TORONTO (CelebrityAccess) Ed Bickert, 86, considered the top guitarist of Toronto, Ontario for nearly 50 years, died Feb. 28.
The Canadian jazz legend, who retired in 2000, was not an international figure because he did not have an affinity for touring and the limelight, once saying “I was born to be a sideman.”
Instead, after growing up in Vernon, British Columbia, with parents who played the piano and fiddle, Bickert moved to Toronto in 1952 as a radio station engineer but found his way into the music scene, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
“Bickert quietly established himself as the city’s top dog guitarist,” the Toronto Star said in a profile for Bickert’s 80th birthday. “International stars Bickert accompanied — from alto sax Paul Desmond to vibraphonist Milt Jackson to Rosemary Clooney — inevitably had to talk him into touring and then for only a limited time.”
Bickert helmed about a dozen records since 1975 and was invested as a member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to the performing arts in 1996. He retired in 2000 after his wife passed away and his fingers grew arthritic.
Up until then, Bickert could be found at clubs and festivals throughout the Toronto/Ottawa area.
“RIP Ed Bickert,” wrote Vancouver guitarist/bassist Andre Lachance. “An enormous thank you for your artistry and influence and contributions to culture. There literally is a little bit (or a lot) of Ed in every jazz guitar player in this country. Rarely has someone had that kind of influence on the practice of an instrument … true mastery.”
Gatineau, Quebec, guitarist Roland Doucet added, “I had a wonderful opportunity in Halifax around 1980 to hear him five nights in a row, front row center in a new jazz supper club that lasted only a few months. As poor as I was, I was in the front table every night. (Often wondered, when will that cigarette ash drop, and will he ever play a ‘grip’ — his word for chord — that I recognize. Amazing artist. Amazing fingers. Best to me when working with a band, but solo was obviously incredible. A master.”
Juno Award winner Mike Rud, a Montreal-based jazz guitarist, told the Ottawa Times of when he first saw Bickert play with Dizzy Gillespie and MOe Kofman:
“Jazz guitarists around the world rightly revere Ed Bickert,” Rud said. “But for Canadian jazz guitarists, I think he was the very voice of impeccable musical judgment — when to play, when not to.
“That’s before you even get to his chord approach, which was brand new, science-fiction level technology to all of us. Listening to his chord work, guitarists are left feeling like they are watching someone fill out the New York Times crossword puzzle, all perfectly correctly, and with many deeply satisfying, unexpected twists. Then in the next chorus, he erases all that, and fills it out all again with different, every-bit-as-perfect answers, over and over. Enchanting and infuriating.
“So much so that it’s easy to miss his single-note soloing, the sublime unfailingly swinging storytelling that made him an exquisite bandmate for Paul Desmond.
“All being done on a solid-body Telecaster, from which he coaxed a sound that would be the envy of any hollow-body player.
“I got to meet him a couple of times only, and play just a couple of tunes with him. I still play stuff I saw him play that day practically every single night. He was pleasant and soft-spoken. He’ll be more than missed.”