Sunday, February 12, 2017

Enjoying a night out swinging with John Sherwood & Friends

It has been a little while since I last wrote in this space, and for that I apologize.  A busy schedule and really feeling tired from a lot of work lately have kept my creative juices from flowing freely.  But with renewed interest after a bit of a break, I hope to return to writing on the arts and other related topics on a semi-regular basis.  Maybe not every week as in the past, but on at least an occasional basis.

So with that out of the way, a heartfelt thank you goes out this weekend to the friendly staff of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts in downtown St. Catharines.  Once again they were kind enough to invite this humble scribe to their Encore! Professional Concert Series at Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.

I've written before about the uniformly high quality of the performances offered in the series, and also the lamented general lack of interest on the part of the general public.  Try as they might, the School of Fine Arts just couldn't seem to gain a foothold on growing their audience for exceptional classical and jazz concerts in Niagara.

But perhaps they are beginning to turn the corner, if Friday evening's performance is anything to go by.  The largest venue at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre was almost full this time around to welcome to the stage local jazz favourite John Sherwood and his musical friends.  Now granted Sherwood is a pretty safe bet almost anywhere, as his performances are usually well attended wherever he goes.

Still, if the Encore! Professional Concert Series needed a cure for their identity crisis, John Sherwood provided it in spades.

John must have worked well in advance to book the talent he brought with him on stage Friday night, as they are all first-rung jazz masters on the Canadian scene in their own right:  Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Pat Collins on bass, Mike Murley on saxophone and none other than Terry Clarke on drums.

The programme was called Canadian Jazz Scene, although save for an obvious tip of the hat to Oscar Peterson to lead off the proceedings, the rest of the evening featured the group as either a trio or quintet on a collection of jazz standards from literally all over the world.

John and the boys were swinging hard at times, gently swinging on occasion and at least once offered a hybrid of the two, including on Pat Metheny's classic James.  But no matter the tempo, everything was anchored by that rock-solid foundation offered at the keyboard of the majestic Steinway & Sons Concert Grand by John Sherwood himself.  He truly is a master of the instrument.

John also happens to be the resident piano tuner for all the pianos at the PAC, so he knows them inside out to begin with, and was able to coax just the right amount of sound and swing throughout the evening.

The evening was inexplicably cut short as they introduced the final tune, I Want to Be Happy when the fire alarm began to sound and everyone had to file out a little prematurely, greeted on the street by the wailing of fire engine sirens coming down St. Paul Street.  I have not heard officially what caused the problem, but rumours persist about a malfunctioning popcorn machine on site.

No matter, things were popping and hopping all night long inside the PAC and I doubt anyone would feel hard done by when the alarm finally did sound.

It's a funny thing about John.  He could probably write his ticket to perform with anyone he wanted anywhere in the world, he is that good.  But he chooses to stay right here in his adopted home town where he grew up and built up his musical career.  We are all the richer for it, of course, but one wonders what kind of offers he's had over the years.

I recall having a wonderful meeting with John at his north St. Catharines home about 5 years ago now when I was researching the whereabouts of one of the two famous grand pianos that used to grace the massive radio studio where I used to work at CKTB Radio.  Turns out the larger of the two is now John's personal piano at home, fully refurbished and looking astounding after all these years.

In an odd twist of fate, my current job as a letter carrier for Canada Post has seen me deliver John's mail on several occasions over the past year!  He is not aware of the fact I am sure, but I smile whenever I approach his house, knowing the connection between my former career and the piano sitting just beyond the front door of his north St. Catharines home.

Thanks again John and friends, for a very entertaining evening of jazz classics from the Great American Songbook.  And thanks to the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts for inviting me to enjoy the show on Friday night.

Have a great week!

February 12th, 2017.

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