1931 – 2002
Accordionist, pianist, composer and arranger Gordon Kenneth Fleming was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Aug. 3, 1931. Gordie began his musical journey in the early stages of his life. At the age of five, he appeared as an act at the Beacon Vaudeville Theatre in Winnipeg, and continued to do the circuit from 1936 to 1941. Performances included, the Orpheum, Walker, Odeon and Playhouse Theatres. From 1941 to 1945, Gordie played many Army camp tours in Western Canada, as well as numerous radio shows on private and CBC coast-to-coast network presentations. From 1945-1949 he performed in Winnipeg nightclubs such as the Don Carlos Casino, The Highwayman, The Flame and the Copacabana (He was often on the same bill as name acts such as Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstein), and accompanied Hank Snow for several months at Patterson’s Barn.
From the time of his early days playing music, Gordie was featured playing jazz, folk, classical and standard music in concert and on hundreds of radio and television programs. Gordie’s reputation as a versatile musician had developed immensely by this time. However, there was one thing that stood out, and that was his extraordinary talent as a jazz accordionist.
In 1949, Gordie’s accordion was destroyed in a fire. With the $500 insurance money, he discovered that he would have enough to purchase a new accordion and move to Montréal with drummer Billy Graham, a fellow Winnipeg native who introduced Gordie to the music of Charlie Parker. Gordie fell in love with the music scene in Montreal and decided he would turn his trip into a permanent move. Before long, Gordie was performing at top nightclubs including the Bellevue Casino, The Esquire, The Downbeat, The El Morocco and the Penthouse. Throughout the next few years, Gordie also played numerous out-of-town engagements throughout Quebec and the Eastern US and toured France in 1953.
Gordie appeared with the jazz-poll winning group and with the Canadian All Stars in concerts with Charlie Parker in 1953. He won the Canadian Jazz Poll four years in a row (1952-55) and placed second (to Art van Damme) in the Metronome US Jazz Poll in 1955. Gordie, with the Canadian All Stars recorded a compilation in 1954 for US label “Discovery”. A label that specialized in featuring the best in modern jazz from around the world (George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, John Dankworth). “Gordie’s sound, execution and especially conception, mark him as the top modern jazzman on his instrument.” remarked Ira Gitler in the liner notes of the compilation. The other All Stars were Al Baculis (arrangements, clarinet), Yvan Landry (piano, vibes), Hal Gaylor (bass) and fellow Winnipegger Billy Graham (drums).
In 1954, Gordie was awarded the top prize on the CBC’s “Opportunity Knocks” contest, and later went on to perform on the Aurthur Godfrey Show. Throughout the 1970’s, Gordie’s work in the Montreal radio and television scene continued to grow. He was often heard on CKAC, CBC (Funny You Should Say That) and Radio-Canada (Les Joyeux Troubadours). Gordie recorded jazz for the CBC and Radio Canada, with trumpeter Herbie Spanier, Tony Romandini, Buck Lacombe, on programmes such as Jazz en Liberte, CBC Showcase, Jazz Set and Jazz Canadiana. As well, Gordie wrote, arranged, composed and conducted the scores for several films, including Where Eagles Fly, 60 Cycles, Catuor (NFB) and various television series (Story of Dorian Gray, Family Court, Larry Solway) for Columbia/Screen Gems throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Gordie accompanied many top recording stars such as Edith Piaf, Felix Leclerc, Tino Rossi, Ginette Reno, Pauline Julien and Willie Lamothe, with whom he had a daily radio show in the ’60s on CKVL. He performed mainly on organ with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra and as a guest with the Montreal Symphony. As an orchestra leader, Gordie performed for heads of state (Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Fidel Castro). He played several Army base tours overseas and at numerous society functions, weddings and bar mitzvahs: he was especially popular with the Jewish community as he knew many of the horas. London and RCA labels recorded various pieces of Gordie’s accordion music, waltzes, musette pieces, traditional jigs and reels. With a parallel career in folk music, Gordie performed and recorded with Ti-Jean Carignan, The McGarrigles, Cat Stephens and Alan Mills with whom he made several Folkways recordings. He had an interest in “world music” and enjoyed the challenge of performing everything from Greek Bouzouki, Yiddish Horas, Gypsy waltzes, to Irish, Scottish and Quebecois jigs and reels. As a result, Gordie published a fake book of music from over 100 countries around the world. In 1977, Gordie was a featured player on Buddy deFranco’s jazz album “Waterbed” (Choice Records, New York). The album’s bassist was Michel Donato who recorded with Gordie at the NFB in the 1960’s. Pete Magadini was on drums, with arrangements by Baculis of pieces he co-authored with recording engineer Rob Adams. Gordie and deFranco also appeared frequently playing concerts together in Montreal and Toronto.
