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 My 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Whitaker, supported by an A-list of west coast players, delivers the real thing with her signature dark, husky voice that seems made for jazz.
And while that voice thins now and then under the load of these demanding tunes and arrangements, Whitaker makes up for any tonal challenges with sensitive phrasing that respects the lyrics and knows when there should be sound and and when there should be silence.
Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry is a fine example with the gorgeous interplay between her muted trumpet voice and Dwyer’s sweet, supple sax. You’ll also hear it in My Foolish Heart as she plays off rich horn lines and Dwyer’s spare piano work.
Fact is, all the songs on this album are delivered with style, not the least of which are the Stevie Wonder tunes Overjoyed and Creepin’, well-chosen contemporary contrasts to the standards that are at the core of the album.
Speaking of Phil Dwyer, is there a better musical mind anywhere in the country? He, along with the other masterful players he’s recruited, including Brad Turner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ian McDougall on trombone and Ken Lister on bass, has given Whitaker an expansive musical sandbox in which to play.
Just listen to the percussive fun and excitement on the opening The Song is You and you’ll know you’re in for a treat. This album is a winner vocally and instrumentally.
Note: Sadly the CD arrived too late for me to review it in time for Whitaker’s Victoria show this past weekend, but you can catch her tonight (Wednesday) at The Cellar in Vancouver at 8 pm. And the album is now available on disk or digital download through Whitaker’s website. It would make a great Christmas gift.
You’ve got a choice of two great jazz vespers concerts this Sunday evening. Sixteen-year-old celtic guitar sensation Quinn Bachand (Ashley McIsaac) shows off his considerable jazz chops with Oliver Swain on bass and Aaron Watson of Cold Cut combo fame on guitar. From all accounts this kid was born playing great jazz guitar. 7 pm St. John’s United Church on West Saanich Road in Deep Cove. No admission. An offering will be taken to offset the cost of the series.
If you want to get into the holiday spirit a bit early or can’t make it out to Deep Cove, then be sure to catch Tom Vickery on piano with the Bob Watts Trio. They promise a great program of Christmas tunes in a relaxing, contemplative atmosphere at St. Phillip Anglican Church on Eastdowne Rd. in Oak Bay. 7:30 pm. Offerings welcome.
Get out and support the fantastic jazz on offer in Victoria’s church sanctuaries.
He’s the quiet guitarist that the very best jazz guitarists in the world from Jim Hall to Pat Metheny are in awe of to this day. Although he became a fixture on the Toronto scene starting in the 1950s, like so many Toronto jazz greats, he’s actually from the west, born near Winnipeg and raised in Vernon, where he first picked up a guitar at age 8. Sadly he no longer performs, but we can still enjoy his timeless, tasteful, amazing playing through his recordings and the magic of YouTube. Here he is from the early years with another BC great – Don Thompson on bass and Claude Ranger on drums. Oh, and here’s a link to a tribute concert recorded earlier this month by the CBC. Happy birthday, Ed.
This weekend promises to be something of a jazz, blues and world music extravaganza at Hermann’s with an appearance by chromatic harmonica virtuoso Joe Powers on Friday night followed by an all-day Kidney Foundation fundraiser on Saturday, featuring a veritable who’s who of Vancouver Island musicians.
On Friday, Powers, who hails from Portland, will be joined by Seattle pianist Eric Verlinde and Victoria percussionist Kelby MacNayr for a program of jazz and jazz-tango music. Don’t be fooled by Powers’ instrument. The chromatic harmonica is a totally different beast from the typical harp favoured by folk musicians. Expect fireworks. Tickets $16/ $18.50. More info here.
The Saturday fundraiser kicks off at 12 noon with an all-star jam starting at 1 pm. The line-up includes The Tom Vickery Trio, John Fisher & Sharon Wadsworth, Aurora Scott, Aaron Scoones, Brent Jarvis, Charles Gates, Morgan Onda, Al Pease, Joe Powers, Don Leppard, Nori McFarland, Bruce Hurn, Pablo Cardenas, Toni Bloggett, Andy Slade, Tom Ackerman and many more.
