------ A look Back at good old days of jazz -------
He lives in a modern new house at the top of Citadel Heights, but Bob Doyle is one of the originals. An accomplished jazz pianist, Doyle's been at it more than 50 years. He moved to Port Coquitlam in 1992, but lived in Vancouver in the 1950s, when the jazz scene has hopping and customers snuck paper bags into "bottle clubs" hiding contraband under the tables before the days of licensed establishments.
There were supper clubs then, and Doyle played many of them: the Coconut Grove, The Flame Supper Club. Doyle remembers a night in the late 50s at the Harlem Nocturn on Vancouver's Hastings Street. While playing, he noticed a commotion out of the corner of his eye. Police were raiding the place. "They used to do that every once in a while" Doyle says. "Itís all sort of wink-wink, and they're gone."
Doyle's colorful career started when he was a child living in New Westminster, where he was born in 1932. There was a piano in the house, but Doyle paid it little attention until his mother said she'd sell it unless Doyle wanted to take lessons. He half-heartedly studied classical music and lost interest in a couple of years, and dropped Mozart and Beethoven in favor of the popular music of the day - Nat King Cole, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington. Intrigued with jazz's intricate chords and sophisticated, layered melodies, Doyle would stay indoors practicing while his friends went out and horsed around. "I was an oddity. When I was in school, there was no band. You played sports and you went to school. Music was what girls played."
He dabbled with other instruments, but always returned to piano. "Itís a complete instrument on its own" explains Doyle, 63. "You can play all aspects of music - melody and chord and rhythm." In his 20's, Doyle moved to Vancouver and found an outlet for his burgeoning talent. He played most of the big jazz clubs - The Espresso, Oilcan Harry's, The Flat Five. He was a fixture at Izzy's on Georgia Street, playing six nights a week for five years.
It was a heady time, Doyle performing alongside such legends as Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, and a 17 year old Stevie Wonder. One night, tenor sax Stan Getz sat in for a set with Doyle's band. Doyle played the Pacific National Exhibition between 1973 and 83, accompanying Frank Sinatra when he opened the PNE in the early 80s.
Around the same time, he played a four day gig at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre when Shirley McLean came to town. The temperamental star was known to express her degree of satisfaction through gifts to the musicians, with the worst insult a half case of beer for a whole orchestra. She was clearly pleased with Doyle's performance - he still has the embossed box containing a black wallet made of elephant hide, and a hand written thank-you note from McLean. Doyle played for CBC's popular Beachcombers series, and at CTV for the Alan Hamel Show. He's been playing Timmy's Telethon since it started.
But one by one, the supper clubs and jazz bars folded, and by the 80s, were replaced by pulsating, technetronic dance clubs. When Doyle started, most music was instrumental, requiring an astute knowledge from players. Now, "the focus is always on the singer. It's a whole different approach." Good musicians, Doyle says, have been replaced by adept programmers. "Musicians are competing with DJs and karaoke bars. There's no spontaneity. Once you press the button, you're going to do a 45 minute set, no matter what"
That's not to say Vancouver's jazz scene is dead. Audiences flock faithfully to the annual du†Maurier International Jazz Festival, an event Doyle is somewhat cynical about. "There's all kinds of jazz here for 10 days. Everybody puts on their jazz hats, then as soon as (the musicians) leave town, they put on their rock n roll hats"
Never mind. The public's fickle tastes won't deter Doyle. He rarely performs anymore, devoting his time to teaching and practicing in his home studio, sometimes up to five hours a day. To hear him play - to listen to Doyle's endlessly shifting interpretations of a song - is to witness the sheer delight of someone who truly loves jazz.
He's simply never grown tired of it. "It's just something I like more the more I play"
Now, Serving Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Anmore & Belcarra. June 8, 1996. By Deborah Bach, Staff Reporter
(Received from Scott Weber via email January 2004)