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The Jazz Side of Gordon Lightfoot

March 1, 2017

 

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Nanaimo drummer James McRae has put together a unique show featuring acclaimed Vancouver vocalist Jennifer Scott, pianist Miles Black, and bassist Rene Worst performing original jazz arrangements of Gordon Lightfoot’s most beloved songs.


Sponsored by Allison Pianos, this show on Saturday, March 18th at Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria at 8pm, is sure to sell out. Reserve early!

An exclusive Island Jazz interview with McRae follows. 

Where did you get the idea for the Lightfoot show?

Although this idea came to me about 2 1/2 years ago, the process developed in stages. I was humming the song Early Morning Rain in my head and thought it could lend itself to jazz improvisation because Lightfoot writes songs with really strong melodies. I started reharmonizing the song and came up with some ideas that I thought were not bad.

I did a few gigs with Patrick Courtin and Marisha Devoin who also got involved in the arranging of some of the material. I’ve also had great involvement from my other close musical friends in Nanaimo – most notably Nico Rhodes and Marty Steele. Miles Black has given me some ideas and feedback that have helped considerably.

I have yet to play these songs with Jennifer Scott and Rene Worst. I suspect they will also have some good ideas and it will continue to be even more of a group project at that point! We’re going to record what we do after these four shows as well, and I hope to make a CD out of it sometime later this year.

What are some of the tunes you’ll be doing?

We have arrangements for fifteen of them. The obvious ones – If You Could Read My Mind, Early Morning Rain, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, That’s What You Get For Lovin’ Me, Song for a Winter’s Night, Ribbon of Darkness, Softly, Beautiful, I’m Not Sayin’, Bitter Green, Carefree Highway, Cold on the Shoulder, Rainy Day People, Sundown, and The Way I Feel – we might be able to do all of them, but maybe not!

How have you interpreted the songs?

One can pretty well do anything on an arrangement of a song. Mostly I try to adhere to the melody, but aside from reharmonizing, I’ve found myself changing the time signature, changing the feel and rhythm, taking an idea that is a part of the song and repeating it, taking only a part of a song and working with that.  I like the idea of creating an altered song that lends itself to improvisation and interaction that I associate more with jazz. I have mostly retained the melodies and when including lyrics there have been no changes whatsoever, but I’ve altered pretty much everything else. Some of the songs adhere to the original more closely than others.

What should audiences expect?

I think audiences need to go to performances not necessarily carrying built-in ideas about what to expect. There will be a lot of improvisation and listening on the part of all four musicians and the creative ideas that we are all capable of producing will add up to a really enjoyable translation of these songs. There might not be that much of a focus on the specific lyrics though. We definitely will not be doing more than maybe two verses of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald! If someone wants to hear a rehash of what Gordon Lightfoot has done, they would be better served listening to his music directly or going to one of his concerts! If they want to hear a different and more jazz improv approach to his music, then I think those familiar – or not – with his music will really enjoy this. That is my hope anyway!

Check out the Hermann’s calendar for more info. This promises to be a fabulous show.

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