Daryl Duke

Daryl Duke died this weekend. I posted the following back in March.

Around the same time that I was getting set to put on jazz concerts at the hall on 4th and Trafalgar in Vancouver (building is gone now) TV station CKVU was starting up. The papers said Daryl Duke owned CKVU. I knew his name from a series of television programs he produced for CBC in 1961 called Quest. It presented innovative and experimental programs like Arrabal’s play Picnic on the Battlefield, the film Cry of Jazz featuring Sun Ra, and a number of great music shows, including a half-hour episode with Charles Mingus called “Mind of Mingus”. We had two channels in Montreal then. English CBC and French CBC. As it happened, when the Mingus show was airing on the English channel 6, a hockey game was starting up on the French channel 2. I got into a nasty argument with my dad who wanted to watch the game. He won and I only got to see about 10 minutes of Mingus and thus began my lifelong contempt for hockey! Contempt for my dad didn’t last nearly that long.

About a decade after this jazz critic Ralph J Gleason wrote an article for Rolling Stone lamenting the fact that very little film or video existed of the great jazz figures and that we ought to start filming those that were still alive, before it was too late. I knew that Gleason and Duke were associates, possibly friends. (Gleason produced Duke’s “Payday”, a terrific movie that probably not enough people have seen.) That, and the jazz that Duke presented on his TV show (he also had Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, the Wray Downes Trio, etc.) led me to think that I could persuade Duke to film the groups I was bringing to play at the 4th Avenue hall. The idea was to air the shows on CKVU and sell them to European broadcasters. I saw it as a way of subsidizing my jazz ventures which had no chance of making any money as my artistic standards were too high to attract much of a paying audience.

So I called CKVU and left a message for Duke. A few days later I tried again. Eventually I was leaving three or four messages a day. I’m sure he was a busy guy. One evening I sat by the phone wondering how the heck I was gonna get hold of this guy. I figured it out. The station was going on the air in a few weeks. Everybody there must have been working long hours every day of the week. I waited till about seven, seven-thirty, after normal business hours, and dialed the number. This time I didn’t politely ask for Mr. Duke, as I had all along, but said in a clipped business-like manner, “Daryl, please.” Duke got on the phone. I rushed through my introduction, Hi, I’m so-and-so of such-and-such, and got to the part about watching Quest when I was 17 and what a hip, ahead-of-its-time, not since equalled program it was and next thing you know Daryl and I are reminiscing like old pals about the glory days at CBC, Mingus, Lenny Bruce, Kerouac, Ralph Gleason, and so on.

He couldn’t, or wouldn’t commit to taping and airing entire concerts but a nightly two-hour live show was in the works, he said. He gave me the name of the producer, and when they did finally go live they had most of our visiting jazz performers on the show, including the legendary Mary Lou Williams. Pia Shandel, a sweetheart at the time but who went on to become a right-wing talkshow lunatic, did all the interviews. When she asked Lester Bowie, who wore a lab coat in performance, how long he’d played trumpet he explained that he wasn’t really a trumpet player – he was a gynaecologist from L.A. Cracked me up but Pia didn’t laugh. That bit never made it to air.

The only time I met Duke face-to-face was backstage at an Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald double bill a year or two after all this. I look forward to hanging out with the guy some time, reminiscing about twentieth century culture and missed opportunities.

Johanna called a few minutes ago. I told her this story I’m writing. I said it’s just another anecdote without interest for anyone because I hadn’t come up with an interesting angle, or hook of any kind. She said she dated Duke’s son briefly in the early nineties. Well, that’s a hook.

Link: http://www.darylduke.com/

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