There is no doubt about that ... almost 45 years later ... Expo 67 has become a legend in Canadian history, almost surpassing Canada's Centennial Year itself in importance. For those of us who were lucky enough to have made that pilgrimage in 1967 ... it was an event like no other. Quite apart from being a showcase of the best the world had to offer in the 1960s ... art, design, architecture, and pop culture ... Expo 67 also showcased some of the world's best music and much of that originated in Canada.
To provide some background of just what Montreal was like in 1967, I visited Montreal twice in the summer of that year to visit Expo 67. That was probably the very best world exposition held during the 1960s if not just for the fact that it spanned the Summer Of Love. The pavilions that were erected on the newly created islands in the Saint Lawrence River were absolutely stunning examples of the latest in technology including the awe-inspiring geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller which was naturally the US pavilion. During that entire year, there was an incredible excitement in Montreal ... they had a new subway system called Le Metro and an incredible feeling of modernism that was reflected in the major architectural gems such as Place Ville Marie. There was a genuine feeling of electricity in the air that Montreal was at the centre of the universe that year. World leaders and dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II, Charles De Gaulle, Bobby Kennedy, and others travelled to Montreal to visit the worlds exposition.
The Canadian Pavilion was to host a complete program of Canadian music, covering all genres, from Friday, April 28th.,1967 through to Friday, October 27th., 1967.
"The Theatre" was located inside (in the very middle of ) the The Arts Centre at the Canadian Pavilion and was designed to seat 500 people. For the price of $1.00, Expo 67 patrons could purchase a guide book of all performances held at the Canadian Pavilion. There was also an outside "Bandshell" seating 1500 people.
The following page shows the jazz schedule for Expo 67 and includes Maynard Ferguson, Moe Koffman, Phil Nimmons, Yvan Landry and Ron Collier:
Although I attended Expo 67 twice, once in June with my school and once again in August with my family, I did not catch any of the live performances inside The Theatre at the Canadian Pavilion. I can only imagine what it would have been like to catch Lee Gagnon and his crew of jazz-mates running through their club repertoire on those four days in August 1967. As they were riding high then with their recently released Capitol Lp "Le Jazztek", we can assume that some of the tracks from that Lp were performed live at Expo 67, possibly including their cool take on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and George Gershwin's "Summertime" .. both of those would have been appropriate. It is possible that not all of the musicians would be the same as those featured on the LP. Presumably, they would have been wearing jackets and ties - as they had appeared on the front of their Capitol LP.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recorded many of the jazz performers at Expo 67 for their series "Jazz En Liberte" which was the name of their Saturday night jazz show (11 PM to 11:30 PM) on the French language CBC radio network.
The Québec programming on the CBC was radically different within each local market. The "Jazz En Liberte" radio program was broadcast originally for the Quebec market. In early 1967, CBC was broadcasting programming in Ottawa and Toronto on AM on Saturday nights under the program name "Jazz Canadiana". On Saturday nights on FM radio, they were offering "Jazz At Its Best".
I seem to recall seeing a CBC Transcription Disc of one of the Lee Gagnon performances at Expo 67 from that time, and further information on that recording would be appreciated. The personnel on the Lp included Lee Gagnon (alto sax, tenor sax, flute), Art Roberts (piano), Michel Donaato (bass) and Claude Ranger (drums). The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recorded a number of the Expo 67 jazz performances for their "Jazz En Liberte" Saturday night program and one recording from that time that has survived is by Maynard Ferguson who played at the larger Bandshell on May 15th., 1967.
The following passage has been extracted from Mark Miller's "The Miller Companion To Jazz In Canada" (Mercury Press, 2001, pages 79 - 80):
GAGNON, LEE. Tenor and alto saxophonist, flutist, b Amqui, Quebec 2 Sep 1934. Gagnon’s career in jazz was brief, the 1960s roughly, but by Canadian standards of the day quite productive. Classically trained at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec a Montreal and at the University of Montreal, he played 1956-9 in the Royal Canadian Ordinance Band, then began to work in Montreal showbands.
