After Hours Jazz and Blues

Recalling my days in Edmonton when I was a student at the College St Jean and remembering spending my Saturday nights at the after-hours Yardbird Suite jazz club, I thought that we could do the same in Ottawa. So in January l966 the Peter Fleming Quartet launched the first After Hours at Le Hibou, from midnight to 4 a.m.

The transition from folk to jazz was always a hectic time not musically but audience-wise. We had to assure ourselves that the last set would not go too much past midnight, then wait and encourage the people to leave. When all had left, we’d let the waiting jazz crowd in. Strangely, it worked. To make it more fun food-wise, in addition to our regular sandwiches and hot smoked meat sandwiches, I added pizza and spaghetti with Bolognese sauce or a small steak with a baked potato on an oblong wooden steak plate. (Those plates are now banned by the health department.) Pizza proved a challenge. At first I made my own yeast dough, but that was time consuming. We started buying the dough from a bread maker but that involved picking it every weekend. Finally, a food supplier offered a prepared pizza dough—not the best, but adequate enough.

Sonny Greenwich
Sonny Greenwich

Most of the fine Ottawa musicians ended up playing at After Hours. What would start as a trio or quartet would invariably end up with seven or eight musicians on stage. We could always count on saxophonist Norm Clarke. I think he never missed a session—he loved it so much. Champ Champagne, Russ Thomas, Bill Stevenson, Bruce Cockburn, and Larry Crosby also played. For more diversity I also brought in groups from Montreal working with the Donald K Donald agency. Sonny Greenwich, that remarkable guitarist with a unique style came with his quartet, The Red Cats, the Ron Proby Quintet who, rather than drive back early in the morning to Montreal, would crash at my mother-in-law, Ethel Knight’s, house for a few hours sleep, and then drive back.

The National Gallery organized a special showing of contemporary artists from Toronto and invited some of the participating artists to open the show with their band, the Artists Jazz Band. So, of course, I invited them for the After Hours and they readily agreed. Graham Coughtry, Gordon Rayner, Nobuo Kubota and Robert Markle gave us a morning of free-form jazz. But it was not to everyone’s liking as some people gradually left.

Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp

On another occasion Archie Shepp was booked for a performance at Carleton University, so I called his agent William Morris Agency and booked them for After Hours. Archie Shepp came waltzing in at around l2:30 a.m., looked about, and in a great dismay blurted out loud “Where’s the booze? Where’s the girls?” He obviously had expected a night club. To calm him down one of our regular customers offered to take him to Hull for a few beers. So off they went. We waited, and we waited, and I was getting quite anxious, and so were the patrons, but nobody left. Finally, the band arrived after 2:00 a.m., jovial and relaxed, and played non-stop till the wee hours of the morning to the great joy of everyone.

6 replies on “After Hours Jazz and Blues”

When was the Archie Shepp gig? (It’s not mentioned in the list of performers, or in Lefort’s book)

Archie Shepp was a last minute arrangement. He agreed to play After-Hours after his gig at Carleton on Saturday 10 Dec 1966.

Thanks so much! I was actually at the Carleton gig; it was quite a show, and I couldn’t remember when it was. I am writing a memoir, and am chasing down more memories from Le Hibou. The earliest memory I am SURE of was in 1964. My parents were Ottawa Little Theatre folks; my dad was John Knight, who directed many productions there and at Orpheus; perhaps you knew him?
Dad was a friend of Elsa Pickthorne. Anyway I was in Grade 13 that spring and went to what might have been the location of the first Le Hibou — it was certainly on the second floor of a building mid Rideau St. — to paint flats for “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad”, which I got to see.
Denis, I’m putting together a longer post about my favourite performances, but I’d be very grateful if you can help with this: I remember seeing The Lovin’ Spoonful at Le Hibou; realistically that can only be before they hit it big, summer 1965. Do you have any recall of this? Or was it somewhere else? Thanks.

Hi Chris! I was also at the Carleton concert of Archie Shepp. I remember the curtain operator thought the group was still warming up, everyone playing something different and it sounded pretty weird to me too. Finally, the curtain opened and the cacophony continued until the members drifted offstage. It was my first experience of so-called “free” jazz, and I couldn’t make anything out of it. My father and I were contemplating leaving early, but decided to stick it out until the end. After the intermission, there was more of the same until suddenly it broke into a ballad that was really lovely. So I didn’t understand it at the time, but have come to realize that I was being educated at a peculiar time in jazz history.

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