Ken Aldcroft: 1969-2016
When someone dies unexpectedly in youth or middle age, as guitarist Ken Aldcroft did on September 17th, those remaining may eventually come to accept the nature of forces beyond their control, the impossibility of things turning out another way.
It will probably be some time before this stage is reached in the community of Ken Aldcroft’s friends, family and colleagues. His influence and body of work would surely have been twice the size had he lived into old age. As things stand, his personal popularity and discography are still extremely impressive.
Regular Guy, Irregular Music
His music, whether composed or improvised, was largely avant-garde, atonal and challenging. This can alienate the casual listener, the mainstream music fan. Ken Aldcroft’s playing and composing defied the listener’s expectations and rarely gave our ears an easy ride.
Yet outside of that arena he was a normal-looking, friendly man, beloved by his extended family and liked by his neighbours.
Secure in his Art
There are those in the performing arts that want to stand out in appearance and need a lot of positive feedback. In other words, their ego needs constant replenishment. Ken Aldcroft, on the other hand, would be hard to pick out in a crowd. Likewise, he expressed himself within a minority art form and, even inside that, didn’t seem to require praise and plaudits in order to continue.
There did not appear to be a huge range of effort levels in Ken Aldcroft’s playing. He sat there playing loud, but with no histrionics, frequently unappreciated but steadfastly excellent.
If there was any pressure to play, for example, smooth dinner jazz or booze-friendly blues, he ignored it, secure in his own ability and style.
A Prolific Collaborator
But far from being an isolated figure, Ken Aldcroft was almost always playing with someone and generating musical camaraderie, whether it was with Dave Clark in Hat and Beard, Michael Kaler and Mark Zurawinski in Alaniaris, the members of his Convergence Ensemble or Threads Qunitet, or whoever was participating in his monthly featured gig at The Tranzac, Toronto.
The biggest show of Ken Aldcroft’s I ever went to was his memorial event on October 7th 2016. The huge turnout was fortunate to hear free improvisation in his spirit, poetry inspired by his music and avant-garde drum ensemble pieces composed in his honour by Germaine Liu. There were many tears, many verbal tributes and the communal finale was described by one person as ‘almost unbearably moving’.
A point that was made more than once was that, above and beyond his abilities as a musician, composer and educator, Ken’s most cherished role was that of partner to Maria and father to Liam, who performed an affecting and courageous hip-hop composition with Tania Gill on piano.