ten years later

On April 11th, 2010 I played the very first note on my brand new Thompson Upright Bass, a glorious open A …and the love affair began.  I had set aside a 38 year career in recording studio music production and this was the first day of a new chapter.  I had no idea where it would take me, who I would meet along the way, the fantastic musical experiences I would have and the amazing lessons I would learn.  Musically I had thought that I had it all figured out but the people I was about to meet would convince me otherwise…


My first musical partner on this new journey was friend and neighbour (in rural North Hastings) Brad Culver.  We got together to jam, learning lots of tunes, sharing them on ‘the bonfire circuit’, in hunt camps and eventually in nearby Bancroft, ON.  He used to say that my need for consistency and structure was rubbing off on him; meanwhile we was teaching me how to fly by the seat of my pants… and that was to come in very handy!  When our friend Rick joined us on guitar we started to call ourselves Fraser Creek.

In Bancroft I eventually made it onto stage… with folk band Back Of Beyond (Dave, Carl & Doug), with troubadour John Foreman, with southern rock and blues band Off the Cuff (Adam, Rich & Ron) and bluegrass band Gravel Road (Steve, Bill, Rob, Ron & Al), with singer-songwriter Heather Inwood-Montrose, with blues/roots band Way Down (Donna & Jim), with fiddler and step-dancer Julie Fitzgerald and with guitarist Chris Dickson …who, along with Ken and Patricia introduced me to jazz.

Some of these guys didn’t know the names of the notes they were playing, what key they were in or what a real chord chart was… but they were full of music!  I used to say stuff like— ‘Hey what did you just play? I loved that!’ …and they’d say— ‘I don’t know… do you mean this? (and they’d play it again) and I’d learn something new, something I hadn’t picked up in my many years of study, that I hadn’t learned during my days at the Faculty Of Music or at any time throughout my 38 years of arranging, orchestrating and producing music in recording studios.

branching out…

It was during this time that I started to pursue some online sources, connecting with Peterborough-based Mercy Steelwood (Jess & Mark), Ottawa’s Amanda Cottreau, Marmora-based The Sneaky Petes (Kyle & Shawn) and, through a Kijiji ad, with the Kirk Losell jAZZquartet based in Millbrook who were looking for a jazz upright bass player… ya, Kijiji.  Jocelyn Grills was the drummer; the guitarist was the fabulous Michael Monis.  All of them demonstrated an incredible measure of patience with the new bass player who was awkwardly trying to find his way around a new instrument in an unfamiliar idiom.  This was the start of a long-term musical partnership and deep friendship with Michael which continues to this day.

During my time with the quartet I also met and shared the stage with Peterborough guitarist/vocalist and great entertainer Mike Graham (who has taught me so much over the years) and drummer Curtis Cronkwright.  Meanwhile back in Bancroft I met up with, and shared a couple of shows with, the amazing blues guitarist/vocalist Suzie Vinnick.  I also met Noah Zacharin and Laura Fernandez, both of whom would eventually become musical colleagues and good friends.

I continued my work in Peterborough and one night, while playing a Mercy Steelwood show, I met ‘Fiddling’ Jay Edmunds.  I’ve worked many times with him since then including the day, a few years later, that we ended up on the back of a hay wagon with Cheryl Casselman for a video shoot of her great song ‘Dandelion Wine’.  Jay, like me, is a music theory ‘geek’ and though we love making music together we possibly love our breaks even more… it’s when we can go offstage to discuss modes and chord extensions.

At a Mercy Steelwood show I met up with a band called Chick’n Pot Pi and subsequently spent several months playing with Geoff, Pete, Wally, Sandy, Gene and Carly, expanding my bass-playing experience in the areas of blues and jazz.  I learned lots from these guys and am grateful for my time with them.

the big move…

By early 2013 it became clear that we should relocate, leaving our beloved one-room schoolhouse in North Hastings where we had lived for over 13 years.  We settled in the fabulous village of Warkworth in May 2013.  I continued my musical associations in Peterborough, Millbrook and, to some extent, Bancroft.  But a shift was coming…  In Warkworth I connected almost immediately with Lizzie at her wonderful Our Lucky Stars Café and soon presented some music there with Michael Monis and also with my new friend Stephen Rapos– a fine guitar player, great singer and excellent songwriter.  It was there that I first met, on different occasions, San Murata and Saskia Tomkins, both fine violinists, and where I reconnected, after many years, with pianist Brian Finley …but more about that later.

I was starting to miss my bluegrass days in Bancroft with Gravel Road so I searched online and found Al Kirby and Bill Olson of Nassau Mills.  We started working together almost immediately.  A wonderful musical association and deep friendship developed and would lead to several appearances at Lang Pioneer Village, in Warkworth, in Foxboro and in Napanee, as well as at the Shelter Valley Folk Festival.  We had so much fun together!

A new eatery called The Garden Of Eatin’ opened up in town soon after we arrived and its owner/operator Karen Raymondshared with me her dream of having live music in her facility on a regular basis.  I happily ended up playing there every Friday and Saturday evening for more than two years— jazz, blues, country, folk, bluegrass, & roots.  I had grown used to a two-hour commute from our schoolhouse to Peterborough several times a week; now the ‘commute to work’ was a whole two minutes!

I am forever grateful to Karen for this great opportunity which allowed me to not only perform regularly and to introduce her and the community to many of my musical friends, but allowed me to meet several new musicians, many with whom I would continue playing in the years to come— Benj Rowland, Steven Vero and Martin Hickey (both through Mike Graham), Harry Ellis, Lenni Stewart, Olivia Rapos, David Papple, Al Lerman, Andy Sparling & Dave Reed, Steve Holt, Jane Archer, and Cheryl Casselman.  (Through Kevin Sullivan, a fabulous mandolin/guitar player I had met in Bancroft, I connected with country/bluegrass singer Ginny McIlmoyleand began, at Karen’s place, playing shows with her and guitarist Steve Piticco.)

the network grows…

With those new connections I began branching out, playing mainly jazz…

. Through drummer Harry Ellis I met Lenni Stewart and we began performing regularly throughout Prince Edward County as the Lenni Stewart jAZZtrio.