Upon moving to Toronto in 1977 he performed regularly at popular jazz spots such as Bourbon. St. and George’s Spaghetti House playing with artists such as Phil Antonacci and Gary Benson. In 1985 he performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival (with Spanier) and later at the Montmagny Accordion festival. Ill health plagued him throughout the last years of his life, he regularly spent his winters in Florida on “working holidays”. He suffered a stroke in July of 2000 and had been hospitalized since then, playing a keyboard with one hand almost to the end. He died peacefully in Toronto on Aug. 31, 2002.
Gordie Fleming was married to singer Joanne Lalonde for 47 years; they had seven children. His daughter Heidi produced, for Justin Time’s Just a Memory imprint, a compilation of his jazz recordings titled According to Gordie: Gordon Fleming Anthology 1948-1990, due out August 24th, 2004. He will also appear on a compilation of the world’s greatest jazz accordionists 1943-2003 due out in 2005. His archives will be housed at the Concordia University Archives (Montreal) and a reference book entitled “Gordie” an Informal Music Biography, written by Californian Paul Baran has been deposited with various Canadian research institutions.
According to Gordie
2004 / JustinTime Records / Distribution Fusion 3
Gordon Fleming anthology 1948-1990. A compilation of 25 mostly unreleased recordings that span some of the best years of Fleming’s stellar career and feature some of the hottest jazz players on the scene throughout four decades. On Justin Time Records’ Just A Memory label. The album was released on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 at Else’s, 156 Roy East, Montréal.
Parisian thoroughfare 1:54 / East of the sun 1:59 / I may be wrong 2:36 / According to Gordie 2:37 / Gravel road 2:29 / Strike up the band 2:56 / Hello young lovers 3:05 / Taking a chance on love 3:06 / The things we did last summer 2:31 / I love you 3:40 / You stepped out of a dream 2:42 / Scrapple from the apple 1:56 / Now’s the time 1:11 / Close your eyes 3:35 / Lover man 2:33 / Avila and tequila 3:20 / Catuor 3:56 / Critics’ choice 4.01 / Sunnyside beach 4:08 / Impressions 4.51 / Labrador 4:42 / The song is ended 2:33 / Caravan 1:23 / Caravan (2) 0:22 / A man with a million dollars 2:14
Felix nomination Anthology Compilation of the Year.
Intro music: Close your eyes, Jazz from Canada (CBC Radio) 1963
Background: All the things you are, WJL Recording Studio by Walt Lipiec, Dearborn Michigan, November 1992 with Christian Mormet(piano-Fr), Fabien(bass-Fr), Ken Everets (drum-USA).
Research : Who’s who of Jazz in Montréal by John Gilmore (Véhicule Press; Gordie: An Informal music biography of Gordon K. Fleming, compiled by Paul Baran (PB Publications limited editon); Cool Blues: Charlie Parker in Canada 1953 by Mark Miller (Nightwood Editions).
Archive to be kept by Concordia University.
