Back in the ’90’s Ottawa had a handful of pretty fine jazz clubs, which was great because I was just getting into the genre and I was happy to have the opportunity to get out and hear high-quality, live jazz pretty much any time I wanted. That said, I didn’t get out to any of them very often, which makes me feel almost wholly responsible for the fact that there are currently no jazz clubs in Ottawa.
As a matter of fact, the Ed Bickert concert on October 8th, 1998 might mark the only time I saw a show at After 8, a truly beautiful bar in a prime location on Wellington Street, it’s front doors directly across the street from the front doors of Parliament’s Centre Block. The room was very classy with its marble pillars and high ceilings, and it was small enough to make it a great place to see a band. I remember maybe a dozen small tables in there, and there was a very elegant bar (where, as the ticket suggests, smokers were still free to light up).
Ed Bickert was set up on the floor a few feet from my table near the front. I was almost completely unfamiliar with the Canadian legend, though I knew he famously played a Telecaster outfitted with a pair of humbuckers in lieu of the standard single-coil pickups. I would soon find out that he was a world-class inside jazz guitar player who landed somewhere close to Herb Ellis with a splash of Joe Pass thrown in, which is pretty fine company if you ask me.
He had with him a bass player from Montreal whose name escapes me. The guy was skinny as a rail with big frizzy hair. He was an excellent player himself, and he played with such intensity that the tendons on his neck looked like they would burst during every solo. Before digging in for a run up his big doublebass the guy would grit his teeth, purse his lips white and scrunch his face into a pucker, and his neck would go positively skeletal. It was fun to watch, if a little worrisome.
Ed was playing two shows that night (how very jazzy) so the show wasn’t too long but it was great, and when it was over I had a big, happy earful of inspiration in my young jazzy soul and doubtlessly went straight home to my own pair of humbuckers and tried in vain to remember my major 9th chord inversions.