Pianist and composer Bernie Senensky has been a staple of the Canadian jazz scene for more than half a century, working with the likes of Chet Baker, Art Pepper and Elvin Jones along with a nearly 20-year musical partnership with Moe Koffman.
Back in 1989, Senensky recorded an album in a Toronto studio that’s finally been released thanks to Cellar Live. The recording features two fellow Toronto jazz veterans, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Barry Elmes, along with the talents of alto saxophonist Bob Mover and trumpet player Sam Noto.
Senensky joined us to talk about Don’t Look Back and its discovery all these years later.
Tell me a little bit about the scene back in 1989.
[The album] was recorded at trumpet player John McLeod’s house. He had a bunch of musicians who collaborated in the studio, and a label called Unity Records. It was Barry Elmes, Neil Swainson and a bunch of musicians around that time. John had the studio at his house. The living room was where we played, upstairs was the recording [booth]. Lots of recordings were done there. I did about four or five, a lot of them with New York musicians who had come to Toronto to play at the clubs like Bourbon Street. Gary Bartz was one, and a couple of others.
You had a couple of guests on the album. It was Neil Swainson and Barry Elmes, but you also had Bob Mover and Sam Noto that rounded out the group. Tell me about your relationship with them.
They both were living in Toronto at that time, so they were sort of locals.
So you were playing with them all the time? They were part of the scene at that time?
Exactly, and I think I did a couple of other recordings with other local musicians along with the ones from out of town.
What was it about those guys that made you like playing with them?
I had played with Barry a lot in Moe Koffman’s band. Same with Neil, we had played together a lot. I was used to playing with them and they’re both great musicians. So, how could it not work?
The album was recorded but never released until now. What happened?
You know what, I’ve been asked that quite a lot. To tell you the truth, I haven’t figured out why it didn’t. I was doing a lot of playing and I had other recordings that I had put out on a label in Europe. It was possibly because I just never got to it.
After it had been sitting on the shelf for as long as it did, how did it get this second life?
What happened was I had the mastered tracks on a big reel tape. I had all that stuff at home in my basement. I had a water leak so I brought it up and put it in the closet in my bedroom. It was sitting up there for years. One day I was looking through my stuff and I found this, and I couldn’t listen to it because I didn’t have anything to play it on. But I found a cassette of it, so I was able to listen to it and hear how good the music was. Around the same time, I met a fan of mine who, because I hadn’t been recording in years, was interested in putting me in a studio to do a recording. But then COVID-19 was starting, so we couldn’t go into a studio. But I mentioned that I had found these tracks, and that’s how it started. We got them mastered and released it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.