guy play good dixieland clarinet, good swing clarinet,
and any era right up to today's stuff, he can get into it. He's
the man. He's the man on the coast here as far as I'm concerned.
And I think everybody else. I don't think there's one saxophone
player in town here or anywhere in western Canada that hasn't sat
next to Fras and they hear him play and they sort of go, "Well...".
Then after they hear him play again, their eyes get bigger. Then
they hear him play again and they say, "Who is this monster
on the horn?!" Because he's a very good musician. Tops. He
does everything professionally.
Mary Nelson: Lays back, though.
Bobby Hales: (laughs) Well, I'm a brass player.
I gotta tell him that anyhow. I mean, you just gotta tell him. He's
a saxophone player.
Mary Nelson: Who else but Bobby Hales to have
the last word on the man the musicians call Fras. Had we more time,
you know we would have filled it. He is indeed a legend in the making.
Fraser MacPherson, thank you for being.