I Remember Maury Kaye


Maury Kaye had a remarkable career playing in and writing for studio orchestras in Toronto. He was also the preferred accompanist for the top jazz vocalists of the time. But all that happened before I met him.

When I first encountered Maury Kaye, he was already an old man. Old to me, anyway. I was just a jazz pup, just getting going in my life. I was in my early 20s, a student at McGill University’s Faculty of Music. I was naive and excited about jazz and spent nearly every waking hour practising, listening, performing, or talking about jazz. It was my life, and that life was just beginning. Maury, by contrast, had already done most of his great works. He had played with people like Tony Bennett; he had been involved in creating music for television; he had worked with all the top players and he had carved out a niche in the world of music.

I didn’t know any of this when I met Maury in 1977. He was in his mid-forties, but he looked twenty years older, wizened by the tough years of his life. Maury was a small man, his back perennially bent by an invisible weight. He looked like the epitomic beatnik, complete with long hair, goatee, and hat. He spoke softly.

There was always a bit of competition between the Montreal jazz pianists of that era, but I never felt any of that from Maury. He was always warm and compassionate, always willing and eager to share his musical insights. We had long talks about music, women, and life in general. He shared his experience with me openly, and there was never a hint of professional competitiveness.

Maury may have looked slight and unassuming, but when he ascended the bandstand and began to play, any residual “aw,schucks” mannerisms vanished, and his deportment assumed an intense and even grave manner. He looked serious, and his music was serious. In those years, Maury played often in a trio format with bassist Jean Cyr and a variety of drummers. He also frequently added singer Barbara Reney to complete his quartet.

In addition to his piano performances, Maury was also a prolific composer and arranger; he delighted in hearing others perform his works. There were several of his pieces that became standard repertoire for my own quartet. His influence was felt by many Montreal jazz musicians during those days.

In his later years, Maury’s health began to decline noticeably. He had obvious respiratory difficulties, which he confessed were caused by talc deposits in his lungs, a result of his prior intravenous drug abuse. He had a close circle of friends at the time which included (bassist) Dennis James, Dennis’ girlfriend Jacinta Luis, myself, and of course Barbara Reney and Jean Cyr. Maury was admitted to a respiratory clinic in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal for a period of time. I remember visiting him up there, and he was still busy writing and practicing piano as if he had a gig next week. But there would be no gig. Maury never got better.

I think the last time I saw Maury was when he came to my house for dinner. As in most Montreal houses, mine came with a steep set of outdoor and indoor winding staircases which Maury and his green oxygen tank ascended with great difficulty. Even as his inevitable end approached, Maury's cheerfulness and courage were indefatigable.

Maury was buried in a Montreal cemetery in February 1983, at the age of 50.

As I write these words and remember my good friend Maury Kaye more than 26 years after his premature death, I’d like to dust off some of his old music and bring his spirit to life by performing his music again. Anyone in possession of his music is welcome to post links to it here.

7 comments:

  1. Len Dobbin said...

    I also remember Maury fondly - he and Kenny Alexander were the pianists Pepper Adams loved to play with in this part of Canada.

    I remember meeting Maury on Stanley street and him raving about a new pianist named Bill Evans.

    Hope all is well with you - I have returned to the land of living after a tough couple of years health-wise.

    Hope to see you soon.

    Len Dobbin

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    1. Len, I remember meeting you at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1985. We both attended an informal get-together with Louis Belson, and others. I was just getting into pianist Bill Evans at the time. Now I'm throughly entrenched (see my liner notes on the new Dutch release from Rob Rijneke's Limetree Records, "Momentum.") It was your book on jazz pianist that got me hooked. Thank you. Win Hinkle, Boston, MA, USA, bighinx@gmail.com.

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    2. Sadly, Len would not have read your post above, as he passed away in 2009. See - http://holtremembers.blogspot.ca/2009/08/i-remember-len-dobbin.html

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  2. I remember Maury as an extremely nice guy, and as a great player. I played with him only a few times towards the end of his career and felt very privileged to do so. I never heard anyone say anything negative about Maury.....only good stuff.

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  3. I met Maury in the mid-70s, when I had a roady business in Montreal. I made a move for him and we hung out. I was astounded by his knowledge of jazz and it's players and we talked about the after-hours scene in Toronto during the 60s. I recognized his name from earlier times but had never heard him play. He was a great guy, totally unpretentious and fun to talk with. I was surprised that this great pianist had once been a brass player. Except for that memorable full afternoon we never saw each other much after that. I'm happy that Concordia has some of his stuff. He was a remarkable musician.

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  4. I met him in the 70's, via a friend of mine, when Maury was playing piano at Shakey's Pizza on Cotes-des-Neiges near the Jewish General Hospital after returning from England. I became friends with Maury and occasionally visited him at his place on Mount Royal, opposite the park. His home was always filled with music scores and I was always impressed how he could transcribe each instrument's parts without actually hearing or having that instrument with him.

    I have recordings of Maury playing at Doudou Boicel's The Rising Sun club formerly on Ste. Catherine near Parc, where he played with Chas Ellison and others. I also have demo recordings he did with Jesse Winchester and others which I will always treasure.

    Maury told me on a number of occasions that he knew Bill Evans. I, of course, was skeptical! Anyways....I had the opportunity to see Bill Evans at The Rising Sun and during intermission, I went up to Evans at the bar and said, "I have regards for you from Maury Kaye". I fully expected him to say, "Who?". But, Bill acknowledged Maury and asked about his health, etc. I was stunned. My acquaintance, Maury Kaye, was known by the world's pre-eminent jazz pianist!

    I can tell many other stories about Maury, but children may wander here and read them......

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  5. Hi Paul W. Yes Maury was an awesome talent. I'd be interesting in hearing some of the recordings you mentioned. Contact me directly at steve@inner-music.com

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