He led his first jazz ensemble, a ten-piece, at the Montreal Jazz festival in 1962 and 1963; Vic VOGEL served as its primary arranger and played piano, trombone and tuba with the band. Gagnon subsequently formed a quartet that worked regularly1966-8 at the caf la Boheme renamed le Jazztek and toured in 1969 throughout Quebce. He made three LPs during this period, La [sic) Jazztek (1967, Capitol), Je Jazze (1968, Capitol) and Jazzzzz (1969, Barclay), the last originally a RADIO CANADA INTERNATIONAL transcription.
No other Montreal jazz musician was as well represented on record in the 1960s (Nick AYOUB and vibraphonist Yvan Landry each made two LPs.) Gagnons willingness to surround himself with superior sidemen variously, trumpeter Rob Proby, pianists Art ROBERTS and Pierre LEDUC, guitarist Sonny GREENWICH, bassists Michel DONATO and Roland Haynes, and drummers Claude RANGER, Blain Wikjord and Richard Provencal was crucial to his success.
His own playing , mostly on tenor, was characterized by a decided shrillness of tone; melodically, he echoed Stan Getz on La Jazztek and Wayne Shorter on Jazzzzz. Gagnon subsequently served 1969-72 as musical director for the French singer Charles Aznavours North American tours, then turned increasingly to studio work as an arranger and composer. He later moved to New York.
Lee Gagnon issued two separate long playing albums on the famous Canadian Capitol 6000 Series label during the latter half of the 1960s. These two Lps are highly collectible and have been especially prized by Japanese record collectors over the years. The music spread across all four sides is highly listenable and stacks up well against any of the best US jazz albums of the period.
The lineup for Expo 67would have been set up well before the end of April so that the guide books could be printed and distributed. So Paul White, A&R man at Capitol of Canada would have known that they were a hot item on Montreal's jazz scene and that they were in the line up for Expo 67 with the other major Canadian jazz acts. In fact, White had several Capitol 6000 artists at Expo and spent quite a bit of time there .. that is where it was happening in Canada musically in 1967 so he had to be there. When I spoke with Paul White this year, he remembered his time in Montreal in the 1960s with fondness even though he was extremely busy there.
In the year of Expo 67, Lee Gagnon was on a roll. In April , Capitol of Canada announced his forthcoming (first) Lp for the Capitol 6000 Series.
"Capitol has signed Montreal jazz artist Lee Gagnon and his quartet, scheduling an album for June and promising "The most exciting jazz sound you've ever heard in years." Gagnon, who plays sax and flute, owns the jazz club La Boheme, favorite after-hours spot with many international artists playing Montreal."
|(S)T-6226||Lee Gagnon||La Jazztek|
|EMI Vault date: June 12, 1967|
|ST-6253||Lee Gagnon||Je Jazze|
|Sleeve date: November 1968 / EMI Vault date: November 4, 1968 *** first release in Stereo without a corresponding mono release, hence the «ST» prefix with no brackets|
The second album, Je Jazze, was issued after Capitol of Canada had phased out its MONO releases in the spring of 1968. Both albums were pressed for Capitol by Compo Records in Cornwall, Ontario.
Paul White was Capitol of Canada's A and R manager and it was usually Paul himself who decided just what would be released on the Capitol 6000 Series of albums and the Capitol 72000 series of 45 RPM discs. It is interesting to note that only a handful of jazz albums were issued by Capitol of Canada at this time, notably the following French Canada and English Canada recording artists:
Generally, these albums were linked to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations radio and television programming of the period and often the CBC logo appears on the album itself. It is probable that Paul White may have been relying on the recommendation of the CBC's management in terms of just what French Canada and English Canada jazz artists were worth the effort of issuing recordings. Certainly there were few other reference points ... but Paul does state in the liner notes that he was catching acts like Lee Gagnon "live" before they were signed.
