a reader writes

February 9th, 2009

taking your writing to the next level, (as i perceive it), is the structuring — the content is already definitely in the bag. your writing is top notch and as unique to you as vonnegut’s was to him, salinger, allan g., and dostoevsky’s was to them.. as finished as any masterpiece that can’t be finished can be… — eat your heart out schubert — and has had me crackin up out loud — even when i wasn’t stoned — times too numerous to mention, not to mention trembling with anticipation, desire and longing as I read about your romantic exploits on the road and other locations… or pressed to rethink my philosophy on tobacco, fate, religion while expanding my knowledge of good music, entertained by behind the curtain anecdotes of the geniuses of jazz, and their underground worker bees of the Cellar, City Lights’s all over the world as they cross paths with our fav bo-beat-hemianik photojournalist java advocate, whose enlightened taste in chicks, riffs, riff raff and the body politik make this world more than a bit more enjoyable, encouraged to spend more time contemplating beauty, music and the meaninglessness of meaning, and importance of pleasure.

your friend,

j d clement

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Guest post : Milt Hinton, Geoff Dyer

October 24th, 2008

There are lots of really good books of jazz photos. (Books by Wiliam Claxton, Jimmy Katz, Bob Parent, Herman Leonard, Francis Wolff, etc., are just a few that spring immediately to my mind.) But far and away my favourite of the few I own is Milt Hinton’s “Bass Line “. Bassist Milt Hinton played and recorded with just about everyone, till his death in 2000. He also had a camera with him most of the time and his pictures capture something none of the others could because he was an insider. He shot his friends under casual circumstances, in private or personal moments. He was an amateur (in the best sense of the word) but also a skilled photographer, so he produced a rich treasury, glimpses into the world of jazz of the classic era.

Geoff Dyer wrote an amazing and unusual book of jazz stories in a style he calls “imaginative criticism”. Based on true life stories and photographs of a handful of jazz luminaries, he’s composed tales – part fantasy, part biography – that are meant to convey impressionistic rather than literal truth. Rather than being about jazz, they are jazz, in a way.

Hinton’s photo below, and Dyer’s commentary, which I first came across almost twenty years ago, have had a influence on how I think about photography, jazz, memory, and life.

A Note on Photographs by Geoff Dyer

PHOTOGRAPHS SOMETIMES WORK on you strangely and simply: at first glance you see things you subsequently discover are not there. Or rather, when you look again you notice things you initially didn’t realise were there. In Milt Hinton’s photograph of Ben Webster, Red Allen and Pee Wee Russell, for example, I thought that Allen’s foot was resting on the chair in front of him, that Russell was actually drawing on his cigarette, that …

The fact that it is not as you remember it is one of the strengths of Hinton’s photograph (or any other for that matter), for although it depicts only a split-second the felt duration of the picture extends several seconds either side of that frozen moment to include – or so it seems – what has just happened or is about to happen: Ben tilting back his hat and blowing his nose, Red reaching over to take a cigarette from Pee Wee …

Oil paintings leave even the Battles of Britain or Trafalgar strangely silent. Photography, on the other hand, can be as sensitive to sound as it is to light. Good photographs are there to be listened to as well as looked at; the better the photograph the more there is to hear. The best jazz photographs are those saturated in the sound of their subject. In Carol Reiff’s photo of Chet Baker on-stage at Birdland we hear not just the sound of the musicians as they are crowded into the small stage of the frame but the background chat and clinking glasses of the nightclub. Similarly, in Hinton’s photo we hear the sound of Ben turning the pages of the paper, the rustle of cloth as Pee Wee crosses his legs. Had we the means to decipher them, could we not go further still and use photographs like this to hear what was actually being said? Or even, since the best photos seem to extend beyond the moment they depict, what has just been said, what is about to be said . . .

Photograph of Red Allen, Ben Webster, and Pee Wee Russell (1957) from Bass Line by Milt Hinton.
Text by Geoff Dyer, from But Beautiful , 1991.


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who knows me

September 30th, 2008

Yesterday was nice. Today, too. It’s been so bad this year that a nice day is worthy of comment. Barbara and I sat on a bench by English Bay for a long time, talking and not talking. Observing and opining on this and that. beat the devil came up. I mentioned writing a new item, the first in months. (I thought I’d quit.)

“Everyone knows you better than I do.”

Barbara doesn’t read any of this because she has no computer.

“You know me better than anyone”, I said. “What do they know? I’m very selective, what I write about, obviously. Like one day I did something cool . . . then for a year I sat in a room miserable, lonely, and depressed . . . couldn’t even get a date.”

