Blue Notes and Book Notes

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Mark Miller: Claude Ranger —
Canadian Jazz Legend

Toronto, 2017; ISBN 978-1-77302-559-9

Canadian jazz lore has its fair share of exceptional figures. Drummer Claude Ranger is one of them, albeit for none of the usual reasons. If not mistaken, he is the only musician whose ­career was equally divided between the country’s three main centres, Montreal for his formative years, Toronto in mid-life and Vancouver for the final chapter, one that remains open-ended with his disappearance in November 2000, age 59. ­Seventeen years later, his whereabouts are still unknown, and a missing person’s file remains open at an RCMP detachment. But this is not the main issue at stake in a recently published biography of this singular musician. Arguably the most original drummer ever ­produced in the country, the native Montrealer left a lasting ­impression on everyone who encountered him. Were it not for this book, however, Ranger’s legacy might well have been swept under the carpet of history. Penned by Mark Miller, the one-time Globe and Mail jazz writer, this tome is a remarkable addition to the literature of Canadian music, all the more so given the obscurity of the subject.

A tireless champion of the forgotten, Miller has made his mark (no pun intended) as Canada’s de facto jazz historian. Since 1983, he has churned out eleven books, ranging from a ­dictionary of native musicians, two collections of portraits, an early history of jazz in Canada, and a monograph on Charlie Parker’s appearances in Toronto and Montreal. On occasion he has expanded his scope by retracing the early dissemination of jazz on the planet while ­publishing biographies of obscure figures like Valaida Snow and Herbie Nichols.

This newest work, issued last spring, is ­consistent with the author’s output. For one, he had interviewed Claude Ranger several times in his journalist days and had taken pictures of him, like the one gracing the cover. Next, and more importantly, he weighed the evidence with much circumspection, corroborating it with first-hand accounts from a host of ­­eye-witnesses. The narrative moves at a steady pace, clearly written and ­balanced in terms of judgements, both favourable and critical, and nary any hyperbole.

If Ranger’s disappearance casts a long shadow, there are other sad facts as well. For starters, Ranger never recorded under his own name, and no traces survive of his Jade Orchestra in ­Vancouver. Conversely, the appended discography lists his sideman credits, yet none of these albums are in print now. In 1998 he stopped playing, not long after being diagnosed as bi-polar. A composer, Ranger nevertheless destroyed all of his charts, according to an ­acquaintance, save for an odd part preserved by one of his protégés. He then sold his drums to a young player, Ivan Bamford, apparently the last person to see him alive.

The most disturbing fact, however, is that the author found no publisher, ­forcing him to publish the biography at his own expense — more damning proof of a typically Canadian trait to write off our own.

(Available in paperback vo Indigo or Amazon Canada.)

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About Author

Marc Chénard is a Montreal-based multilingual music journalist specialized in jazz and improvised music. In a career now spanning some 30 years, he has published a wide array of articles and essays, mainly in Canada, some in the United States and several in Europe (France, Belgium, Germany and Austria). He has travelled extensively to cover major festivals in cities as varied as Vancouver and Chicago, Paris and Berlin, Vienna and Copenhagen. He has been the jazz editor and a special features writer for La Scena Musicale since 2002; currently, he also contributes to Point of Departure, an American online journal devoted to creative musics. / / Marc Chénard est un journaliste multilingue de métier de Montréal spécialisé en jazz et en musiques improvisées. En plus de 30 ans de carrière, ses reportages, critiques et essais ont été publiés principalement au Canada, parfois aux États-Unis mais également dans plusieurs pays européens (France, Belgique, Allemagne, Autriche). De plus, il a été invité à couvrir plusieurs festivals étrangers de renom, tant en Amérique (Vancouver, Chicago) que Outre-Atlantique (Paris, Berlin, Vienne et Copenhangue). Depuis 2012, il agit comme rédacteur atitré de la section jazz de La Scena Musicale; en 2013, il entame une collabortion auprès de la publication américaine Point of Departure, celle-ci dédiée aux musiques créatives de notre temps.

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