Capitol (S)T-6226 Lee Gagnon "La Jazztek" (issued Monday, June 12th., 1967)
1. Impressions Discotheque (Lee Gagnon) 4:06
c) Jazztek (Lee Gagnon) 11:56
3. Take Five (Paul Desmond) (3:32)
1. Summertime (G. Gershwin, I. Gershwin, Heyward Du Bose) (11:09)
2. How Insensitive (Insensatez) (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Norman Gimbel) (2:19)
3. Con Alma (Dizzy Gillespie) (6:04)
The musicians on this album:
Claude Ranger (drums)
The album was recorded in Montreal at Stereo Sound Studios over the dates Monday, April 10th., Monday, April 17th., and Monday, April 24th., 1967. Oddly, the album was recorded during the same weeks when The Beatles were putting the finishing touches on their magnum opus Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ! The album was issued in Canada on Monday, June 12th., 1967, just as record racks were filled with the new Beatles album. As previously mentioned, Paul White has said that he spent a lot of time in Montreal during 1967 and he is in fact listed on the album jacket as Executive Producer. Paul left the album's production to Jules Gauthier and the album was engineered by Gaetan Desbiens.
Paul White did in fact write the following notes for the album:
"Montreal one of the worlds most exciting cities renowned for its marvelous cuisine,
its blend of old- world charm and modern industry. Montreal, alive with culture, teeming with the sounds and sights of today and in the centre of all that is today stands Lee Gagnon!
My introduction to Lee happened on one of my frequent business trips from Toronto to Montreal. A friend, knowing we were always interested in hearing of probable artists for the label, suggested I drop in to catch a set of Lee Gagnon at his club, La Jazztek. I did so, and the result of that evening out is this album!
I was immediately electrified by the absolute communication between Lee and his group they gave out with a sound that was so complete so sure four men molded into on great musical unit!
The audience that night (and we have since discovered, every night) dug Lee Gagnon. He is a jazz name that will spread beyond the Quebec border; we feel he will soon be known by jazz enthusiasts all over the globe. To present you with the best introduction to Lee Gagnon, we recorded six titles the group play at The Jazztek. Two of them, Impression Discotheque and the Suite are Gagnon compositions. The remainder are standards, given fuller dimensions through Lees interpretations.
Lee has signed a long-term contract with Capitol Records; he is currently writing scores for several movies; he, like Montreal, is Today with even greater success looming in sight for Tomorrow!
MONTREAL DURING 1967"
To reinforce the fact that Lee Gagnon's first album was more directly the brain-child of the CBC in Montreal, the leading liner notes were penned by CBC producer Laurier Hebert of Montreal. Laurier wrote:
"Lee Gagnon first came to the attention of jazz fans with his big band at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1962 and the press unanimously accorded him top rating. The band has since given many concerts and has appeared on radio and television thus continuing the tradition of the big ensembles where improvisation and creative writing form an integral part of the repertoires. Here for the first time is a recording of Lee Gagnon with a quartet where the particular creativeness of the big band is transposed on another level thus giving each member of the group a chance to perform individually and affording, incidentally, a chance to hear the inventive improvisation on both sax and flute of leader Lee Gagnon. The Quebec programming on the CBC was radically different within each local market. "
Art Roberts and Michel Donato were also both featured on the excellent Nick Ayoub Quintet RCA LP The Montreal Scene which is highly recommended for anyone interested in the best Canadian jazz recordings of the 1960s.
LP Nick Ayoub Quintet The Montreal Scene RCA Victor Canada International PC-1042 (MONO) and PCS-1042 (STEREO) (issued in Canada in April 1965)
(Nick Ayoub clarinet, tenor saxophone, oboe, English horn, flute, Art Roberts - piano, Cisco Normand, Al Penfold cornet, trumpet, valve trombone, Michel Donato -bass)
The Nick Ayoub Montreal Scene Lp featured terrific liner notes by noted Canadian jazz journalist Len Dobbin who at the time was the Montreal correspondent for the jazz magazine Coda. Here is what Len wrote about Art Roberts and Michel Donato in early 1965:
ART ROBERTS, the pianist, is a native Montrealer. At 34, he is the only other veteran of the local jazz
scene in the group. Hes married to jazz vocalist Eve Adams. Art first attracted attention in the 50s at Emanon Jazz Society meetings and Jazz Workshop concerts. Interested in all forms of jazz, hes a follower of James P. Johnson and Jimmy Yancey, along with Monk and Bud Powell.
