Coda celebrates its 50th anniversary today. This Canadian magazine was once one of the best jazz magazines in the world. Maybe it still is but I don’t read jazz magazines these days so wouldn’t know. I first came across it around 1960, at the Record Centre on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal. Run by the professorial but cool Edgar Jones, the Record Centre was a lending library with a fair-sized and eclectic collection of albums. Every week or so I’d go down and get a few albums, fifty cents each for one week’s rental, everything from Wozzek to Wilbur Ware. Jones asked me what kind of music i liked when I signed up and I said everything. “You’re tastes are catholic, then?” and I went home and looked up what he meant by “catholic” to make sure i wasn’t gonna have to confess my sins at some point. There was usually a small stack of these Coda magazines on a table by the door – a mimeographed and stapled letter-sized journal which I picked up regularly, thereby enhancing my musical scholarship. There were so many places in those days outside of so-called school where i was coming by my real education.
Some years later Jane and I hitchhiked to Toronto for a couple of days . . . my first and second-to-last time in that city. She took me to Sam’s Records to introduce me to John Norris who presided over the second-floor all jazz and blues department. Norris was the founder, editor, and publisher of Coda. Due to confusion and disarray where Jane and I were staying, later that day I went back to the store and asked Norris if he’d put me up for one night. He didn’t hesitate, suggesting I come by his apartment around six and have dinner with he and his wife. As impressive as the Norris’ hospitality, was John’s record collection taking up an entire wall in the sizable living room. I’d never seen anything like it and I’m telling you it was mind-altering experience, just looking at it. I’m guessing 10,000 albums. “Put something on,” John says. Are you kidding??? I was nonplussed. John eventually found something to play. It took many years to get that great wall of vinyl out of my mind and have since seen bigger collections, but still . . .
As it turned out, the newest issue of Coda was being put together that night, which involved a bit of a party, including a half-dozen or so friends and Coda contributors, plus plenty of wine and snacks. Stacks of mimeographed pages had to be collated, stapled, some stuffed in envelopes to be mailed to subscribers. I was an expert at this type of thing so was happy to be able to organize the work, cutting the usual amount of time it took so that there was more time for partying and listening to some of John’s records.
Among the partyers/collators was a handsome young man (six years older than me) from Bristol, England – William Ernest Smith, better know, oddly enough, as Bill Smith. Bill was eventually an editor of the magazine, in addition to his other contributions to modern music as saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, editor, photographer, and film and record producer. He eventually moved to Hornby Island and I’m happy to report that all these many decades later we are still friends. Norris I haven’t seen since the mid-seventies, sad to say.
When Jane and I hit the road back to Montreal, Norris asked if I’d deliver some copies of the new Coda to his friend and Coda contributor, Len Dobbin. So that’s when I first met Dobbin, for about fifty years the dean of the Montreal jazz scene.
John visited Vancouver around 1974 and was a house guest of Fraser Nicholson, owner of the famous Record Gallery on Robson Street, my main source of jazz records for many of my Vancouver years. By then I was working at the Georgia Straight, heading up the distribution department. Besides the Straight itself we handled a number of the hipper papers and magazines, including Rolling Stone when it was actually a small alternative news, music, and culture rag. I suggested John send me fifty copies of every Coda and I’d put them into book and record stores and a few of the bigger newsstands. He agreed, observing, “Gosh, we’ve never had a distributor before.” So, adding to my achievements, I became the first distributor of Coda Magazine.
By the late seventies author and musician David Lee was co-editing Coda with Bill Smith. I met him during one of his visits to Vancouver. He told me that the notices I was sending to Coda via John Norris, about the series of concerts I was producing here, were being greeted with amazement. I treated David to dinner at the Nanking in Chinatown for the sole purpose of talking his ear off for a couple of hours about all that I was up to, my hopes and dreams, and pretty much my whole life story as it pertained to jazz and its variants in the last third of the twentieth century. After that I took him to a party at Patricia LaNauze’s place and for all I know it was the best night of his life. But there was no payoff for me because . . . I don’t know . . . I thought there’d be something at some time in the magazine which, as far as I know, there never was. That would have been pretty helpful to the cause, I think.
As of 2000 the magazine has changed hands twice and is still being published. I can’t compare the current magazine to what it was in the early years but it seems to still be a very good jazz magazine, despite the fact that my name has never appeared in it. Although my first effort as a record producer made two top-ten lists in their Best of 2007 issue a few months ago. More about that tomorrow.
Photo above of Bill Smith (left) and John Norris in the seventies by unidentified photographer.
You’ve never been mentioned in Coda?! Not even in passing? For shame. Now I have to question everything I’ve ever read, or not read, in that magazine.
Guy – Monday, May 12, 2008
You are NOT older than CODA as I happen to have the very first issue that was published on May 20,1917. It was a single issue only and was edited by Sarto Fournier Sr. and it told the story of how Jazz was created by the French famers and peasents on Anticosti Island and was then carried by musical sailors and fishermen to the great cities in the West on the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately Sarto Fournier Sr. was kidnapped and held prisoner in Toronto by members of the Family Compact where he was forced to speak English and change his name. His son ran for city councilor in Montreal in the riding of Papineau-Nord but was unsuccesful and became Mayor Camilien Houde’s chauffeur. CODA was resurrected by John Norris and the rest is history.
I’m shocked along with Guy that you and the Vancouver Jazz Society never had one mention in CODA. Now with the creation of vancouverjazz.com….this oversight should be addressed.
CODA is still worth reading and it is now a high end publication on quality paper, however with Jazz Times and Down Beat costing with tax $5:40, why does the great Canadian Jazz Magazine cost with tax, $9:40 on the newstand? That’s hard to figure as they get support from the Canada Council and other government agencies like the Publications Assistance Program and the Canada Magazine Fund, plus ads as well. I guess we pay more to be Canadian.
Gavin Walker – Saturday, May 17, 2008
From Coda, June 1977, page 26:
“Brian Nation’s Vancouver Jazz Society (2613 W. 4th Ave.) continues its incredible activity, having so far presented, for four days at a time, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cecil Taylor, Warne Marsh with Lee Konitz, Dollar Brand, Ted Curson, Sam Rivers and Mary Lou Williams. Most certainly one of the most important musical events ever to occur in Vancouver. – John Norris”
Mark Miller – Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Good work, Miller! That calls into question everything Brian’s ever written. What should I believe? I think someone should go through all his posts and ferret out the truth.
Guy – Tuesday, May 20, 2008