That saying about canines of a certain seasoning and their inability to pick up new things?
Well, the thing about that is it doesn’t take into account the possibility that they may in fact have all they require in their dogeared playbook.
It usually is the case.
And the fact that they’ve had all of those years to master all of their learned abilities, to hone those techniques, ad lib when the situation requires, actually gives them something of an advantage over the young, pliable pups.
Same goes for cats, actually, which given the fact that this is a long and rambling entry into the career and skills of local trumpet legend Al Muirhead, is probably the preferred vernacular.
In jazz, you can’t teach an old cat new tricks, because none are needed.
“I just do what I do and hopefully that’s going to be acceptable, that’s the way I look at it,” says the 81-year-old Muirhead.
More than acceptable.
All of his incredible, time-earned talents are on the artist’s new album Northern Adventures — The Canada Sessions Vol. 1, which he’ll release with a sold-out show Saturday night at the King Eddy.
The gorgeous, warm, welcoming and so very, very alive collection of covers features Muirhead teaming with some of this country’s finest players, including pianist/bassist Don Thompson, trumpet and flugelhorn player Guido Basso, guitarist Mike Rud, sax player Campbell Ryga, double bassist Kodi Hutchinson and fellow legend, pianist Tommy Banks.
Toronto treasure Laila Biali also stops by to lend her lovely vocals and ivory-tickling to a pair of songs, Cole Porter’s Night and Day and the Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington composition The Nearness of You.
Muirhead says the different sessions that produced Northern Adventures — all of them done at OCL Studios — were conducive to capturing the spirit of players in their element and having a ball doing what they do best.
“It was so much fun doing it, Mike,” he says.
“I know we drove the guys in the studio crazy because nothing was ever planned, what we were going to play or anything. We just decided that in the studio when got together, you know: ‘Hey, remember this tune?’ and away we’d go, they’d turn the recorder on and we’d record it.
“It’s so easy working with musicians like that …
“It was just a real treat, I enjoyed ever moment of it.”
Muirhead actually seems to be enjoying a whole lot of his life these days, one that seems to have renewed focus and energy.
Again, the trumpeter’s career and reputation was already cemented as one of this country’s finest players and teachers, having worked with such notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Mills, Diana Krall, Paul Anka and Rosemary Clooney.
But three years ago, the wily ol’ feline actually did dip into his bag for something new, recording and releasing his debut album, the fittingly named It’s About Time, after encouragement from local heavy-hitter Hutchinson.
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what the world needs is another trumpet album.’ That was my initial response.”
Apparently the world did need another one, or rather the right one, because It’s About Time, released on Hutchinson and his wife Stephanie’s Chronograph Records label, was met with universal acclaim.
For his part, Muirhead says he “blown away by the response it got” from all over the world, including airplay in Europe and Japan, and, of course, at home, where the album earned Muirhead a Juno nomination for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the age of 79.
His followup, 2016’s Oop!, was just as well received, keeping the momentum going and gaining him an even greater profile.
He may want to dust off his mantle because Northern Adventures is as good and Juno-worthy as jazz albums get, the interplay between all of the musicians, the fun they’re obviously having, crackling and vibrating throughout.
Muirhead notes that it really was that enjoyable, really was that easy, which is surprising only when you consider that other musicians came into the sessions with wildly different relationships with him, including Don Thompson, with whom Muirhead hadn’t worked with since 1964, and Banks, a regular collaborator and a good friend.
But, man, they all can play and that, the trumpeter says, was the key to how effortless it all sounds and apparently all was.
“Yes, it was,” he confirms.
“I realize I don’t have the facility and I don’t have the stamina and all of the things that I had when I was younger. So, that’s how you play.
“I didn’t feel bad that I can’t play high, screaming stuff any more, because I don’t have that stamina, and that’s fine. But the music still is there, and I think that’s the important thing.”
That, he says, is what’s missing from what some of the new cats are doing. The may have better skill, better technique, better preparation and even better tricks.
But they don’t have the one that thing that makes the old cats and dogs as good as they are: experience.
“I’ve been in so many studio sessions where everything is being mapped out, every note is written down and it becomes almost scholastic,” Muirhead says.
“You’re not playing for the music, you’re playing for that arrangement, and you’re doing everybody else’s ideas, not your own. Where doing what I did, it’s all brand new, it’s all fresh, and everybody responds to that.
“And I think that’s what’s great about it.”
Al Muirhead releases his new album Northern Adventures — The Canada Sessions Vol. 1 with a show Saturday night at the King Eddy. The show is sold out.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He likes beer. Buy him one.