I arrived in British Columbia, Canada in 1971, fell in love, got married and briefly moved to Halifax. While down East it was almost impossible to avoid the Celtic influence in Maritime music. The Irish expatriates, in groups like the Sons of Eiren and Ryan’s Fancy, while they recycled the songs and tradition of Ireland and Britain, they also infused their music with a healthy dose of local Canadian content. One song of note that I came across was Peter Emberley as performed by Ryan’s Fancy. Often the composer of Folk Songs are not known but in the case of Peter Emberley we know it was written by a Boiesetown, New Brunswick farmer named John Calhoun. The song is the story of a young man born in 1863 in Alberton, Prince Edward Island . In 1880 when he was seventeen he left Alberton to find work as a lumberman in the New Brunswick woods of the valley of the South West Miramichi. In the winter of that year he was fatally injured at Parker’s Ridge while loading logs in a yard and he later died in Boiesetown. For over a century the song has been sung throughout Atlantic Canada and in the lumber camps of Ontario and it has kept alive the memory and story of Peter Emberley. The melody is a variant of a popular Irish Ballad. The song spread further afield when Bob Dylan made free use of it in his Ballad of Donald White. As a side note my paternal grandfather was killed in a similar accident in far away Australia in the early part of the 20th century so the song has a particular resonance for me. My father was five years old at the time and I never got to know my grandfather. The melody is a variant of a traditional Irish ballad and there a multitude of lyrics and versions out there but it is not well known around this area. May be it is time to change that.
Here are a couple of versions of the song. The most recent version by the Wakami Wailers is particularly strong but The Ryan’s Fancy version is still my favorite. Strangely enough, to my ear, Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Donald White sounds the most “authentic”. Go figure ………
Danny Boy ……. My favorite story about this song is the one told by a traditional fiddler in a concert at the Stage Door in Cranbrook. He had been busking in Toronto when some one came up to him and asked him did he know Danny Boy?
“Well yes I do”
“I’ll give you ten bucks to play Danny Boy”, and with that he dropped a ten dollar bill into the violin case. The fiddler was not over enthused with the prospect of playing DannyBoy. It’s an old favorite of mothers, grand mothers, Irish Tenors and Saturday night drunks and the fiddler had heard more versions than he could care to remember and he really didn’t want to be added to the list. However, ten bucks is ten bucks so he over came his hesitancy and launched into a heart rendering version of the old war horse. He thought he acquitted himself very well indeed, until the patron reached down and picked up the ten dollar bill.
“What are you doing? You wanted Danny Boy and I played it”
“Yeh, but I didn’t like the way you played it”.
That disgruntled patron should have been in the audience on Saturday night when Lizzy Hoyt closed out her concert with an unaccompanied encore of Danny Boy. It was outstanding !!!!!
Lizzy Hoyt in Concert – Stage 64,Kimberley – Saturday, March 23, 2019 – This is the second concert in the Spring Concert Series.
This is Lizzy Hoyt’s second trip to the East Kootenays. She was last here February 2016 to perform with the Symphony of the Kootenays at her World Premier of Canadian Folk Sketches. Lizzy on guitar, fiddle and vocals this time around was accompanied by Josh McHan on upright Double Bass and her long time guitar and Mandolin player Chris Tabbert.
From her bio…. “Lizzy Hoyt is one of Canada’s most powerful Celtic-folk artists. Known for bringing Canadian history to life with music, her songs like “Vimy Ridge”, “White Feather”, and “New Lady on the Prairie” that have garnered awards and nominations while also connecting strongly with audiences across the country. In 2013, Lizzy was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Governor General of Canada for her outstanding contribution to commemorating Canadian veterans and history through music.
Like her encore of Danny Boy the entire concert on Saturday night was outstanding. The group opened the evening with a set of foot stomping fiddle tunes followed by The Star of the County Down. In concert Lizzy offers the complete Celtic package from Fiddle tunes, well known ballads such as Out on the Mira (from Nova Scotia), The Banks of Loch Lomond and onto some original songs like New Lady of the Prairie, White Feather, and Vimy Ridge. Tucked into the mix was even the country classic Jolene. Each performance was a sparkling jewel of polished musicianship. The program choice was great, the accompanying musicians were spot on with great Bass playing by the Edmontonian jazz musician Josh McHan and Chris Tabbert playing his Russian Stalin Era Mandolin (he found in a junk shop amid a bunch of old accordions). Lizzy played and passed around her wonderful custom Collings guitar for Chris to use when she was playing fiddle. Her fiddle of choice for the evening was a Mezzo Forte carbon-fibre instrument. The only thing missing from the evening was her Celtic Harp performances. Unfortunately the instrument was laid up and need of some repair.
