Around the beginning of the 20th century a family of Lebanese immigrants landed in Montreal, Quebec, in search of that eternally hoped-for ‘better life’. The Ayoubs, like many immigrants from the Levant settled in French-Canada, because of their familiarity with the French language and culture. Any advantage this gave them was probably undone by the seriously hellish weather, but the Ayoubs settled into the small but growing Arab immigrant community around Montreal.
In 1926 the family welcomed a son, Nicholas, into the family. Raised in Montreal he took up in turn clarinet, tenor saxophone, oboe, english horn, and flute, and studied with Arthur Romano at the Conservatoire-de-Musique-du-Quebec, one of those strange institutions from a bygone era, that developed professional musicians for free! Studies in oboe followed with Harold Gomberg of the New York Philharmonic.
Ayoub began his professional career in 1943, soon playing tenor saxophone in the dance or jazz bands of JOHNNY HOLMES, MAYNARD FERGUSON, the saxophonist Freddie Nichols, and the trombonist Jiro ‘Butch’ Watanabe. Though a leading studio musician in Montreal by the early 1950s, and occasionally an oboist (and less frequently a saxophonist) with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, he remained active in jazz. An Ayoub quintet performed at the 1963 Montreal Jazz Festival and other Ayoub bands (usually with trumpeter Alan Penfold and pianist Art Roberts) appeared in Montreal clubs, in concert and on various Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio jazz programs through the 1970s. His jazz work was more sporadic thereafter – eg, at the 1988 FIJM with Skip Bey (bass) and NELSON SYMONDS (guitar).
During the height of the Great Depression, jazz was considered a little avant garde, a little dangerous and was flourishing in Montreal.
Nights in Montreal were a sinful pleasure for those with money to spend. Rich Montrealers came in to the jazz clubs with their girlfriends and gave the band $50 dollars to keep playing after the bar had emptied and closed.
The city had a booming red light district with jazz hotspots like the Hollywood Club and the Terminal Club with its bare floors and pot-bellied stove.
Myron Sutton was an alto sax player and came to Montreal from Niagara Falls to be at the centre of the action.
“The Terminal Club was the kind of place where anything could happen. I saw Johnny Hodges come in there and blow his horn. I saw that puff-jaws Dizzy Gillespie come in there. Duke Ellington came in and sat behind the bar. Anybody’s liable to come in there. It was just a joint, but it was a well-known joint.”
Black Americans developed jazz at the turn of the century. The improvised music combined elements of ragtime, blues, spirituals, and band music. By the 1920s, jazz had migrated across the border and during the 1930s, Montreal attracted some of the jazz greats. While most North American clubs were segregated, black musicians found greater integration in Montreal clubs and other incentives to come to the city.
“You have to give the French Canadian white woman all the credit in the world,” one black musician said, “because she was the nicest woman to all the black musicians. If it wasn’t for the French Canadian women, all the black musicians who came from anywhere, and stayed, would have starved to death.”
The 1930s saw the start of the Swing-era, a big band form of jazz. Alto sax player Myron Sutton had a swing band called the Canadian Ambassadors, the first organized black jazz band in the country. They played Connie’s Inn on St. Catherine Street in Montreal for nine months in 1933 and wore custom-tailored suits.
“Our band was strictly a swing band,” Sutton said. “And we just swung, that’s all.”
As jazz thrived in Montreal during the 1930s, a local boy honed his musical skills in quieter venues around the city. Oscar Peterson performed publicly in the family band at churches and community halls. By the end of the decade a teenage Peterson had his own radio show in Montreal and was primed to dominate the city jazz scene in the decade to come.
The jazz pianist and composer subsequently became one of Canada’s most famous musicians.
Montreal’s jazz legacy continues today. Each summer the city hosts the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Established in 1980, the festival is now one of the premier jazz events in the world. It attracts up to 400,000 people a year. (http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP13CH1PA5LE.html)
Nick Ayoub recorded a number of albums as a band leader and tonight we share one from 1977, The Music of Nick Ayoub, on which he playes flugelhorn, english horn, soprano saxophone and tenor saxophone! Excellent, straight-ahead jazz. No Middle Eastern adornments or references accompany the music which opens the window on another corner of the wide-worldwide-universe-of-jazz!
01 Spanish Walk
02 Desert Boots
04 Put It Out
05 Jazz Concertino Peridot
06 Jazz Concertino Turquoise
07 Jazz Concertino Opale
08 Jazz Concertino Saphir
09 Little Joey