Outside it was a warm, Sunday afternoon in a blazing sun.. But inside it was dark, cool — in every sense — and the year was 1946. It was Montreal’s Alberta Lounge.
Not really, but it sure looked that way.
I was at a venue well known to Toronto fans of jazz, blues and roots music — Hugh’s Room Live. But the joint was jammed with a production crowd: costumes, makeup, sets, camera and sound crews, smoke machine, props and, of course, the craft service table. Among the audience were clubgoers in their postwar finery and a waitress with a tray of cocktails, and on stage there was a grand piano, a period-appropriate drum set, a bass and three musicians: bass player Brandon Davis, drummer Clarence Jones and, on the keys, Thompson Egbo-Egbo, looking uncannily like a young Oscar Peterson.
All these forces had been gathered to produce a one-minute feature — a Heritage Minute on the young Oscar’s roots in the Montreal club scene of the ‘40s. This Heritage Minute, produced by Historica Canada, is the first to feature a jazz artist as its subject.
Everything looked the part, and sounded it, too. Egbo-Egbo is a fine piano player, and Davis and Jones supported him in style. The sound was energetic and very much in keeping with the sounds one would have heard at the Alberta Lounge back in the day. Egbo-Egbo was certainly up to the daunting challenge of sounding like the young O.P. — big boots to fill.
Heritage Minutes have been a part of Canadian culture for nearly three decades. Founded by Charles Bronfman in 1991, Historica Canada has produced dozens, most of which can be seen at historicacanada.ca. You’ve no doubt seen them in theatres and on TV, and if the line “I smell burnt toast” sounds familiar, that’s because it comes from one of the best-known Heritage Minutes, which made Dr. Wilder Penfield a household name in Canada.
The Oscar Peterson feature will be launched next February as part of the celebration of Black History Month.
As I stepped out into the unexpected warmth and glare of an early autumn afternoon, I wanted to stay in that 1946 nightclub. But I made do with a recording by Peterson. He never recorded Early Autumn, but there are no fewer than 16 different recordings of him playing Autumn Leaves. He was, and remains, Canada’s greatest jazz treasure. When his Heritage Minute pops up on your TV, you’ll see for yourself.
David Basskin is the host of The Nightfly, heard every Saturday at midnight on JAZZ.FM91.