New Works Magazine: Music In Halifax 1985
2: "I don't like to call them
popular live music in Halifax Is hired by bars and clubs. Maintaining
and operating even a small club runs into big money. The demand
on the musician as part of the profit maximizing formula is that
he be able to consistently deliver a large money spending crowd.
The musician doesn't just need an audience, he needs the variety
of audience that will keep the club owner in business.
businessmen allow for that audience to develop varies. Most expect
musicians to bring a large audience with them; only a few will
pay a musician to build an audience. The Odeon Ballroom appears
to be one of the latter. The club opened with American rhythm
and blues acts such as Wilson Pickett and Martha Reeves. Since
January, the Odeon has experimented with young dance bands — "stuff
way out in left field," manager Bob Bzanson says.
hasn't done well In either format. The club, on Brunswick and
Cogswell, where the Lobster Trap used to be, doesn't benefit from
its location. Bzanson says the place has a bad reputation left
over from the "rough, rugged and sexually oriented"
Lobster Trap. Bzanson says the club is "coming along pretty
good now", but the Odeon has laid off staff and reduced advertising.
Some nights, the place is almost empty.
Peter Khristakos has brought the Odeon in from left field a little
in recent months. Bzanson says you can play only unusual music
for only so long. "Halifax is small. There's not enough to
warrant keeping it going. You can only operate so long on a negative
income," he says. But Bzanson Insists the club won't abandon
new music the way it quit rhythm and blues. "Our philosophy
here is new music first and a little mainstream second."
Upstairs is also trying to create a market. This Is the third
year since live Jazz was reintroduced to the restaurant and this
was the first summer that the restaurant booked only Jazz. A suppertime
Jazz bar has been established in the Cabbagetown Lounge, downstairs
from the restaurant. Jazz musician Skip Beckwith, hired in January
to book entertainment for the restaurant, says, "Within the
last year things have begun to turn around.".
Bucky Adams, Beckwith played Jazz in Halifax in the Fifties. In
fact, the two men played together at the Club 777, an after-hours
club on Barrington Street. Beckwith left Halifax in 1959 to study
music at Berkeley.
is trying to establish a circuit of Jazz clubs in the Maritimes
so that local musicians will have more opportunity to play and
more artists can be brought into the region. A Maritimes Jazz
circuit could also open the way for local players who want onto
the Ontario and Quebec circuit. Beckwith thinks a playing circuit
could "establish the validity of the Maritimes Jazz scene."
says there was a transfusion, an entry of new blood, when some
of the first group of graduates from the jazz program at St. Francis
Xavier University came to Halifax three years ago. Some leave,
but more arrive each year. "It's bound to make things happen,"
Job at Pope's is to establish "a Jazz policy of a high standard
that is compatible with dining." Pope's has provided performance
opportunities to a number of good musicians including Don Palmer,
Scott Ferguson) and Anil Sharma, and has brought Canadian Jazz
artists to Halifax, including pianist Oliver Jones who plans to
record a live album at Pope's this fall.
learned over a period of time what we can do," Beckwith says.
That includes swing, and varieties of bop. "We try to allow
some room," Beckwith says. But there are limitations. Jazz
can be too contemporary, too experimental, or too loud and drive
off everyone but a core of Jazz fans. "We've had some bad
experiences," Beckwith says.
acknowledges that Pepe's doesn't play the best Jazz in Canada.
A dining room isn't the ideal venue for progressive Jazz; but
at the moment Pepe's Upstairs and Cabbagetown downstairs are the
only places in town that regularly pay Jazz musicians to play
Jazz. Beckwith gives credit to owner Jim Bent for having the vision
to encourage Jazz at Pepe's.
and the Odeon are two clubs trying to do business with what is
generally considered noncommercial music. It's more common for
a club owner to look for the obvious big seller, the musician
or music with proven mass popularity.
Bryant, manager of Secretary's Pub, says bands playing Top 40
covers, other people's songs that have sold well and received
extensive airplay on commercial radio, are "effective"
at the moment. Bryant says Secretary's is open to musicians other
than Top 40 cover bands: Theo and the Classifieds, Joe
Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band, the Hopping Penguins and
the Lone Stars, bands playing original material and unusual covers,
have all been employed at Secretary's, but Bryant says the band
should "try to get popular first".
says "Halifax Is tough." He says people "really
have to be dragged in" to hear a band.
Spencer, entertainment manager at the Network Lounge, agrees.
Spencer has worked in several bars in town, including Zapatas,
the Misty Moon and the Palace. In three and a half years at the
Network, Spencer has made at least three trips a year to Toronto,
Montreal or Vancouver to look for new acts.
thing that's doing best for me are the clone bands," Spencer
says. "Tribute bands," he corrects. "I don't like
to call them clone bands."
band makes its living by looking and sounding as close as possible
to an established act. Halifax audiences have gone out to see
tributes to everyone from Michael Jackson to Led Zeppelin. While
other, larger, Canadian cities may support one or two clone bands
in a week, as many as five have been employed over a weekend in
Halifax. Just about every bar in town that hires musicians has
hired a clone. "I was the one to start the whole tribute
thing," Spencer says.
says he admires what Peter Khristakos is trying to do at the Odeon.
Spencer says he would love to hire more local acts himself, but
can't. "The reality of the whole thing is I've got to sell
liquor," he says. "Unfortunately, people In Halifax
are really closed-minded when it comes to seeing something new."
He hopes local bands don't "begrudge" him for the decisions
he has to make.
worked at a number of bars and clubs in Halifax before his company,
Fantasy DJ,was hired to provide entertainment at the
Odeon. Bzanson says the owners and managers are desperate for
any innovation that might give them a competitive edge. For some,
that may mean turning away from live music.
new music and rock bands used to play at Ginger's from Wednesday
to Saturday night. Only a Saturday afternoon matinee remains.
Instead of live music, the tavern is promoting its own brewery.
manager Kevin Keefesayslive music doesn't help the small business
compete against the large clubs like the Misty Moon and the Palace.
"They take so much out of the little guy's pocket, It's hard
to get something better. Entertainment, especially in taverns,
decided to go in a different way," Keefe says. "It's
paying off too. Our sales are up and our costs are down."
screens, and promotions such as Secretary's "twisting on
the waterbed" and hula hoop contest may also be competing
with live music.
are all fads that come and go," says Peter Power. Power says
bars almost always return to live music. "They can't afford
to be without it."
doesn't change, Power says, is that most bar managers hire the
musicians they know can deliver a crowd. And what the crowd wants
is the familiar, the cover or the clone.
seldom performs professionally anymore, but in the 50's he was
leader of a band that played Dixieland and Glenn Miller tunes.
"I knew who was going to come down to the Nova Scotian Hotel
and I knew exactly what request they were going to ask for,"
out there enjoying their favorite beverage and are probably with
their favorite girl. They want to hear their favorite music. They're
not going out for an evening of original music."
Next: Making a living in music