“Put that in your blog”, she said.

Maybe I will.


Thanks Barbara!

Zubromak, Dim Valley. November 3, 2008

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a reader writes

August 8th, 2008

Mr. Nation,

your photography inspired and intrigued me, as all art should do in my opinion. it lead me to several questions but it was your biography that really motivated me to wright to you. i recently moved from northern california to the bahamas, a beautiful place and i am not regretting my decision. but in seeking tranquility and balance ive found it but hand in hand came monotony and contentment. i dont want to fullfill nietzche’s quote “show me a content man and ill show you a failure” ( i believe), and it sounds like you have found some stagnance in vancouver. as well as that i noticed your view on how capitalism has destroyed the avenues of artistic living, well thats my spin on it but it sounds like you might agree. i hope that you have the time and the opportunity to respond to the question thats arisen in me and has been festering for some time now, what do we do now?


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CODA Magazine turns 50 but is still younger than me

May 7th, 2008

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

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sarah silverman part 2

March 31st, 2008

sarah and i get a little closer

photo by Guy MacPherson

Sarah Silverman is hot, isn’t she? The hottest. Even Barbara thinks so, except she wouldn’t say hot. And she’s funny as hell. The funniest. Sharp. I’m crazy about her. Her TV show is one of only about three that I ever watch. I’m very particular. Or do I mean peculiar? I get those words mixed up.

Two years ago I explained how I was seduced by a photo of Sarah Silverman in an old New Yorker magazine that lay open on a pile of other magazines in my apartment for several weeks or months. It was sort of like the portrait of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) that Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) eventually falls for, except that I knew Sarah hadn’t been murdered. And I didn’t actually fall in the usual sense of “falling”. Since then I’ve become her biggest fan, although not as crazed as the boys who’ve been going around town stealing piles of Georgia Straights out of vending boxes for her cover photo. And these Straight boxes are two or three on every block around here so I’ve been seeing a lot of Sarah lately.

The reason for the cover story is that Sarah blew through town on the weekend for a show at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, to which our mutual friend Guy MacPherson (who wrote the story) invited me. I had to pass on seeing Bill Coon’s guitar genius band at Cap College to catch her. In fact I risked my life as despite being the end of March a freezing sonofabitch hailstorm blew in from Russia (I thought the fucking Cold War was over!) and I don’t like being on the roads here at the best of times. I thought I’d probably die an icy death on the way to Richmond but I took that chance.

Sarah’s show was great. I’m not a comedy critic (that’s Guy’s job) so won’t elaborate. I loved it. How could I not? Some familiar stuff and some new stuff and Sarah’s just fun to be around when she’s on stage, and off as well, as it turns out.

We went backstage and hung out for an hour I’m guessing. I haven’t met many comics but the few I have were not that funny in real life. I’m funnier in real life but if I got on stage I’d be shot. But Sarah’s funny and warm and well . . . as much as you can tell in an hour . . . real . . . and a sweetheart! I’m still crazy about her.

Guy MacPherson and Sarah Silverman

Tomorrow: Running into Woody Allen at City Lights Books in 1963

Sarah Silverman at Wikipedia
Sarah Silverman Show at Wikipedia
Sarah Silverman Show at Comedy Central
Sarah Silverman article by Guy MacPherson, in the Georgia Straight


I see Sarah’s #14 on the People magazine list of the 100 most beautiful people in the world. Where do you think you’d place, Brian?
Guy (Vancouver) – May 11, 2008

does jimmy kimmel know about you and sarah?
naan (cornwall asylum) – Monday, May 26, 2008

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Henry Miller

March 27th, 2008

One day I decided to call Henry Miller. I dialed “O” and asked for Monterey California information. The operator I got sounded like someone Miller and I would have fought a duel over. “I’m looking for the number for Miller, Henry Miller, in Big Sur”. She was sympathetic. “Oh,” she said, “people like that never have their numbers listed.” We chatted for about two minutes. If I knew then what I know now (which isn’t all that much more, really) I’d have persisted and gotten the number somehow . . . maybe.

This is my favourite photograph of Miller, taken by Harry Redl. I don’t think it’s ever been published or shown anywhere. Harry described the day he visited Miller and was taking a few pictures of the author with his tripod-mounted Rollei. Miller asked him to take some pictures of his watercolours and brought them out and leaned them against a stone wall. Harry got out another camera, took some shots, and turned around just in time to see Miller sneaking up on his Rollei, to grab a shot of him.

I never did talk to or meet Henry Miller and despite all my unsubtle hints Harry never gave me a print of this photo. The one you see here is taken off Harry’s business card and is reproduced twice the original size – thus its inferior quality.