At 5 pm Damian Graham and his Hi-Fi Hipsters take the stage (Nick La Riviere, trombone; “Art Booker,” piano, Damian Graham, drums) , and then at 7 pm 2012 Juno award winner Phil Dwyer appears with Miles Black (piano), Sean Drabitt (bass) and Kelby MacNayr (drums). This is a heck of a lineup and you can see it all for just $40 and support a worthwhile cause in the process. More info on the Saturday program at Hermann’s website.
For those who missed the superb Anne Schaefer CD launch concert in Victoria on Thursday night at Alix Goolden Hall, you’ve got another chance to see this amazing performer on Sunday evening at the Duncan Garage Showroom. Schaefer and her stellar band received a well-earned standing ovation on Thursday. The Duncan performance promises to be every bit as good. Highest recommendation on this one. 8pm. $18/$15.
For those who can’t make it up Island, Bob Watts‘ Jazz Vespers series at St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Oak Bay features Rob Cheramy on guitar this Sunday evening playing tunes from the newly released and outstanding Charlie Haden/Hank Jones CD Come Sunday. Cheramy will be accompanied by Watts on drums and Ross Macdonald on bass. A great way to enjoy jazz in a quiet, reflective atmosphere. 7:30pm. by donation. 2928 Eastdowne.
Also this Sunday evening the St. John’s United Jazz Vespers series in Deep Cove organized by Bernadette Greene welcomes Melinda Whitaker(vocals), John McArthur (guitar) and Don Cox(bass). Whittaker is an outstanding vocalist who has appeared with the likes of Jose Feliciano, Kenny Loggins, and Roger Whittaker. As a jazz singer she is first rate. Highly recommended. 7 pm. by donation.
And like her debut album Twelve Easy Pieces, it’s a major artistic success unlike anything you’ll hear anywhere else.
If you did want to classify it, I suppose you could call it “indie alt world jazz” or some such thing, but labels utterly fail her work as they fail the artist herself who, with her diverse talents as musician, composer, arranger, and vocalist, and with her many influences, simply can’t be put in a box.
And while the album has a unifying concept – a collection of imagined characters sitting in a room waiting for… well, mostly love, but also freedom, acceptance, and the unexpected – each song is unique, making for a kaleidoscopic ride through pop, jazz, classical, folk and world music forms, feels, and grooves, a journey that periodically surges into impressionism or slows into free-flowing ballads so awash with beauty and emotion they’ll make you weep.
And while traveling, Schaefer explores the universal themes of loss, love, decline, and renewal that artists have examined for ages. She does this in part through her ability to inhabit the skin of her characters lyrically while creating the right musical setting for their voices to emerge sonically. This ability is no more apparent than on the breathtaking Elixir, a song about aging so sublime that it just might break your heart.
I don’t want to get carried away and say that Schaefer is darn near Shakespearean in her range but I’m tempted. And lest that comparison make her album sound hopelessly lofty and serious, just know that, as with the bard, you’ll laugh a lot. Schaefer has a killer sense of humour and her lyrics and music reflect that. “Please be apprised that my sensual guise is just a smokescreen/ ‘Cause I’ll clean your clock if you think you can just walk away,” from Black Canary is just one example of her wit.
A nod must go to the fine musicians who accompany Schaefer and help her realize her vision. They are Scott White on bass, Kelby MacNayr on drums, Adrian Dolan on strings and accordion, Kevin Fox on voice and cello, and co-producer Joby Baker on drums and “clanging pipes.” Schaefer herself plays piano, guitar, shaker, “clanging pipes” and “boots.” Like I said, she has a sense of humour.
When Twelve Easy Pieces came out, critics across the country raved about Schaefer’s talent. Marke Andrews of the Vancouver Sun called the record “a thing of beauty.” Greg Quill of the Toronto Star referred to her “exceptional voice,” “poet’s eye,” and “courageous heart.” Andre Rheaume of Radio Canada heralded the arrival of a new star. The Waiting Room is a worthy successor to that album and deserves similar praise.
Schaefer herself uses superlatives like “amazing,” “spectacular,’” and “incredible” in her liner notes to thank all the people who helped make the recording possible. In speaking about the album, I would add “inventive,” “original,” “sensitive,” “startling,” “challenging,’ “lyric,” “intense,” and “beautiful.”
Well worth the wait, this is a gorgeous record worthy of attentive listening and many spins on your CD player.
