Tribute to Ed Bickert
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
Well, sadness. I got home from the gig March 2nd and saw the news that Ed Bickert died on February 28th.
Ed Bickert was one of my all-time favorite jazz guitarists. He specialized in, as Paul Desmond said, “...the impossible chord that occurs quietly in the background.”
Jazz superstardom (oxymoron?) never happened for him, not because he wasn't deserving, but because he wasn't willing to do what it took. He was famously reticent to go on the road and was intensely private. I would assume it had a lot to do with his wife and four kids. As I have written about elsewhere, How I Sabotage My Music Career - And Why, it's almost impossible to maintain a healthy marriage and successfully raise kids when touring all the time, and you're not going to get famous by not touring. Any superstar jazz musician who wanted to play with Ed Bickert (Paul Desmond, Milt Jackson, Rosemary Clooney, Dizzy Gillespie and many others) had to get a gig in Toronto and then hire him.
The Paul Desmond Quartet Live was recorded in a club in Toronto in 1975. I still have the vinyl. It's a double album that includes a chart of one of the tunes – Paul Desmond's “Wendy.” Man, where could you find that today? I remember several Jim Hall records from the '70's that came with charts tucked into the liner.
I loved that record. No piano – just guitar, upright bass and drums with Desmond's horn out front. I cannot communicate how much I loved Ed's playing on that record. I've stolen TONS of things from that recording – mostly accompanying devices; chord voicings, substitutions, voice leading – all kinds of stuff. I'm listening to it now as I write this.
I would love a steady gig like that – introverted, understated, thoughtful and supremely musical. No singing, no show - just 4 great musicians playing together.
I also have an album on vinyl recorded live in 1978: Ed Bickert & Don Thompson At The Garden Party. Don Thompson is a jazz musician who is worthy of investigation if you're not familiar with him, but relative to Ed Bickert he was/is a staple in the Toronto jazz scene and was the bass player on the Paul Desmond record noted above.
The music on it is wonderful - by virtue of it being a duo recording, Ed Bickert's playing is totally exposed. His time, his chord voicings, soloing - thoughtful, sensitive, lyrical; all that and more. He was just a great musician and guitar player.
Another piano-less group that made a great recording is the Ed Bickert 5: At Toronto's Bourbon Street.
Again, the guitar is an integral and exposed part of the rhythm section.
The guitar playing is great; the whole band swings like crazy.
On top of everything else, Ed Bickert played an old, beat-up Telecaster - a guitar usually associated with Country and Rock music - and got the warmest, pure tone you can imagine out of it. When I first heard him on the radio playing with Paul Desmond, I thought he was playing a big Gibson hollow-body of some kind.
I could go on and on. The Ed Bickert Quartet's 1985 release, I Wished On The Moon.
Another piano-less group with wonderful, swinging guitar playing.
I've learned some things about him since his death, one of which is that we share a birthday; November 29th.
Another thing I didn't know was that it was the death of his wife in 2000 that precipitated his retirement from playing; apparently he just stopped and never picked up the guitar again, which supports my feeling that his devotion and commitment to his family is a major factor for his lack of fame, at least outside of jazz circles.
I have discovered a Vimeo channel run by his son, Jeff, that has a series of wonderful interviews that I've enjoyed watching.
I am sad that I never met Ed Bickert or got to see him play live.
Without going into the details or the politics, and with all due respect to those who served, in 1973 I had a plan in place to deal with the possibility of being drafted and having to go to Vietnam; I was going to head for Toronto.
I know this will sound very weird: Had that alternate timeline been actuated, I KNOW I would have studied with Ed Bickert.
I have learned since his death that he didn't/wouldn't teach. Well...I would have bugged the crap out of him to give me some lessons anyway and, failing that, I would have been sitting at the front table on gig after gig soaking up everything I could from watching him play night after night.
I would have studied with him, one way or another! However, since that alternate timeline was not actuated, I've had to settle for my Ed Bickert records.
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