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Kenny Wheeler: Slowly but Surely

Montreal, Canada, 1952. Kenny Wheeler and I were in the Cafe St. Michel, in what was then a black neighborhood. It was close to the two major railway terminals, and the railway porters lived there. They intensely opposed any incursion of whites into their job preserve. He had, at my urging, brought his trumpet. The musicians were jamming. We introduced ourselves to some of them. They looked at his trumpet case, but nobody asked him to play. He sat there all evening, yearning to play, but he was ignored.

Kenny and I met in high school in St. Catharines, Ontario, which is close to Niagara Falls and the American border. I was seventeen, he was fifteen. We were drawn together by a passion for music, and particularly jazz. It was Kenny who turned me onto Miles Davis with Charlie Parker on those early Dial recordings, and to Sarah Vaughan. I had no idea that someday I would be writing songs for her.

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