This almost insignificant anecdote was prompted by having just watched this wonderful short film:

Dinner With Henry (1979)
Director: Richard Young

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a score for cecil taylor

March 9th, 2008

cecil taylor photo by leslie bell

this is the photo of cecil taylor taken by the lovely and talented leslie bell, sister of the handsome and loquacious bob bell, at the legendary vancouver jazz society hall on fourth avenue when i presented the cecil taylor unit (with jimmy lyons, david ware, raphe malik, and beaver harris) for four nights in the spring of 1977

about 1964 somewhere in a magazine or anthology i read a poem entitled a score for cecil taylor (whose name at that time was as yet unknown to me) that so intrigued me that when some time later i spotted an album called cecil taylor live at the cafe montmartre in a record store on ste catherine street i bought it instantly, sound unheard, got home and put it on the Lenco turntable and although i grasped little of what i heard i was nonetheless enthralled by the sounds pouring out of my single mono speaker. everything i heard in music from that point on in my life was altered by this single experience. that night dave and harvey came by and as usual we got highcecil taylor cafe montmartre and listened to jazz but when i put this on they decided i had lost my mind and on subsequent evenings it was only by upping the dosage that they were able to yield to my advanced musical choices. (eventually i absorbed taylor’s language and his music not only made sense but it was just as likely to move me as a lester young improvisation or johnny dodd’s solo on perdido street blues

i wanted to go back and re-read that poem that first sparked my interest but couldn’t find it in the volume where i was sure i’d first seen it and i eventually went through every anthology, magazine, broadside, chapbook, and everything else and could never find it. was it a dream?

when i met cecil taylor for the first time in the mid-seventies i told him about how i first became aware of his name through that poem and asked if he knew who had written it and he said he had never seen or heard of it.

so this is a mystery

tomorrow: ornette coleman

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just another broadcast from Sydney

March 2nd, 2008

In his biography of William Burroughs Ted Morgan describes the time in 1975 when Burroughs was visited by Robert Bly.

Bly told the story of how a tribe of Australian aborigines reacted to their first experience with a battery-operated radio. The first thing they heard was the news from Sydney. “Two women were killed this morning and two others were badly burned in a fire that destroyed a roominghouse for the elderly.” Disturbed by the plight of these distant people, the aborigines gathered food and blankets to take to the survivors. Only with difficulty were they convinced that there was nothing that they could do to help. After that, gradually, they began to lose their ability to react to the human and social needs around their village. “So the medicine man breaks a leg,” said Bly, “and they figure, oh well, it’s just another broadcast from Sydney.

[Literary Outlaw p. 486]

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March 2nd, 2008

I forgot to post this review of Benway’s Deathbed, by Only Magazine‘s esteemed film critic, Adam O. Thomas.

As a film critic and writer it is my pleasure to watch all kinds of work whether it be big Hollywood blockbusters or little independent films. As such I have watched your “experimental” film Benway’s Deathbed a few times now as it is thankfully short and feel like I may be able to offer some insight as to what it means.

Take the first frame. It is a perforated film frame that precedes the title. This obviously intentional recognition of source is a welcome reminder of a time now long gone. That single frame signals an awareness of the artifice of cinematic construction about to follow, a powerful signal that this is just a film. The simple credits underscore the complicated imagery that lies at the heart of the film and the playful cast credit of “unknown saxophonist” underscores the mystical and philosophical possibilities the film reflects. As if saying “the name is not important but the effect remains.” A truly brave statement in a time of endless categorization.

The lingering camera work blends with the tender jazz score to create a haunting atmosphere of uncertainty. We watch, constantly searching for clues, yet the images languish back and forth denying us any, what we film writers would call, action. Murky and bewildering, comparisons to Bergman are inevitable and are overtly reinforced by the scene of a man playing chess against the stuffed bird. Which also invokes a sense of tension because it could also be Hitchcock…but with far fewer birds, so its not quite as scary.

The simplicity of the relationship to music and muse as reflected in the relationship between the saxophonist and the girl is a tender reminder of the simple beauty in life, being sensual or sonic and this operates in powerful contrast to the nihilistic imagery of the aforementioned man versus bird chess match.

Of course all of this could be “bullshit” and the film, made something like 40 years ago could simply be the work of a drug addled beatnik on pot or in the throws of an LSD bender, but it is unlikely you were drunk at the time because so much of the film is in focus. I hope this helps you understand the film you made and also gives you some insight into the powerful and fascinating job we film writers have. Please if you have other films, don’t hesitate to send them somewhere else.

You can watch the film again here, no extra charge.

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