Lennie Breau-Jazz legend
{ Lawrence Walker is a Jazz musician and former Montrealer. }
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"Maybe I'll go down in history as the guy who started this one style. All the guitarists who come up and ask how I do it, maybe one day they can say, "Hey, man, I learned this from Lenny"...you know, as long as I get some kind of credit, that's all. I might not end up making a million bucks, but I'd like to be known as the guy who started this movement."
-Lenny Breau

Sometime in the mid-90s I ran across an old jazz-player, a multi-reed player, but mainly tenor sax, Glenn Mc Donald.

We hung out and drank in a Portuguese bar in Kensington Market. We talked jazz talk and stories about various musicians.

His premiere focus was on getting published some tapes that he had recorded of the Canadian jazz guitar legend Lenny Breau doodling in some shack they were living in around Saskatoon.

Image complimentary of CBC Manitoba http://winnipeg.cbc.ca/tv50/Lenny had just come out of a junkie situation in New York where Chet Atkins (or one of those country guitarists) who adored him, kept him under wraps in his pad with a good dealer to supply any junkie needs. So Lenny was drying out in Saskatchewan.

A bizarre repeat of the time when Lenny and Don Franks did a very successful show in the early Yorkville called "The Connection" in which they portrayed the junkie sub-culture. They moved on to New York and the sub-culture, and it all unravelled and became real.

Sometime after that Franks was taken up by a very influential Hollywood producer and cast as the secondary romantic lead in a film version of Fenians Rainbow. It wasn't very successful.

Both of them went to different solitudes. Don to a lake in northern Saskatchewan were he married a native lady and affected native ways, and Lenny, who went to Spain and studied under some flamenco masters and came back with even more skill and complexity in his playing.

Image complimentary of CBC Manitoba http://winnipeg.cbc.ca/tv50/To me, his old coffee house rival the phenomenal Sonny Grenich who many jazz guitarists cite as an influence, displays Lenny's harmonic side while the legendary Montreal guitarist Nelson Symonds (compared by many to the deceased Wes Montgomery) represents his melodic insight. I heard him play with both of them at different times. Lenny learned from both of them and the whole pantheon of jazz artists he admired. Lenny attained, after Spain, the harmonic, melodic synthesis that all jazz players strive for but very few ever achieve.

So years later Lenny departed the farmhouse where he and Glenn were living in 1975 and wound up in L.A. He was found dead in an empty swimming pool there in 1984. It was considered by most, a drug-related murder

Glen recounted the tale many times of his recording Lenny's guitar musings and his hopes of getting the tapes produced. He mentioned his contacts with Randy Bachman who was one of the recipients of his efforts.

Being a jazz snob I discounted this Rock person as a potential producer.

I had heard Lenny many times and knew him over the years. In the early coffee-house days in Winnipeg, in Toronto at the old Mink Club, and in Yorkville, before he left for New York, as well as in Montreal after his return from Spain, in the Cafe Boheme on Rue Guy. I knew he was the greatest jazz guitar player in the world and Glenn shared my regard.

Glen was a highly respected Tenor sax player in his own right but was very single-minded in this, his greatest quest. He ignored, as many jazz musicians do, his own career, health and well-being.

He died in 1998 and had a nice tribute in a Yorkville Annex church.

I wasn't there for the funeral, but I was uplifted when less than a year later Randy Bachman produced the tapes.

Victories can be hard-won. Thanks Randy. Thanks Glenn.

[The album which came out of Glenn's tapes was titled "Cabin Fever". ]

Lenny's Tribute Page

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