The musicians were Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Herb Hall (clarinet), Benny Morton (trombone), Claude Hopkins (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass) and Buzzy Drootin (drums). Bill was the front man at the microphone and Claude Hopkins was the musical director.
Before the first week was out, a consortium of jazz fans had pooled their money for this initial recording. In those days $5000.00 was enough to get the project off the ground.
The only available studio time at Hallmark (where Duke Ellington had recorded with Canadian musicians and where The Saints and Sinners had made their Cav-A-Bob record) was from 1 to 6 a.m. It took two nights of arduous playing to complete the music but everyone agreed that it had been a “hot” session. Arvell Shaw even rated it alongside his Brussels Word Fair date with Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong’s W.C. Handy project.
The success of this record led to feature recordings for Herb Hall and Claude Hopkins. Hall’s “Old Tyme Modern” (now released on CD) is generally recognised as a definitive example of his distinctive New Orleans clarinet. The Hopkins date is one of two solo recordings he did at that time.
Artistic direction of the label has been the responsibility of John Norris and Bill Smith (who are also responsible for the jazz magazine Coda) and the evolving nature of Sackville’s musical persona is very much a reflection of their personal tastes. There has always been musical and personal compatibility with the artists who have recorded for Sackville.
In the 1970s the label expanded in different directions. Legendary Kansas City pianist Jay McShann had appeared at Montreal’s Man and His World as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s summer long showcase of American Arts and Crafts in 1971. This led to Jay coming to Toronto for the first time the following summer. “The Man From Muskogee” was recorded with Jay’s working trio augmented with bassist Don Thompson. It was the beginning of a relationship which continued into the 1990s. Jay McShann has more than ten recordings for Sackville in a wide variety of settings. He has also continued to perform frequently in Toronto because of this association.
In 1973 there was a landmark session with Dollar Brand (as he was then known). The Thunder Sound session, which was issued on two lps and is now reissued on CD, was Abdullah Ibrahim’s first in North America and is a definitive example of his solo piano music (along with two lps recorded for Joachim Berendt in Germany that same year and now reissued on two Westwind CDs).
A new wind was blowing in the jazz world in the 1970s. Chicago’s AACM and St Louis’ BAG were a proving ground for musicians who have since attained international renown. When Anthony Braxton, Oliver Lake, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Julius Hemphill, Joesph Bowie and others first appeared at A Space their audience was small but intensely loyal.
The concerts, produced by Bill Smith for Onari Productions, led to Sackville issuing some of the best early examples of the artists’ work. At that time BYG (in France) and Delmark and Nessa in the United States were the only other companies involved in this music. This association also helped shape and mature Bill Smith’s own musical identity and several of his own musical productions were to appear on Sackville—notably with Leo Smith and Joe McPhee.
The 1970s also marked the beginning of several recording projects with tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, trumpeter Doc Cheatham and pianist Sammy Price.
Tate was heard in a duet setting with Jay McShann as well as in a two saxophone session with Bob Wilber and only bass and drums for support. His 1981 collaboration with guitarist Ed Bickert’s trio was a gem and “The Ballad Artistry” is still available on CD.
Doc Cheatham and Sammy Price recorded two sets of duets for Sackville which were evocative of the first golden age of jazz in the 1920s. Cheatham’s widely varied use of mutes and Price’s barrelhouse piano created a special sound.
The 1970s were notable for the accelerated showcasing of Canadian talent. Sackville won best jazz recording Junos for the guitar/bass duo of Ed Bickert and Don Thompson, Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six’s “Atlantic Suite” and Fraser MacPherson and Oliver Gannon’s “I Didn’t’ Know About You.” There were also several projects involving saxophonist Jim Galloway. It began with a 1973 trio date with pianist Dick Wellstood and an lp by his working band “The working band “The Metro Stompers.”
Jim Galloway was to be a key figure in the various versions of The Sackville All Stars with his input being crucial to the organisational success of the music. The first version of the band with Buddy Tate, Jay McSchann, Don Thompson and Terry Clarke recorded “Saturday Night Function” in 1981 and the title tune has since become the closing theme for Gilmour’s Albums on CBC Radio.
The second edition of The Sackville All Stars was assembled in response to Bill Smith’s brainwave—a Christmas jazz record. The recording featured Jim Galloway’s soprano saxophone and the tightly knit rhythm section of Ralph Sutton, Milt Hinton and Gus Johnson. It was not only seasonal it was also, according to most listeners, a highly successful jazz performance. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that since then there has been a steady flow of Christmas jazz recordings!
In 1978 drummer Pete Magadini produced a scintillating session which not only featured tenor saxophonist Don Menza at his most eloquent but finally captured the brilliance of Wray Downes. “Bones Blues” is still in the catalog as a CD reissue.
Since June 1983 Toronto played host to the world’s finest jazz pianists at Café des Copains and, more recently, at the Montreal Bistro. The music has been programmed, from the beginning, by Jim Galloway and John Norris. This has led to a steady flow of recordings from such artists as Art Hodes, Keith Ingham, Ronnie Matthews, Harold Mabern, Red Richards and Ralph Sutton.
The introduction of the CD revitalised jazz recording activity and once again made it possible for smaller independent companies to operate successfully within the framework of an industry which had all but self-destructed in the 1980s.
The Sackville catalog has expanded with a new series of recordings by such Canadian artists as Del Dako, Art Ellefson, Steve Holt, JMOG (Joe and Pat LaBarbera, Neil Swainson, Don Thompson) and the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra.
There has also been a close collaboration with concert producers in Switzerland. It began with the release of a 1983 performance from the Bern Jazz Festival which featured a sextet led by Doc Cheatham and Jim Galloway.
Two issues are recordings from Baden produced by Jazz in der Aula. The first dates back to 1966 and captures trumpeter Buck Clayton at the height of his powers. The second comes from a 1991 concert featuring the brother and sister team of Ralph and Barbara Sutton.
Also available is a 1992 Baden concert date by The Canadian All Stars (Ed Bickert, Terry Clarke, Jim Galloway, Oliver Jones, Fraser MacPherson, Dave Young) as well as further archival material by Buck Clayton, Ben Webster and Albert Nicholas.
The rich yet natural sound of a Sackville recording is a credit to the skills of those handling the recording chores. We have been fortunate to work alongside some of the best. Phil Sheridan, Don Thompson, Ted O’Reilly and Peter Pfister bring to their work the same level of dedication and integrity as the musicians. You can hear it in the finished artifacts.
Equally important has been the layout and design work of Bill Smith. His imagination and sensitivity ensures that each recording is packaged in an attractive and sympathetic way which captures the personality of the music.
Nearly 40 years after Sackville Records was founded they are still going strong. Current artists recording with Sackville include Andrew Scott, Harry Allen and Joe Temperly.