Gordie Fleming

Gordie Fleming, accordionist, pianist, composer, arranger Gordon Kenneth Fleming was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Aug. 3, 1931. At the age of five, Gordie Fleming appeared as an act at the Beacon Vaudeville Theatre in Winnipeg, and continued to do the circuit from 1936-41 including the Orpheum, Walker, Odeon and and Playhouse Theatres.

From 1941 - 45 he played many Army camp tours in Western Canada, as well as numerous radio shows on private and CBC coast-to-coast network presentations. Since that early start, he has been featured playing jazz, folk, classical and standard music on hundreds of radio and televisions programs and in concert, but is probably best known as a jazz accordionist.

From 1945-1949 he performed in Winnipeg nightclubs such as the Don Carlos Casino, The Highwayman, The Flame and the Copacabana, and accompanied Hank Snow for several months at Patterson's Barn. In 1949 (after a fire destroyed his accordion) he moved to Montreal with the insurance money at the suggestion of fellow musician Billy Graham. Gordie took whatever work he could including playing Country & Western music and performing as an "act" at top nightclubs including the Bellevue Casino, The Esquire, The Downbeat, The El Morocco and the Penthouse, often on the same bill as name acts such as Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine; he also played numerous out-of-town engagements throughout Quebec and the Eastern US for the next few years, and performed on the Greek liner S.S. Columbia headed for France in 1953.

Once there, he and bassist Rob Adams performed for several months at the now-defunct Club U. N. New Yorker in Cannes, calling themselves the Hollywood Rhythm Boys. Gordie appeared with the jazz-poll winning group, 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, 1955. With the All Stars he recorded for Discovery, a US label that featured the best in modern jazz from around the world, (George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, John Dankworth .). The liner notes by Ira Gitler remarked that Gordie's " sound, execution and especially conception, mark him as the top modern jazzman on his instrument." (1954).

A year-long tour with Shearing and an appearance at NY's Birdland were arranged by manager Harold Smith, but never materialized, for various reasons. The other All Stars were Al Baculis (arrangements, clarinet), Yvan Landry (piano, vibes), Hal Gaylor (bass) and fellow Winnipegger Billy Graham (drums). In 1954 he was also awarded the top prize on the CBC's "Opportunity Knocks" contest, and later went on to perform on the Aurthur Godfrey Show. Gordie began to do increasing amounts of radio and TV work in Montreal, on CKAC, CBC (Funny You Should Say That.), Radio-Canada (Les Joyeux Troubadours.) through the "60's and '70,s. He also accompanied many top recording stars such as Edith Piaf, Tino Rossi, Ginette Reno, Pauline Julien, Willie Lamothe etc, performed with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, did several Army base tours overseas, and appeared as guest artist with the Montreal Symphony.

As an orchestra leader he performed for heads of state (Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Fidel Castro.) and at numerous society functions, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Gordie's accordion music was recorded: musette pieces, waltzes, traditional jigs and reels, etc, for the London and RCA labels. A parallel career in folk music saw him perform and record with Ti-Jean Carignan, The McGarrigles, Cat Stevens and Alan Mills with whom he made several Folkways recordings. He had an early interest in "world music", enjoying the challenge of performing everything from Greek Bouzouki, to Yiddish Horas, to Gypsy waltzes, and Irish or Quebecois jigs and reels, and published a fake book of music from over 100 countries around the world.

Gordie Fleming wrote 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 '60's and '70's, and numerous jingles, composing, arranging, conducting and playing accordion, piano, organ and synthesizer. During this same period he 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. A featured player with Buddy deFranco on the jazz album Waterbed (1977, Choice Records, New York), Gordie and deFranco also played concerts together in Montreal and Toronto. The album's bassist was Michel Donato who recorded with Gordie at the National Film Board in the '60's, and Pete Magadini on drums, with arrangements by Baculis of pieces he co-authored with recording engineer Rob Adams.

Upon moving to Toronto in 1977 he performed regularly at Toronto jazz spots such as Bourbon St. and George's Spaghetti House with artists such as Phil Antonacci and Gary Benson but ill health plagued him throughout the last years of his life. In 1985 he performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival (with Spanier) and later at the Montmagny Accordion Festival. 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.

"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 ridiculusly fast runs."

Contemporary Keyboard the accordion "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