Boom, Baby, Boom!

Nominated for Outstanding Production

 I wanted to mythologize my hometown. Writers had done it for London, Berlin, Paris…Toronto was so unloved. One day I chanced upon a photo of Clement Hambourg in a book about Toronto in 1959. Genial and smiling, Clement opened the House of Hambourg in 1946, one of the first after-hour jazz clubs in Toronto. He ran it until the 1960s, when competition and the expanding Toronto subway forced him to shut down.  Billed as "Three Stories of Jazz," the 14-room house on Cumberland booked folks like Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong.

The 1959 caption under Clem’s photo called him a ‘New Canadian’. He spoke with an accent and came from a family of immigrants, Germans from Russia who were devoted to classical music. Once I started to research Clem’s story, I couldn’t help wondering about my own.  My parents were ‘new Canadians,’ too. 

The more I learned about jazz, the more I wanted to find a directing methodology to give actors the same kind of freedom a jazz musician is trained for. Choreographer Susan McKenzie was equally passionate about creating a new vocabulary for the stage and we workshopped new approaches to movement for actors and looked for how to achieve a seamless interdisciplinarity with the musicians.We strove to combine spoken word, movement, and live music in an entirely original fashion, with the help of an intensely dedicated cast, which included Ann-Marie Macdonald, Cynthia Asperger, David Bolt, Martin Julien, Kate Lynch, Vieslav Krystyan and a jazz quartet with Allen Cole, Victor Bateman, and Richard Bannard. 

My biggest find was the composer Nic Gotham. He’d made a name for himself in the Toronto jazz scene with the group Gotham City and he led the quartet on stage with his saxophone. Reader, I married him. Boom, Baby, Boom was the beginning of a lifelong series of collaborations.

We premiered the show in 1988 at the Du Maurier World Stage Festival, Toronto. Those three performances were all we ever got to do. The show was independently produced by Claire Hopkinson and we couldn’t scrape up the money for another full production. All I have as documentation is a blurry video, a bunch of bad photographs, and, somewhere, a cassette tape of all the songs.

Nevertheless, our show was nominated for a Dora, and published twice: in The CTR Anthology, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1993 and by Exile Editions, Toronto,1995.

Beatnik meets ethnic, 1959.The true story of Clement Hambourg, the black sheep of a family of European musicians, who starts the first jazz club in Toronto.  The House of Hambourg on Yorkville Street is his pride and joy.  One night, Austra Mednis clambers through the window, a runaway from her refugee past.  Clem gives her safe haven in his beehive of boptivity. But bankruptcy is going to hit them like a bomb.

Published in The CTR Anthology, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1993 and by Exile Editions, Toronto,1995

David Bolt as Clement Hambourg