(This story was published in the Ormsby Review earlier this year, but by posting it again on this blog it means to celebrate the current Vancouver Jazz Festival which, due to the ongoing crowd restrictions and border closures, will still largely be streamed online, spotlighting our best local musicians instead of international stars. The story highlights some local musicians and the remarkable club owner who nurtured them in their early years before the Jazz Festival even existed)
What does the Oxford historian Peter Frankopan’s hefty 2015 book ‘The Silk Roads’ have in common with ‘Vancouver man about town’ Andreas Nothiger’s skinny 1984 synchronoptical World History Chart?
I think I have a case, and a story.
Frankopan gives us an epic review of events in Asia and the Middle East, from Alexander the Great right up to today, a fresh take on the world beyond the Eurocentric focus of ‘Western Civilization.’ It’s a great read, but it rambles in places where he easily jumps up fifty or more years from the last sentence, and back again to an anecdote from before that first event. So you, the reader, have to pay attention and not lose the timeline in your head, with these frequent ‘meanwhile, back in’-interludes. Nothiger’s work consists of a chronological timeline of everything happening simultaneously in the various parts of the world. This unbelievably intricate graphic is 1.3 metres long and includes a timeline of civilizations, as well as maps of places, empires and migrations. Very clear, very helpful.
So when, during our Zoom meeting, one of our book club members held up the Chart for us to suggest its usefulness while reading Frankopan, I jumped up. Of course! I worked as an editorial illustrator at the Vancouver Sun, where the writer provided the words and I created the illustration to complement the text with a visual idea. The old adage that ‘a picture – in this case, a graphic – is worth a thousand words’ applies succinctly to a comparison of Andreas Nothiger and Peter Frankopan’s works.
And, Andreas is my friend!
We go back to the seventies when I arrived here from the Netherlands. At that time, he was the proprietor of the ‘Classical Joint’ in Gastown, a little jazz café filled with intellectual bohemians of various plumage. This was my living room, well into the eighties – the place where most of our local jazz-playing aristocracy came of age.
My skill is portable: I draw. In the ‘Joint’ I began to draw musicians in action. Here’s the drawing I did of the Classical Joint in full swing, with Andreas standing to the right. And a few well-known Joint denizens: Hugh Fraser and Bob Murphy; Dick Smith. Plus, a portrait of dear Linton Garner, Erroll’s brother, who played the piano beautifully around town for many years.
Andreas is a Swiss guy with a heavy accent to this day, the proverbial ‘true eccentric’ who is one of the most interesting individuals I know. Architect-trained, he was part of the creation of the underground Sedgwick library at UBC before he got into jazz.
Running the café almost drove him to the brink. He never made a red cent with it over the two decades of its existence: it involved the kind of dedicated labour of love that only an Andreas would do. He indulged the various misfits in his establishment, never closed the door to anybody (except to overly loud drummers!), even by the time the area became increasingly dicey in the eighties. It was a coffee house – no liquor license – but you could always order a ‘dark coffee,’ meaning there’d be a shot of whiskey hidden in it.
Quietly though, during the daytime alone in his East Van apartment near my place, he worked away at his Timeline project which finally rescued him from poverty: it was published, well received and later picked up by Penguin which gave him a modest pension to live on. I still see him regularly around the music scene, always full of engaging stories of an interesting life. In 2010, we organized a reunion to honour his role in fostering local jazz. 150 musicians showed up for the jam and it was, of course, a memorable, joyous event for this city.
No live concerts, no Jazz Festival, no Folk Fest all of last year, 2020, and an ongoing part of this one. The 2021 Jazz Fest, on now, is still largely ‘streamed’ with a very few carefully managed, small-audience live concerts in between.
I missed the music and the drawing. My Co-Void years. As much as I like reading history books during pandemic-caused social isolation times, may the ‘jazz doors’ open wide again, soon.