John Geggie: Unexpected Conversations
A local group that ultimately garnered something of an international reputation, Chelsea Bridge was an oddly configured jazz group, also featuring vocalist Tena Palmer, saxophonist Rob Frayne and drummer Jean Martin. "I learned so much from being in that group," Geggie says, "because it was a group where there wasn't a chord playerthere was Tena on soprano voice, Rob on tenor saxophone, Jean on drums and me on bass. I'd been gigging with Jean, and Rob had moved to this area because his wife had a job here, and so he was looking to play with people. We started playing together, and Rob knew Tena, who was living in Montreal, so he proposed that we start a group. It was a really good learning experience for me; we did a lot of touring and a lot of recording. Again, I see it all as a learning process. We won Le Prix DuMaurier at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1993, for best Canadian band."
The group toured abroad, and over the course of the next few years, released a number of records for the Unity label, including Tatamagouche...Next Exit (1994) and Double Feature (1995). At the same time, Geggie began to work with D.D. Jackson, an Ottawa-born pianist who'd relocated to New York, recording albums including Peace-Song (Justin Time, 1995), with saxophonist David Murray. "It got to a point, with both those groups, that I was playing a lot," says Geggie. "It was pretty busy time here in Ottawa as well; there was Ian Tamblyn, The Angstonesthat whole world of what [keyboardist/reed player] Peter Kiesewalter, [singer] Rebecca Campbell and [drummer] Ross Murray, those guys that were doing [Ottawa pop group] Fat Man Waving. I didn't play in that group, but there was that whole world, plus [singer/songwriter] Lynn Miles. So there was a group of people who were playing in a lot of groups, there were good clubs like The Downstairs Club."
He may have been working steadily, but Geggie was always looking for ways to grow and improve. Thankfully, the Canada Council for the Artsa federal organization created to support and nurture the artswas in full swing by that time, providing performing, touring and educational grants. "I was able to get Canada Council grants to study with people, and the first person I thought of was Gary Peacock, whose music I knew from Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio. It was only later that I became aware of the whole breadth of things that he had done with Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, Bill Evans and Miles Davis. I remember seeing him play when I was in Indiana. The orchestra went to Washington, DC to play at the Kennedy Center, and our hotel was really close to Georgetown. The night of our concert, after we'd played, I went to a club in Georgetown where I saw Marc Copland, Jeff Hirshfield and Gary. It was an amazing experience to be that close to his playing , just playing in a club.
"I've always been impressed by his vocabulary and how he expresses himself," Geggie continues. He's a very emotional, very expressive player, and I just liked the way he played things on the bass. He doesn't sound so much like a bassist, just someone playing a solo on an instrument, and I just thought I might like to study with him. I was going to see him initially because of the whole standards approach and things like that, but I learned so much more from him. He gave me lots of things to think about, lots of exercises to work on, and he was the first person to really challenge me in terms of 'Well, if you want to play improvised music you have to make certain decisions in your life, you have to be willing to make certain sacrifices and dedicate yourself to finding your own sound.'
"We've kept in contact," Geggie continues. "It was great; I need to be pushed and he really did that to me. Later on, thanks to the Canada Councila great thing here in Canada, hopefully it doesn't get cut more [there have been cuts to CCA's budget in recent years]I was able to get funding to study with [bassists] Anders Jormin and Palle Danielsson in Sweden. I'd heard Palle with so many different groupsdefinitely with Jarrett's European Quartet with Jan Garbarek. I remember at some stage, when [local Carleton University Radio Station] CKCU was starting out, they had records to give away and I won a whole bunch of them. There were ECM records, like an Art Lande record, a Gary Burton record with Steve SwallowHotel Hello (1975), and there were other thing Coltrane's Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1967). It was quite an ear opener to hear all these kinds of music and to hear the sound of ECM, that particular aesthetic, which was quite remarkablegroups like John Abercrombie's group with George Mraz, or Richie Beirach, or Dave Liebman or Art Ensemble of Chicago.