"We Can Draw!": Toronto Improvisation, Abstract Expressionism, and the Artists’ Jazz Band

David Lee


The Artists’ Jazz Band (AJB) was founded in 1962 in Toronto by abstract expressionist painters Graham Coughtry (trombone), Richard Gorman (double bass), Dennis Burton and Nobuo Kubota (alto saxophone), Robert Markle (tenor saxophone), and Gordon Rayner (drums). The AJB’s personnel shifted around this founding core, including pianist/trumpeter Michael Snow, electric bassist Jim Jones, guitarist Gerald McAdam, and saxophonist Bill Smith. They continued to perform into the 1990s. Few ensembles anywhere in the world so strongly foregrounded the relationship between abstract expressionism in the visual arts and jazz improvisation. Because of this, it is instructive to discuss the AJB’s music in terms of twentieth-century modernism, particularly in relation to the musicians’ immediate predecessors on the Toronto scene, Painters Eleven, and in the context of the automatistes in neighbouring Quebec, whose pioneering visual art also had ties to the free jazz of the 1960s and afterwards. The AJB’s introduction of modernist discourse—on the canvas and, by implication, in their music—influenced other improvisers associated with the AJB in the 1970s and 1980s. Modernist influences, stemming from the visual arts, encouraged a generation of musicians in Toronto to depart from more conventional “jazz” practices in order to pursue “free jazz,” free improvisation, and a host of performance possibilities.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21083/csieci.v11i1-2.3713

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
ISSN: 1712-0624