Archival Tune: “Little” Jack MacDonald pt 3

Mar 15, 2014 | Archival Tune, Tune of the Month

We’ll finish the “Little” Jack MacDonald series of posts with Winston Scotty Fitzgerald’s recollections of MacDonald in Cape Breton Magazine, volume 46. Fitzgerald was visiting Buddy MacMaster in Cape Breton, and after a late night he was awoken by a visit from MacDonald. Here’s what he says:

“We got to bed – I don’t know – 3 o’clock, maybe, or something. But the next morning one of the girls came up, knocked on the door. She said, ‘You’d better get up. Little Jack is downstairs.’ […] So I didn’t care any more playing before Little Jack than I did before you. Although I figured he was probably a better player. […] So we go in the room, tuned up. I played for about 15 minutes, I suppose. So I walked over and passed him the violin. I said, ‘Here Little Jack, I want to hear you play. I’m a better listener than I am a player.’ He said, ‘You must be a goddamn good listener then!’ So that was my first and only appearance with Little Jack. I never met him anywhere else. He played some [that day]. He played a few tunes.”

The interviewer then asks him if he liked “Little” Jack’s playing, to which Fitzgerald answers: “Yes, I did, very much. He had a style of his own, of changing tunes, too. He had his own feeling in them. You learn a tune out of a book. [But] if you don’t put anything in it, you know, you might just as well wash your feet with your socks on. To me. Because there’s no flavour, no taste to it.”

He adds: “A lot of people criticized him for it [his style], but not me. If he’d changed another note or went a position higher, I’d grit my teeth, and shake his hand. It was better. It was better than the book. Because there’s nothing in the book but notes. Just the tune, that’s all that’s in the book. Get the odd tune with a few grace notes or something. But if you don’t get that stuff in yourself, you’ll never get it out of a book.”

The set for this month was recorded at the St. Andrew’s Concert in Alexandria on December 1st 1962. Viola MacCuaig is accompanying. The tunes played are Maggie Cameron and an unknown one.

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This recording was part of the collection of reel-to-reel tapes donated by Father MacPhail and can be found on Small Reel 48, Side 1.

Maggie Cameron Sheet Music


(Thanks to Donald Joseph MacPhee for background information).

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