In the spirit of giving here’s a few ideas for the jazz fans on your Christmas List:
1. Buy a local jazz album. Here are a few suggestions: Saloon Standard by Joe Coughlin, The Ian McDougall 12tet Live, The Measure of Light by the Kelby MacNayr Quintet Look for the Silver Lining by Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson, Christmas Is by Maureen Washington, Lucky So-and-So by Melinda Whitaker. Those are just a few options. Search your favourite local jazz artist at iTunes or CD Baby and you’ll find many more choices. Ask at Lyle’s or Ditch Records in Victoria and encourage them to stock local players.
2. Buy a ticket to a local jazz event. U-JAM’s Jazz at the Gallery is a good bet and sells out every year. Check out the local jazz vespers series around Victoria as well as the Victoria Jazz Society’s offerings.
3. Take your friends to the annual New Years eve show at Hermann’s featuring the Victoria Jazz All Stars. It’s always packed and a lot of fun.
I haven’t reviewed albums for some time on this site but one crossed my desk recently that I feel seasonally inspired to write about.
It’s a wonderful new Christmas album by Victoria’s own Bob Watts Trio recorded in the sanctuary of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay and featuring the piano work of the sublime and fiery Pablo Cardenas.
Many of you will know that drummer Watts moved to Victoria a few years ago from Winnipeg (although he still spends a lot of time there for business and music) and established a monthly jazz vespers series at St. Philip. During his tenure at the church he’s worked with the likes of Karl Roessingh, Joey Smith, Rob Cheramy, Tony Genge, Bruce Meikle and Tom Vickery.
Watts most often appears with Cardenas and bassist Ross Macdonald in a trio and indeed they are the personnel on Jazz for Christmas 2.
Before you say, ‘do we really need another jazz Christmas album?’ you should know there’s something unique about this one and its companion Jazz for Christmas 1, recorded in Winnipeg in 2010. According to Watts, these are the only two jazz albums around devoted strictly to interpreting Christmas carols.
That’s right, all the other jazz seasonal albums – there must be thousands of them – offer the odd carol but mostly feature arrangements of popular Christmas songs like that old Mel Tormé classic – you know the one I mean.
This new album includes a deeply blue and soulful Silent Night, a lively jazz waltz version of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and a fast-swinging Good Christian People Rejoice which burns along at 220 bpm – a tempo which apparently left Watts exclaiming an unprintable and unreleasable (but humorously appropriate) “Holy s–” when they made it through what turned out to be a gem of a first take.
You’ll want this one on top of your Christmas CD stack. The tunes may be familiar but the arrangements are fresh, original, and deeply swinging.
No need to wait for JazzFest to hear elite international musicians. Two shows at Hermann’s this week promise performances that will stand with the best.
First up is the Jennifer Scott Jazz Quartet, featuring Scott on vocals and piano, Rene Worst on bass, Monik Nordine on saxophones and James McRae on drums. Scott and Worst are both highly regarded musicians with international reputations. Worst’s performance credits are a mile long and include names like Chet Baker, Ernestine Anderson, David Bowie and Joe Pass. Scott is no slouch herself with major performance credits in the U.S. and Canada that include Clarke Terry and Kenny Wheeler.
The Tom Vickery Trio welcomes saxophonist Mark Lewis to Hermann’s on Saturday night. Lewis has authored more than 1,600 compositions and recorded and produced over 20 albums. He’s played with the likes of Bobby Hutcherson and Randy Brecker and was a regular sub for Stan Getz and John Handy when he lived in San Francisco, putting him in pretty lofty company. 8pm, $10/$15.
Both of these shows are highly recommended.
Vocalist Melinda Whitaker, who moved to the Island from Vancouver a few years ago, performs this Friday night (May 24) at Hermann’s with the Brent Jarvis Trio and guitarist Henry Young. Island Jazz posed five questions to Melinda so we could get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say:
1. If you could take only one jazz album with you to a desert island, which one would it be and why?
I’d take Seattle jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson’s “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” with Monty Alexander on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Frank Gant on drums. Ernestine is my all time fave. She is soul incarnate.
2. What was your worst gig ever?
I was playing a gig with top drawer jazz players when we were confronted by inebriated, furious guests who were expecting a heavy metal band. Thankfully the piano player defused hostilities with the now legendary remark, “Don’t worry, we’ll play something with a lot of the same notes.”
3. What was your best?
That’s got to be when I was opening for The Ray Brown Trio at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, 2001.
4. How has your move to Vancouver Island worked out musically for you?
To my delight, I’ve found Vancouver Island to be a musical oasis. Some of the country’s top jazz musicians have chosen to make their homes here, and I count myself fortunate to be sharing the incredible Island vibe. Every player but one on my recently released album Lucky So-And-So!, produced by iconic jazz Islander Phil Dwyer, is from the Island and all are West Coasters. In a very real sense it’s a Pacific Northwest tour de force. So I’m happy to say that my move to Vancouver Island has, in your words Rick, given me the ‘expansive musical sandbox’ of my dreams.
5. What should Victoria fans know about guitarist Henry Young?
There is literally nothing that jazz guitarist Henry Young has not accomplished in his career. He spent decades touring with the legendary Nina Simone and has played with some of the biggest names in the industry, Ray Charles and Roberta Flack among them. Add musical director, composer, arranger and recording artist credits and he brings a brilliant depth of technique and soul rarely accessible to jazz aficionados these days.
The show gets underway at 8pm. Tickets are $25. You can read more about Melinda at melindawhitaker.com
May always seems to be a good month for jazz on the Island. Here’s a few noteworthy upcoming shows:
The Crofton Hotel Pub continues its weekly series just a stone’s throw from the Salt Spring Island ferry terminal on Sunday, May 19 with an appearance by Courtenay-Comox vocalist Dale Graham backed by a quartet featuring Rick Husband on guitar, Mike Eddy on keyboards, Don McKay on electric bass and Ron Joiner on drums. (2-5 pm, $10).
Kelby MacNayr’s Art of the Trio series welcomes Juno-winners Phil Dwyer(sax/piano) and Ken Lister (bass) to Hermann’s on Friday, May 17. The trio will explore new selections from the Great American Songbook and the legacy of great saxophone and piano performers including John Coltrane, Bill Evans and more. (8pm,$20,$18, $15)
The Barracuda Saxophone Quartet (Monik Nordine, Tom Ackerman, Chris Watt and Rainer Roth) will be joined by Pablo Cardenas on piano and Petra Kixmoller doing spoken word to perform The Threepenny Opera at Merlin’s Sun Theater, 1983 Fairfield Road on Saturday, May 18th 7:30pm. $20/$22 contact email@example.com
Vocalist Melinda Whitaker appears on Friday, May 24th at Hermann’s with guitarist Henry Young. Young is a Vancouver guitarist well known for his work with Nina Simone. Joining Young and Whitaker will be the Brent Jarvis Trio. (8pm, $25).
There’s lots more great jazz going on. Check the calendars and upcoming gigs page (above) for more info.