It's amusing to note that the very first concert Oliver Gannon saw, as a preteen in his native Dublin, Ireland, was a show by Bill Haley & His Comets in the mid1950s.
"I was in the crowd, screaming with all the rest of the kids," Gannon recalled with a smile.
Of course, Haley is among early stars of the genre to influence a generation of musicians to rock around the clock. But those 4/4 beats didn't move Gannon so much, because by 1960 it was jazz music, not rock, that gave the teen a jolt when he first picked up an electric guitar, an instrument he'd go on to play for the next five decades.
That first guitar, a Gibson ES-125, was a purchase suggested to him by his mother - a real twist on the usual son-mother negotiations of such matters.
"So I bought the guitar (in Winnipeg, to which the family had moved) with money I had left over from tuition fees," Gannon said. "My dad taught me a few chords by playing them on the piano, so I figured it out that way. It came to me pretty quick."
In conversation at his longtime home in Crescent Beach, Gannon, 69, recalled his long journey in music, from engineering student with a curiosity for electric instruments to semi-retired player still in demand for his six-string skills.
"You have to remember that in 1960, the Beatles hadn't happened yet, so no, I never got overly into rock 'n' roll," Gannon said. "I'm not sure why, but as soon as I started playing, I totally got hooked on jazz, which I knew nothing about - other than from my father (pianist Joe Gannon). It was a great time for jazz, though."
The enthusiastic yet late-blooming Gannon studied the playing of Barney Kessel, considered king of the jazz guitar at the time, and found his way from Manitoba to Berklee school of music in Boston and eventually to Vancouver.
For Gannon, the West Coast offered relief from the bitter cold of other Canadian cities that had tempted him with residency in the early 1970s. He knew not a soul when he moved here, but Vancouver would welcome him warmly with gigs aplenty, including at the legendary Cave supper club and with the fusion band Pacific Salt. He performed at major jazz festivals in Europe and North America, did multiple tours of the former Soviet Union and earned national accolades for his musicianship.
Along the way, Gannon met and married a singer of note named Pat Hervey, who once sang on The Tommy Hunter Show and just celebrated a 40th wedding anniversary with Gannon, on Valentine's Day.
"I'm feeling good - I play golf a lot, usually on Pender Island on the nice little nine-hole course they have there," Gannon said. "I'm enjoying life now, kind of taking it easy.. I'm a big fan of semi-retirement."
With music, Gannon laments the lack of gigs for professionals on the scene.
"There are not that many gigs, but of those available, I'm still getting my fair share, and I'm really happy about that," he said. "The gig situation for us jazz musicians in the Lower Mainland and, in fact, all around the world, is dismal right now, for a number of reasons. Here, we have one place, basically, at the Cellar (in Vancouver), and I'm lucky to play there quite often. We could use more jazz clubs, for sure."
Gannon typically keeps himself busy as a for-hire player, and less often as a bandleader; he hasn't released a CD of music in his own name since the 2006 effort Too Much Guitar.
"Historically, I was very much a side man in demand, I'm glad to say, but that kind of makes you lazy because you don't pick up the phone and try to get your own gigs - everyone else is hiring you! I think deep down, I'm kind of lazy. To have your own group, it takes some get-up-and-go."
This Saturday night (Feb. 23), Gannon brings his quartet to Blue Frog studio in White Rock for a public concert recording (tickets $35 via www. bluefrogstudios.ca and 604-542-3055). Featured will be Miles Black ("one of the best piano players in the world, really," Gannon raved), South Surrey-raised Jodi Proznick on bass ("an absolute monster on bass") and Blaine Wikjord on drums ("he just swings like crazy, a beautiful drummer").
The concert will be recorded "on spec," Gannon said, "so if everyone feels good about the results, we'll go to the next step with it.. Jazz is mainly about spontaneity, so maybe at soundcheck that afternoon I'll give them a list of songs - jazz standards - and those players are so good, you get their creativity. The less you give a person, the more you get out of them, I believe. I'm like the policeman up there calling the tune and counting them off," he added with a laugh. "We have a great time playing together, and jazz is really about having faith in the other members of the group because we never know what we're going to do for an ending - or an intro, for that matter."
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