. Harry also introduced me to jazz pianist and music educator Howard Rees and, with Howard, performed alongside vocalist Sophia Perlman.

. Thanks to Lenni Stewart I connected with the wonderful folks at Old Church Theatre in Quinte West and through that connection came the start my ongoing association with Joe Callahan.

. I’ve played for many years now with Starpainters Swing & Jazz and through my association with Andy and Dave have met and performed with saxophonist Dan Bone and vocalist Jeanette Arsenault, and have became regular bassist for The Commodores Big Band Orchestra.

. Through my work with Noah Zacharin I’ve shared the stage with Burke Carroll, pedal-steel and Alexander Brown, trumpet.

. Through Laura Fernandez I met and have worked with monster drummer/percussionist Marito Marques.

. Through San Murata I’ve worked with pianist Paul Grecco and guitarist Tony Quarrington.

. Through Rob Phillips I’ve connected with singers Chelsey Bennett, Marsala Lukianchuk and Carin Redman as well as folk and blues artist Rick Fines.  (Rob’s another great teacher and, as we share the stage, I’ve been his student for several years now!  Together we’re created and performed along with other fine players as GATSBY Roaring 20s.)

ten years…

In concert halls and in living rooms,
On porches and in garages,
In pubs and at fine restaurants,
For trade shows and in classrooms,
In backyards and on farmers’ fields,
At wineries, breweries, and in tents,
Around bonfires and on rooftops,
In churches, Town Halls and Art Galleries,
On street corners and in marketplaces,
In theatres and on hay wagons,
On cruise ships and in bowling alleys,
In barns and on penthouse patios…

…for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, barbecues, festivals, craft shows, fundraisers, corporate events and celebrations of life  …and every time out there’s a lesson learned, a contact made.

the old meets the new..

Back in 1994 I produced a recording studio session with the amazing young pianist, Brian Finley.  I had no idea that years later I would become musical coordinator for the Westben Jazz Fringe Festival in Campbellford.  What a treat it has been to reconnect after so many years and now work closely with Brian and Donna.  At The Barn, at The Clocktower and at Garden Gala Fundraisers I’ve appreciated their trust, their patience and their support.

For years in the studio I worked with percussionist Brian Barlow.  We go back a long way, a good 35 years I’d say.  He played flawlessly, consistently and very musically, was happy to contribute ideas and had great jokes and stories.  Nothing has changed except that instead of being in the studio together we now, on occasion, get a chance to play live music together, always a treat!  …almost exactly the same story with another good friend– guitarist Mike ‘Pepe’ Francis.

In the early 1970s I attended the Faculty Of Music at the University Of Toronto.  I was a trumpet major and as such sat in the trumpet section alongside Bruce McGregor.  Fast-forward to 2015, Keeler Centre, Colborne, ON– I hear: ‘Excuse me, aren’t you Howard Baer?’  It was Bruce, a retired high school principal and now piano player performing live shows.  We’ve reconnected musically, playing regularly with drummer Daryl Knox at Victoria Hall in Cobourg– four seasons now of his hugely successful, once-a-month, ‘Jazz In the Afternoon‘.

In the early ’80s I produced many jingles in the recording studio, at times hiring the great saxophonist Bob Leonard; we now share the concert stage with The Commodores Orchestra.

In the late ’70s I played Christmas shows at the provincial government buildings in Toronto, at times with pianist Danny McErlain; I’ve had the thrill recently of playing jazz together in clubs and restaurants.

The opportunities continue back in Warkworth as I’ve been able, for many years, to provide music for annual events such as Art In the Park, Lilac Festival and The Long Lunch.  In May 2019 we staged, at ‘Jazz In the Lilac Room’ in Warkworth, the inaugural concert presentation by The Moonglow Jazz Strings featuring Ottawa’s Karen Oxorn.  The show sold out seven weeks in advance.

For more detail and lots
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through it all…

My education continues.  I have played hundreds and hundreds of shows with Michael Monis; I owe him so much for what he has taught me and for the patience he’s had with me.  And there are many others with whom I have an incredible bond both musically and personally— Joe Callahan, Noah Zacharin, Harry Ellis, Andy Sparling, Stephen Rapos to name just a few.  I continue to make new musical friends— Suzi Wesson, Jana Reid, Tanya Wills, Melissa Smeets, Brian Legere, Steve Donald, Bernardo Padron… and I continue to learn.

I have grown to appreciate every person at every show— all the smiles, the dancing, the applause, all the hugs, all the love.  And above all, from the beginning of this journey, Anne has been there with support, enthusiasm and encouragement, pulling me out of the valleys (and there have been a few), making sacrifices week after week, month after month, year after year so that I can follow my heart into this amazing arena.  Every time I leave for a show, often 5 or 6 times a week, she smiles and says, “Have fun!” …and I do.

The studio work I did for 38 years was very valuable and I’m very grateful for that chapter.  Production is time spent planning, discovering, sculpting and perfecting.  It’s very rewarding… but the impact your music has on someone isn’t immediate and often isn’t realized until years later or perhaps not ever.  Live music is all about creating something in the moment …and the response is immediate; you give and they give back.  People ask me what’s different about my previous musical chapter in the studio and my ten-year bass-playing chapter.  I usually say:

‘I used to play for microphones
and now I play for people.’