Anne Schaefer launches The Waiting Room on Thursday, March 1, 8 pm, at Alix Goolden Hall. Tickets are available in advance at Larsen Music and Lyle’s Place. $20/$18 VJS and UJAM/$15 students and seniors. Doors open at 7:30. More info here.
Trombonist Nick La Riviere is back at Hermann’s next Friday with a string-loaded septet that promises a great show. Adrian Dolan, Karel Roessingh, and Damian Graham are just three of the musicians who will help La Riviere serve up his lively sound. He also promises “a very special guest” who usually only plays big theatre gigs. Friday, Feb. 24, 8pm, Hermann’s, Tickets $16 at the door. 250-388-9166 for reservations.
Vancouver vocalist and pianist Flora Ware returns to the Island next week with her unique brand of hip jazz and original soul/pop. I recently
listened to her debut album Insight produced by Rick Kilburn and Peter Berring and I can tell you this lady is good. She’s been compared to Nora Jones but frankly Ware is better, at least on record, with more power and intimacy in her voice. She’s at the Elks Hall in Courtenay on Thursday, Feb. 23, the Duncan Garage Showroom on Friday, Feb. 24, and Hermann’s on Saturday, Feb. 25. All shows are at 8pm. For the Victoria show at least, she’ll be joined by John MacArthur on guitar, Damian Graham on drums, and Victoria-born-and-raised Sam Shoichet on bass. I’d reserve for this one. More info and music samples at her website.
Jazz at the Gallery presents the Tony Westlake Trio in concert on Sunday, February 26 at 2 pm at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The Spencer Mansion offers a beautiful setting for the kind of intimate piano jazz that Westlake will deliver . As Joe Coughlin remarked following his appearance there in January, it’s like attending one of the old salon concerts in the homes of the wealthy. A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and you can take in the art as well. Tickets are limited and so get them early. $30/$25 for U-JAM and AGGV members. (250) 384-4171
If you like your jazz with food, a number of weekly restaurant and lounge shows are also happening this month. U-JAM has an excellent calendar on their site listing the venues. Check it out here.
If you are in Nanaimo tonight (Friday, Feb. 17) take in The Marty’s at the Front Street Grill with vocalist Joan Wallace. The Marty’s are Marty Steele on keys, Marty Howe on flute and jazz chromatic harmonica and James McRae on drums. They promise a lively mix of standards, bossa nova, and hot Latin. 8 – 11:30 pm. No cover. If you can’t make it this Friday, or you would like to sit in with the Marty’s, go down to Diners on Tuesday Feb 21st 8:00 to 11:00pm, where they’ll open with a Gershwin set and then host a “Master Jam” at Rendezvous.
A few years ago I wrote a feature for Monday Magazine that assessed the state of the jazz scene in Victoria and on Vancouver Island. The conclusions were mixed – lots of good
things going on but plenty of growth still needed, particularly in terms of developing more venues and boosting cultural funding. The situation isn’t much different today but one thing is certain: as was the case then, there’s a lot of great music happening in such a tiny corner of the world.
We need look no further than this month to verify the truth of that statement:
Hot on the heels of the highly successful launch of his Night of the Cookers series, Kelby MacNayr launches his new Vocalismo Concert Series this weekend. The name is a bit peculiar but the series promises to be superb, kicking off on Friday night with jazz and gospel great Kim Pacheco from North Carolina with pianist Richard White Jr, Roy Styffe, Sean Drabitt and Kelby MacNayr backing her. Friday, Feb. 17th, 8pm at Hermann’s $18/15 (VJS, UJam) $12 student. Tickets available in advance at Hermann’s and Larsen’s Music.
The following night, the same line-up heads over to Oak Bay United Church to perform a concert to benefit AfriCare in its work in the Southern Sudan and beyond. Admission by donation (suggested $20) Saturday, Feb. 18th, 7 pm at Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St, Victoria.
This weekend, as well, The Brent Jarvis Trio performs at the Church of the Advent in Colwood as part of their ongoing jazz vespers series. This is an excellent venue where you can really listen to the music and Rev. Ken Gray always has something good to say. You don’t need to be religious to attend this one – just come and enjoy the music. Sunday, February 19 at 7 p.m. Church of the Advent, 510 Mount View Ave (off Sooke Rd.) in Colwood /Admission by donation.
More shows to be added – stay tuned.