Montreal,1954. The choices I made promised new adventure, new music and new friends. High school ended for me mid-way through grade 10. The summer construction camp job had put cash in my jeans and I wanted more. I went from playing in The Salvation Army Band, to playing dance music at the YMCA on Saturday nights, and on to professional musician. Sometimes interesting, sometimes scary, always exciting.
I met the Montreal music scene through Mel Howard, a great piano player who had put together a music show called The Black and White Revue. I joined the Musician’s Union to play in his seven-piece show band, comprised of musicians from New York as well as Montreal. The show tour was headed to small nearby towns including Cornwall, Brockville, Smith’s Falls, Kingston. The band and twenty or so performers hit the road for a four week schedule; one show a day then drive to the next town, matinee on Saturdays, and Sundays off. After fourteen days of small towns and smaller audiences, in arenas designed to hold ten times the audience we drew, the tour fell apart and we went back to Montreal, with $90 each – one week’s pay. That was the end of that. After four weeks as a professional musician I was unemployed.
The lesson from the failed tour was that I needed to learn a lot more about music, and become a better player if I was going to succeed, or even survive in the music business. A good place to start was a practice studio so I rented a tiny sound proof rehearsal room to hone and expand my jazz and pop music skills. Like the other musicians who rented at Frank West’s studio on St Catherine Street, I spent a lot of time practising and as much time socializing.
Bruce Cassidy a trumpet player, new in town from Fredericton, New Brunswick, walked in and rented a space like mine. He thought Harry James was the greatest living trumpet player: I didn’t share that view. We talked and argued the fine points and became friends. He discovered that finding work in Montreal was not the cakewalk he had imagined, so Mom pitied him, took him in, and he stayed with us for five or six months.