MICHEL DONATO, also Montreal-bred, is 22, youngest and newest member of the group. Originally a piano player, he took up bass four years ago and has played professionally since 1961. He’s loaded with talent for one so young. New York pianist Dick Wellstood, who worked opposite him with Buddy Hackett, was amazed at the great strides Michel had made in technique when he caught him again just five months later.
RCA Victor in Canada had decided to issue a unique series of Jazz Lps in 1965 that drew upon the success of the up and coming jazz artists in the major Canadian cities.
As such, there was also a Vancouver Scene and a Toronto Scene Lp as follows:
LP The Brian Browne Trio The Toronto Scene RCA Victor International PC-1022 (MONO) and PCS-1022 (STEREO (issued in Canada in September 1965)
Lp Lance Harrisons Dixieland Band The Vancouver Scene RCA Victor International PC-1043 (MONO) and PCS-1043 (STEREO) (issued in Canada in September 1965)
Ranger, Claude. Drummer, composer, arranger, teacher, b Montreal 3 Feb 1941. He studied drums briefly with several teachers and arranging with Frank Mella. Beginning his career in Montreal showbands, Ranger was a leading figure among the city's jazz musicians by the mid-1960s - eg, a sideman to Lee Gagnon (at La Jazztek 1967-9), Pierre Leduc, Ron Proby, and others, and the leader of bands heard on the CBC's 'Jazz En Liberte'.
Capitol ST-6253 Nov 68 Lee Gagnon "Le Jazze" (issued Monday, November 4, 1968) (stereo only)
face 1 / side 1
1. autoroute 5:25
2. visage (the face) 6:33 (ron proby)
3. poussiere d'etoile 8:16 (pierre leduc)
face 2 / side 2:
1. espieglerie 3:27
2. leanna 4:55 (richard ring)
3. ginette 3:54 (pierre leduc)
4. strut 7:13 (ron proby)
Lee Gagnon (saxophone / flute)
Pierre Leduc (piano)
Ron Proby (trompette / trumpet)
Roland Haynes (centrebasse / bass)
Claude Ranger (drums)
Recorded over 3 days September 18-20, 1968 at Andre Perry Studios.
( aka Studio André Perry, in the Montreal suburb of Ville Brossard)
Produced by Pierre Dubord.
Liner notes by Laurier Hebert (CBC):
"Lee Gagnon has always given us work of the highest quality. This record demonstrates once again his inventive subtlety as a soloist and his unfailing tastes as a a constructor of exciting, creative jazz groups out of individually talented musicians.
Whether it be the piano genius of Pierre Leduc, the explosive, lyric trumpet of newcomer Ron Proby, or the rythmical authority of Claude Ranger's drums and Roland Haynes' bass, Gagnon's group surrounds us with a sound uniquely their own. The compositions themselves, all written by Leduc, Proby, Ring and Gagnon, are equally fresh. In short, we have here a group in constant state of redevelopment whose musical product can be justly measured on an international scale."
Lee Gagnon is an obscure name in Canada`s musical history ... but that should not be the case, as both of his albums stack up well against any of the best jazz Lps issued during the 1960s.
As of 2011, not many of the original Capitol 6000 Lps have made it to re-issue on Compact Disc. However, both albums were re-released by Harkit Records in England on one excellent CD as "Le Jazze Canadienne " (HRKCD 8163) in 2006. Oddly, the compact disc has not sold well in Canada but has sold very well in Japan.
For the re-issues, original copies of the stereo albums were used and were cleaned up (edited ) and re-mastered by Dutch Masterers guru Raymond Steeg. They sound terrific and are certainly worth obtaining if you can't afford the original Lps.
I have been told recently that there are still a few copies left of the 2006 CD and these can be ordered directly from Harkit Records: