After a few years producing jazz concerts I started thinking about getting into producing records, too. It was such a great feeling to make great musical events happen on the bandstand and concert stage, so why not do the same for posterity? I wanted to do things no one ever thought of. Not being a musician this was my way creating beautiful, inspiring music for the ages. I never did pursue it. Not for some time, anyway. And when I did it was almost an accident.
This is the one and only record I’ve produced . . . so far. I’m very proud of it, too. Very proud. It’s a beautiful album and one of the things that pleases me so much about it, aside from the music itself, is that Jane is one of my oldest and dearest friends and with the exceptions of the manufacturers, everyone involved is a great friend. The backer, the owner of the club where it was recorded live, all the musicians who play on it, the recording engineer, the designer, and especially the artist who did the painting of Jane which graces the cover, the love of my life, Barbara Etches.
These are the liner notes I wrote which explains much of this, how this all came about, and the story begins with another friend:
My friend Leonard Maler dropped by one afternoon. This was in Montreal, in the fall of 1966. “Have you got any Sun Ra albums?” he asked. “Yes . . . why?” Leonard was a musical adventurer so it wasn’t a surprising question. But his answer did surprise me. “A girl I know at school is a jazz musician . . . plays the saxophone . . . she wanted to hear some Sun Ra and I said my friend would probably have something”
A jazz saxophone playing girl? Wants to hear Sun Ra?
“I have to meet her immediately,” I said.
He brought Jane Fair by the next day and forty-one years later we are still friends.
She was a freshman at McGill, majoring in French Literature. Calling her a jazz musician back then might have been a bit of a stretch but she did play the sax, flute, piano, and lord knows what else and she had performed in dance bands in her home town of Barrie, Ontario at the tender age of sixteen. That was jazz musician enough for me. She didn’t play much in those days, devoting herself to her studies. But she was an avid listener and we spent many hours exploring my record collection and going to jazz clubs. I was an habitue of Charles Burke’s famous after-hours “Black Bottom”. I asked him if he could use another waitress and so Jane went to work there, briefly. I went by there around closing time one morning about five to find the place had been raided. Everyone including Jane had been thrown in the clink. Who knows what they were looking for. Everyone was out within twenty-four hours. And so this sweet Ontario girl of eighteen was thrust into the jazz and night life of Montreal.
About a year later I was living in Vancouver while Jane continued her studies. By 1971 she started playing around Montreal with, among others, Andrew Homzy, Peter Leitch, Guy Nadon, and the legendary drummer, Claude Ranger. By 1976 she’d settled in Toronto. We stayed in touch as best we could. Occasionally a tape would arrive in the mail. In 1975 there was a CBC album, “The Jane Fair Jazz Quintet” featuring three of Jane’s original compositions. I heard about her marriage to pianist Frank Falco and the birth in 1982 of their son Jonah. When Toronto players passed through town, like Jane Bunnett (a student of Jane’s at one time), Kirk MacDonald, or Campbell Ryga who’d spent a few years in Toronto, I sought news about Jane. “Jane is great, a terrific player and a wonderful person,” unanimously confirming what I already knew.
Fast forward to 2003. Jane was invited to Vancouver to perform her composition, Guidone, as part of Mother of Pearl’s production of “SheBOP! – A Century of Jazz Compositions by Canadian Women”. I looked forward to the show but wondered if there was going to be much of an opportunity to hear Jane shine. She’s coming all this way, let’s get her her own gig, I thought. I called Cory Weeds, owner of The Cellar, one of the best jazz clubs anywhere, and arranged a Sunday night for her. I asked guitarist Bill Coon to put together a rhythm section and was thrilled when he hired Jodi Proznick and Dave Robbins. And almost as an afterthought I asked Brad Turner to record the evening.
And what an evening. Well, listen for yourself. Everything clicked. It’s a risky business, bringing an out-of-town horn player together with a local rhythm section. Jane and Bill met the day before to go over some tunes and plan a couple of sets of music. The rest of the band met at the club only an hour or so before show time for a brief rehearsal. And then Cory introduced the band and what followed was an evening of sublime, swinging jazz.
Jane Fair’s place in jazz history is assured. In his landmark book, “Boogie, Pete & the Senator”, Canada’s pre-eminent jazz critic and historian, Mark Miller, wrote, “There weren’t many women playing jazz in Canada before Jane Fair” and in his landmark “Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada” he praises Fair’s “idiomatic versatility and her melodic strength as a soloist”. So where has she been all these years? And why is the this the first recording out under her own name (other than that CBC date, a rare disc which received limited distribution.) I asked her why she didn’t pursue a more active role in performing and recording in an interview with her a couple of years ago.
“My career has been twisted. It began with lots of playing and practicing and doing little cafe gigs. After being in Toronto a couple of years I met people, got to play with good guys. There was a stretch from, say, 78 to 81 where I did a lot of jazz gigs with my own quartet, got invited to the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, played with Jane Ira Bloom in NY. Did music for a film. When I got married, I had Jonah in ’82, I did keep playing, but it was harder to maintain that kind of focus or that kind of late night life, of course. But I had private students, and kept going. Teaching little kids started in around ’90 through Jonah’s school. That dimension grew. It was very challenging for my musicianship, which had big gaps, but it opened other channels. Working in an educational community was a big contrast to the lonely jazz life, so I took on more, and then decided in ’97 to try for a master’s degree. That in turn was very challenging, so I let that be the focus. In a way, I am now still trying to regain some lost musical–jazz ground. So, the answer is that teaching can be very gratifying. You reach a lot of people/kids and can see their progress and enjoyment. Also there is some financial stability.”
Consider how many great musicians appeared on the scene, followed a low-profile path in mid-career, and re-emerged to acclaim as mature artists. Frank Morgan, Von Freeman, Buck Hill, and others were virtually unknown throughout most of their lives until their “discovery” as seasoned players. I’m confident that “Chances Are” heralds the re-emergence of Jane Fair as one of Canada’s great jazz artists.
I’ve never tried to sell you anything but I’m doing so now, without guilt or shame. I’m telling you, you’ll like this record and you might even love it. So why not buy it? Easiest thing is, order online from Cellar Live. It’s only ten bucks. Then, when you’ve heard it a few times send me a note and tell me what you think. About anything.
These are my friends, the ones who made this happen, I love them all. Aside from those I’ve already mentioned, they are Cory Weeds (owner of The Cellar jazz club), Raymon Torchinsky (put up the money), Brad Turner (recorded that wonderful, magic night), Christina Peressini designed the cover and booklet, Liz Reid was in the club’s kitchen that night, Spygirl kept the food and drinks coming . . . even Mark Miller and the musicians whose words of praise adorn the cover are friends. “Friendship” was so much a part of what I was thinking about, and feeling, throughout this whole endeavour that for a moment I was tempted to play on Jane’s name and title the album something like Fair Weather Friends, but that would have been a bad title.
Here’s that link again: Cellar Live Records