Homage is a token of the gratitude I have for all the friends who have helped me along the way. I would first like to thank these two musical players who contributed so much to the spirit and quality of this recording. Thank you to Rene Worst and Mike Gillespie, who both played with great support and musical thought.
I would like also to thank my teachers throughout the years: Edward Parker, Barbara Custance, Douglas Tawlney, and Kathryn Bailey/Puffett. As well, I would like to acknowledge my fellow instructors and professors from my days at MacEwan University. I have received much support and mentorship from all of them, notably: Bobby Cairns, Rick Garn, Robert Myers, Samuel Lancaster, Gordon Nicholson, Alan Gilliland, Bill Richards, Brian Thurgood, Ray Baril, and our chair for many of my years there, Bob Gilligan.
I would also like to acknowledge the input of the many students I’ve taught over the years who have gone on to exemplary careers in music. One does learn by teaching. I would like to give special thanks to Senator Tommy Banks for his friendship and encouragement over the years. A very special thanks goes to Cherilyn Michaels who helped to get this project and others together, and lastly to my family Geraldine, Jessica, and Sarah for their support and understanding. It was my two daughters who initiated this recording project.
— Charlie Austin, May 2014
Part of the Homage represented by this recording is to the jazz pianists, most notably Bill Evans, who have inspired Charlie’s music. The other is Charlie’s homage to the many people — musicians, fans, friends, and family — who have been a part of his life during the past seventy years. Homage features Charlie in a trio setting accompanied by Vancouver bassist Rene Worst, and by myself, Mike Gillespie, on drums.
Rene Worst has been a major presence on the Vancouver jazz scene since 1971. His virtuosic abilities and supportive presence have established him as an internationally known bassist, producer and teacher, performing with the likes of Alice Stuart, Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, and many more over his long career. As for myself, I (Mike Gillespie) have been active as a drummer on and off in the Edmonton jazz scene since 1978 and am currently part of local trio Jazz Passages that includes Bryan Sim (piano) and Farley Scott (bass).
My sketch of Charlie’s musical career begins with his study of classical piano in Vancouver, where he was performing concertos by fourteen, and earning his ARCT diploma before finishing high school. He discovered jazz as a teenager and played with a variety of Vancouver bands, notably the Vancouver Shades in 1958-64.
He enrolled in the University of British Columbia, and in his second year decided to major in music with a specialization in piano performance. He continued to perform jazz during his years at UBC, and upon graduation in 1966, he concentrated on being a full-time working musician playing both in Vancouver and on the road.
On the road in the seventies, Charlie met Edmonton musician Geoff Bowen (drums) and Stu Millman (bass). Both encouraged him to move to Edmonton to become a part of the healthy music scene there. Charlie made the move, and soon became a valued member of Edmonton’s jazz community. A part of his extensive work during this time is a trio recording that he made for CBC in 1978 accompanied by Tom Doran (drums) and John Sereda (bass). Interestingly, this recording introduced two of Charlie’s compositions that appear on this album: “Take it from Hear,” and “Ready for Another Step.”
Shortly after Charlie’s arrival in Edmonton, George Naylor, on Geoff Bowen’s recommendation, hired Charlie to chair the piano program in the jazz studies program at Grant MacEwan Community College (now MacEwan University). Charlie worked there from 1974 until his retirement in 2006. In addition to teaching both introductory and advanced courses in piano—the former known affectionately as “funky keyboard”—Charlie wrote and published a three volume work 450 Contemporary Piano Studies in 15 Keys, and An Approach to Jazz Piano, which has been now purchased by enthusiasts in thirty countries.
Another important part of Charlie’s Homage was a trio with Paul van den Biggelaar (drums) and the late Stu Millman (bass), who had been instrumental in Charlie’s move to Edmonton. He commented to Stu’s widow, Marilynn McAra, shortly after Stu’s death, “I would still be in Vancouver if it were not for Stu. He called me to go on the road. ‘Come play.’ So we spent two years on the road together… Stu had a profound effect on me both musically and professionally. I got a taste of humanity with Stu.” Commenting on their playing, he evokes Stu’s ability “to transcend the moment, [to] get into a very musical—actually, an ultra-musical, ultra-aware, ‘time stops’ — kind of thing.” When Paul joined the trio, his playing added to the mix that Charlie and Stu had attained in the duo. “Sometimes with Paul we had this infinitely perfect time—that is, a rhythm—a long ballad beat, kind of connected to infinity.”
Charlie’s reflections on the trio’s music appear to have struck a similar chord in at least one listener— poet Richard Davies — during one of the trio’s monthly gigs in the courtyard of the Sutton Place hotel. The stanzas from the poem reproduced below nicely capture the trio’s “message” and, bringing these comments back to our present album, the feeling that Rene and I attempted to evoke in our playing with Charlie.
— Mike Gillespie, May 2014
There is much to like
about this trio, this gig.
In a word, movement.
Piano lets us know which standard
Is to be re-signatured.
And then the momentum of
bass and drums and you
are into it before
the waitress even takes
But pay close attention:
This is a good story.
An encapsulation of all
Of life’s gigs and quest for spiritual nourishment.
A plot rolled out like
Kerouac’s teletype novels.