Conversations in the audience indicate that this was the best ever performance at Studio 64 and for that we should thank the organizers, volunteers and sponsors for all the dedication and good work.
Danny Boy – Lizzy with a nice guitar arrangement with moving bass lines
The Piano Trio as a genre is a long established tradition in jazz. The first Trio of note was probably The Nat King Cole Trio in the late 1930s through the 1940s. Most audience think of Nat King Cole as the smooth voice, with perfect diction, pop crooner and TV star of the 1950s and 1960s. Most music patrons don’t realize that he was a major jazz pianist way before he became famous as a pop singer. For a time the format of his trio (piano / vocals , bass and guitar) pretty well defined the genre. Over the years many pianists including, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, have adopted that format. For whatever reason, the original iconic trio format has morphed into the Piano/Bass/Drums format of the modern era. Most jazz pianists at some time in their career front a standard Jazz Piano Trio. The Christian Mcbride Trio is one of many on the current jazz scene and, as if to break with tradition, the leader of this trio is not a pianist. Christian McBride is a bass player. This is a trio of young, highly trained and very skilled musicians.
Christian McBride (born May 31, 1972) is an American jazz bassist, composer and arranger. He is the “go to” bass player of the past decade and has appeared on more than 300 recordings as a leader and sideman. He is a six-time Grammy award winner. The pianist Christian Sands was born on May 22, 1989 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and later moved to nearby Orange. He started playing the piano at a very young age, and took lessons from the age of four; he commented that “I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life”. The drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (born December 6, 1982 in Jacksonville, Florida) also is an American multi Grammy Award winner. Owens began playing the drums at the age of 2. He has played many types of music in his younger years, centering on his experience in the church. By the time he was in his early teens, he realized that he would become a jazz musician, and received a full scholarship to study at the Juilliard School. He is active on both the New York and international jazz scene as a sideman and band leader
There are many examples on YouTube of the trio performing in a variety of settings but here are three for your enjoyment.
A Footenote for pianists –
In the early 1990s Mosiac Records produced an 18 CD box set entitled The Complete Capital Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio (Mosiac 138).
For anyone who may be interested Mosiac has also produced a 5 CD box set of Teddy Wilson Trios entitled The Complete Verve Recordings of the Teddy Wilson Trio (Mosiac MD5 -173). This is a collection of the music from the master of elegance, Teddy Wilson, with some of the finest drummers of the day. If a drummer needs to study how to play with brushes this is the “go to” source.
Another Mosiac set of note is the 9 CD collection The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-1962 (MD9-246).
“The Medium is the message” …….. This catch phrase is from the writings of Marshall McLuhan. He coined it way back in the 1960s. I never really got “it” then and I am not even sure I get it now. However, the following is a reprint of an article that I came across recently and it goes a long way to explain the recent resurgence of interest in Vinyl Recordings.
WHY VINYL RECORDINGS SURVIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE – Don’t underestimate ritual and tactility. …. Steven Brykman –
Ask a record-collecting audiophile why vinyl is back and you may hear a common refrain: “Of course vinyl’s back! It’s a more accurate reproduction of the original! It just sounds better than digital!”
To this I reply, “Does it really, though? Or is it just EQ’d better? And since when did we start caring so much about the perfect fidelity of our recordings? I grew up—as did many of you—listening to cassette tapes on a boom box. They sounded horrible, and we loved them.”
I think the real reason for vinyl’s return goes much deeper than questions of sound quality. As media analyst Marshall McLuhan famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” In other words, “the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” Nowhere does this hold truer than in the world of recorded sound.