Thanks / Merci – Len Dobbin, Joanne Fleming, John Drew Munro, Paul Baran*, Jim West, Laval Côté, Jadranka Subic, Reid Morris and Justin Time, Barbara Brown* & the CBC, Richard Greene* and the National Library of Canada, Daniel Vachon* & Radio Canada, Graham Newton, Jim Rabchuk, Rob Adams*, Buck Lacombe*, Dana Whittle, Al Penfold, Larry Cassini, Gary Cristall, Nancy Marelli, Bob & Arlene Fleming*, the Fleming children, André & Keith White*, National Film Board of Canada*, Dan Marks*, Alan Bates, Michael Melford, Kinsey Posen, Warren Chiasson, Michel Godin*, Canadian* and Quebec National Archives, Jack Litchfield*, Lyman Potts, Michel Donato, Tony Romandini, Phil Antonaci Jr.*, François Bourassa, Andrew Homzy, Johnny Lanza, Paul Lafortune, Al Baculis, Yvan Landry, Hal Gaylor, Bob Roby*, Sabine Assuied, Sang Hee Park, Janet McClelland, Zeina H. Saleh, Mrs. Gerry MacDonald, Mark Miller, Plateau Musik, Gilles Garand, Babs Pitt, Jeff Healey, Walter Lipiec*, Peter Soave, Harold Smith, Ira Gitler, Art VanDamme, Christian Marcon, Reynald Ouellet, Richard Ring, Marin Nasturica, Bob Sunenblick, SOCAN, Canada Council for the Arts, Jack Fortin, Joaquin Diaz, Glen Sarty, Simon Pressey, Edouard Dumoulin, Owen Clark, Lyman Potts, Dave Lennick*, Jimmy Amaro, Johnny Maloney, Barry Graham, Sheila Graham*, Graham Henderson, Neil Chotem, Crayne Spanier, Addie & Marie Schiavo, Gary Benson, Leslie Mitchell Clarke, Robert Guérin, Christiane Girard, Gaye Hardiman, Fred Grenon and in memoriam, Billy Graham, Gerry Hoelke* and Paul Grosney, ainsi que tous les musiciens qui se son déjà rendus à leur ”gig” ultime- and most of all, Gordie.
*Contributed recording. A fourni des enregistrements.
Quotes / Citations
“Fleming demonstrates again what can be done on an instrument that has been, for the most part, lightly regarded in jazz circles. Gordie not only knows how to swing on it, but he produces an exceptionally rich tone.” Ira Gitler
“a good friend and a great player. He could play many styles but his jazz playing was great and should be heard…a must!” Art Van Damme
“Gordie’s the greatest, there ain’t nobody compares” Michel Donato
“Absolutely best in the world on jazz accordion – a master” Jim Galloway, Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival
“I have nothing but reverence for the man and his genius” Guido Basso, Grammy winner with the Boss Brass
“…the world’s greatest bebop jazz accordionist” Len Dobbin
“I had forgotten what a great musician he was” Oliver Jones
“…an interesting story of a legendary performer who was extremely active…he made the accordion an instrument to be reckoned with…”
Fresh Air, CBC Radio
“a wonderful musician…” Jan Klinkewicz, PhillyJazz.org
” Fleming especially is an interesting player and one not heard often enough in this context” Mark Miller, Globe & Mail review of live show w. Buddy deFranco
“…breathtaking accordion passages…” Wilder Penfield III, Toronto Sun
“Fleming’s sparkling solos are full of bitonal arpeggios and ridiculously fast runs… ” Contemporary Keyboard
“slung over the shoulders of a player like Gordie Fleming, it can wail as mean and dirty as the late Charlie Parker’s alto or as cool and blue as Miles Davis’ trumpet when it’s on” Vancouver Sun
“I am absolutely in awe of Gordie’s talent. …you should do everything possible to get some CD’s out of his fabulous artistic legacy…natural ability…so beautifully rendered…(he is) on a par with Tommy Gumina. His crisp, rhythmic comping, his versatility, natural technical fluency and melodic creativity defies imitation” Joe Macerolla, celebrated classical accordionist
“the best I ever heard” (on accordion) Gene Lees
“What Gordie Fleming has in common with the great American accordionists is his speed and inventiveness…but his playing, as much in the touch as in the nimble fingering, has much in common with the style currently in vogue in Northern Europe – he easily measures up to the Scandinavian masters. Thus the unexpected crossbreeding from the Gulf of Mexico to the Baltic Sea: Gordie is possibly the most accomplished jazz accordionist to come from North America”. Christian Marcon, producer of a jazz accordion archive of the world’s greatest players from 1943-2003