As life should be.
Three pairs of eyes and
On the very same page.
Saying, We are unit,
Our experience and wisdom
— Richard Davies
1 Bill’s Hit Tune (Bill Evans) 8:30 A composition by the late pianist Bill Evans, one of Charlie’s main influences, “Bill’s Hit Tune” is long, and the form differs somewhat from the AABA form of most jazz standards. It has a 16-bar A section, a 16-bar B section, a repeat of all but the last two bars of the A-section, and a six-bar ending that consists of the last two bars of the A-section plus a four-bar tag—a total of 52 bars! Charlie opens the tune with a beautiful rubato rendition of the first 8 bars of the tune. Rene and I come in response to the relaxed time feel that Charlie establishes for the rest of the tune. Charlie solos first playing one chorus. Rene solos next, also for one chorus. We finish the solo-section with eight-bar exchanges between Charlie and me.
2 Take It From Hear (Charlie Austin) 4:38 One of Charlie’s originals, “Take It From Hear” consists of two 12-bar sections. The first begins with a catchy eight-bar statement—one I found myself humming days after the session — followed by a four-bar interlude that gives us a chance to relax. The second section repeats the catchy eight-bar statement, but with the final four bars altered to maintain the momentum of the first eight and move us into the solos. We vary the solo format with Rene playing two choruses, followed by Charlie’s two chorus solo. We end the solo section with a chorus of four-bar exchanges between Charlie and myself.
3 Up Jumped Spring (Freddie Hubbard) 6:15 A composition by trumpet player Freddie Hubbard, “Up Jumped Spring” is the only 3/4 tune on this recording. We continue the relaxed feel, however, despite the change in the time signature. Charlie takes the first solo. It provides a nice example of the way he is able to create lines that meld classical and jazz elements. The remainder of the solo section consists of exchanges between Rene and me. The form of the tune is AABA with sixteen-bar A sections and an eight-bar B section.
4 I Hear A Rhapsody (George Fragos, Jack Baker, Dick Gasparre) 6:14 “I Hear a Rhapsody,” is a standard AABA 32 bar form that has been performed by numerous popular singers—Billy Eckstine, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra to name three. It became a jazz standard possibly due to its performance by the Bill Evans trio in their album Live at Montreux II, and this is the context in which we play it with Charlie using Evans’ harmonic alterations in the A section. Also in line with the Evans performance, we pick up the intensity in this song. The solo section opens with a 32-bar drum solo. Charlie then plays a three chorus blistering solo. You can hear the Evan’s harmonies plus Charlie’s additional harmonic elaborations. Rene keeps the intensity up with his two-chorus solo ably assisted by Charlie’s comping.
5 Polka Dots And Moonbeams (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johny Burke) 3:07 A ballad written by the prolific team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, “Polka Dots and Moonbeam” has also become a jazz standard. Other than Charlie’s improvised introduction and ending, we play the tune fairly straight one time through with no solo, although both Charlie and Rene embellish the tune in pretty and interesting ways. After a beautiful introduction by Charlie, Rene comes in to provide an equally beautiful bass line underneath
6 Funkallero (Bill Evans) 5:03 “Funkallero,” is the second Bill Evans tune on this album. A driving sixteen-bar medium up tune, it has struck me as a departure from Evans’ compositional style. Rene Worst opens the take with an unaccompanied rubato introduction. He then states the melody with me accompanying him with sticks and closed high hat. We then replay the melody as a trio with Charlie taking the lead. He plays a three chorus, followed by a two chorus drum solo. Then Rene takes over with a driving four-chorus solo. We take the tune out more or less the way we opened: Rene plays the melody once followed by the trio playing it a second time.
7 Our Love Is Here To Stay (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) 5:09 “Our Love is Here to Stay,” by George and Ira Gershwin is an early jazz standard. Charlie’s arrangement of the tune is inspired by Bill Evans’ rendition with his trio (Larry Bunker on drums and Chuck Israel on bass) recorded live at Shelley Manne’s jazz club, the Manne Hole, in Los Angeles in the early 1960’s. The solo section opens with two choruses by Rene with Charlie closing out the solo section also with two choruses.
8 Another Step (Charlie Austin) 7:21 Charlie’s second composition on this album, “Another Step,” also follows the standard AABA form. A subtle feature of the arrangement, however, is a brief pause between the end of the B section and the beginning of the final A section during both the first and last choruses of the tune, which enhances the contrast between the A and B sections. Both Charlie and Rene play three choruses each, and the solo section ends with a 16-bar exchange between Charlie and me (in which Charlie solos over the two A sections, and I solo over the B and final A sections).
9 How Deep Is The Ocean (Irving Berlin) 7:29 “How Deep is the Ocean,” by Irving Berlin is the final tune. Although it is a 32 bar tune, it doesn’t follow the standard AABA form. Instead, it consists of two 16-bar sections, each of which begins in a minor key (c-minor) and evolves to a major key (E-flat) in the second eight bars. Charlie sets the relaxed yet intense feel in his rubato introduction to the tune. Perhaps the standard solo format—piano, followed by bass, and then four-bar exchanges between Charlie and me—helped maintain this relaxed mood.