By Guy MacPherson
Oliver Gannon has never been in a hurry. Long considered one of the premier jazz guitarists in Canada, the long-time Lower Mainlander is only now, a year before his 60th birthday, putting out his first album as a leader.
Gannon has been the sideman of note on numerous recordings, however. He figures he’s been on at least 30 jazz albums since moving to Vancouver in 1969 from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, via Winnipeg. From the early days with the fusion group Pacific Salt to his numerous albums with longtime partner Fraser MacPherson, Gannon has proven to be the consummate sideman.
When you list the great guitarists in Canada. Gannon is right there along with Ed Bickert, Sonny Greenwich, Nelson Symonds and Lenny Breau. So, one naturally asks, what took him so long?
“It’s one of those things where I just never got off my ass to do it,” he says. “I’m just bloody lazy, I tell you.”
In the chapter devoted to him in Mark Miller’s 1987 book, Boogie, Pete & the Senator: Canadian Musicians in Jazz: The Eighties, Gannon is quoted as saying, “I’m not in a hurry. I feel things are happening, maybe at a snail’s pace. But I’m here now—right? - and doing my own thing.”
The past five years or so, his “own thing” has meant taking a sabbatical from performing and going legit. His brother is the programmer for the popular musical accompaniment software ‘Band-in-a-Box’. Ollie has been working full-time for the company in charge of musical production.
But he’s back — and in a big way. Gannon credits the Cellar jazz club on Broadway for his reemergence onto the jazz scene. His album was recorded live there on the club’s own record label, and owner, Cory Weeds, deserves the credit for making it happen. “I’m getting out more and a lot of it has to do with the Cellar,” says Gannon. “It looks like a jazz club, and it’s got that feel. I just really like Cory and the staff down there and I like playing there. And we usually get good crowds. It’s nice when people are lining up to get in.” For his part, Weeds couldn’t be more thrilled about having his “mentor” on his label: “It’s been a long time coming. I think it’s a good documentation of his playing, and I think it’s a very important documentation for the Vancouver jazz scene to have him recorded like that on a local label. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Will this album get Ollie out of the house and back on the road? After all, he’s played most of the world’s most prestigious festivals, did three hugely successful tours of the former Soviet Union, and crossed our own country several times. Don’t count on it. “I did a lot of that,” he says, “but after a while, it’s kind of like the Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” I’m not really in love with traveling. I’m actually quite happy to stay at home, as boring as that sounds.” One thing is almost certain, if there’s to be a tour in his future, somebody else better arrange it. Gannon recalls one such cross-country tour he did with Swiss saxophonist George Robert: “He said it took him basically an entire year out of his life just to put that one Canadian tour together. That’s how many hoops you’ve got to jump through. And when you start hearing things like that, you start thinking, ‘Gee, do I really want to?’ I mean, that’s a perfect example of when it’s great to be a sideman. You don’t have any of the worries that the poor old leader has.”
But Gannon is not only happy leading this group, which includes pianist Miles Black, bassist Miles Hill and drummer Blaine Wikjord, he’s happy with the final product.
“I like it—and I tend to be, like all musicians, very self-critical,” he says. “But what I like about it is it swings, you know? And that’s the most important thing to me. I sure like being a leader when it’s a group like this.”
The leader and his sidemen will be swinging at the Cellar on Wednesday (Aug. 28) for the CD release party. And here’s hoping he’ll swing many times more in the future. <<