The entire experience of vinyl helps to create its appeal. Vinyl appeals to multiple senses—sight, sound, and touch—versus digital/streaming services, which appeal to just one sense (while offering the delight of instant gratification). Records are a tactile and a visual and an auditory experience. You feel a record. You hold it in your hands. It’s not just about the size of the cover art or the inclusion of accompanying booklets (not to mention the unique beauty of picture disks and colored vinyl). A record, by virtue of its size and weight, has gravitas, has heft, and the size communicates that it matters.
Records, in all their fragility and physicality, pay proper respect to the music, proper respect to the past. They must be handled carefully, for the past deserves our preservation. They are easily scratched, and their quality is diminished as a result of those scratches. They are subject to the elements—left in the sun, they warp. Like living things, they are ephemeral.
While the process of launching Spotify and searching for a track (Any track! You have 30 million choices!) is clearly the most efficient means of listening to music, sometimes efficiency isn’t what the experience is about. Record albums are analog, the closest thing we have to the sound waves. These waves are coaxed out of a flattened, spinning disk of vinyl by a diamond. The diamond is literally taking a ride on the record. The bumps in the grooves push the diamond up and down. Everything about the process has a tactile physicality to it that differs in feel from digital services.
Steven Beeber, the vinyl aficionado and author of The Heebie-Jeebies at GBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk summed up the appeal of records this way: “As with so many things, the Luddites were right. The old ways were better. Vinyl has a richness and depth that digital media lacks, a warmth, if you will. And hell, even if it didn’t, it sure looks cool spinning on the table, and you’ve got to treat it with kindness to make it play right, so it’s more human too. As in our love lives, if you want to feel the warmth, you’ve got to show you care.”
Beeber’s last point hits at the crux of vinyl. The cumbersome process of putting on a record is akin to a ritual, an experience that mirrors the care that artists took in creating the work. First you have to find the record—a treasure hunt which might take five or 10 minutes depending on the size and organization of your collection. When you find the record, you pull it out. You remove the album from its cover. (Or, if you’re a real stickler, you remove the album from the cover, still inside the inner sleeve. Because at some point you rotated the inner sleeve 90 degrees to prevent the album from accidentally slipping out. So you pull out the album in its sleeve.) Then you place the record gently on the turntable spindle: the hole so accurately punched that you need to push the album firmly down to get it to sit right.
The album and the turntable needle are both objects that demand your respect. The record must be freed of dust, so you get out your Discwasher D4+ System. You remove the wood-handled brush from the cardboard box. You remove the small red bottle of Hi-Technology Record Cleaning Fluid, along with the tiny red-handled needle brush, both of which are cleverly nestled inside the wooden handle. You gently sweep the needle with the brush, which produces a satisfying whooshing from the speakers.
Then you apply 3-6 drops of D4 fluid to the cloth-covered face of the wood-handled brush and rub it in with the base of the bottle. Then you place the wood-handled brush on the record, careful to orient the nap in the right direction. Then you lick a finger of the other hand, place it in the center of the record, and gently rotate the platter beneath the brush. When these tasks are complete, then—and only then—do you set the platter in motion and lower the needle—slowly, ever so slowly—onto the spinning vinyl disk.
And the music begins to play.
The record experience suggests a few possible lessons for user-interface designers:
1) Designing for multiple senses can be more powerful than designing for just one. This is why mobile apps that incorporate sound (button clicks, etc.) and tactile sensations (haptic feedback) in addition to visual cues create greater user delight than those that are purely visual.
2) Always design in a manner appropriate for the medium.
3) Always consider the user’s state of mind. Consider every aspect of their psychology and how it might relate to the experience at hand. For instance, a person might find one experience preferable to another, because it reminds them of their childhood, or because that’s how they’ve always done it. (Case in point: my mother always preferred grinding her coffee beans with a hand-cranked grinder, because that’s how she always did it—not because she thought that the beans tasted better.) There might also be a touch of rebellion in the act of rejecting today’s technology for a simpler tool that worked just fine, thank you very much.
Not everything in life is about ease and speed. Believe it or not, sometimes people want to take longer, particularly if an experience evokes a past memory, satisfies a deep-rooted need, or fills a behavioral gap. Make anything too easy and its perceived value declines.
Some people, some of the time want the process of listening to music to demand respect from them, to offer an embodied ritual that removes us for a time from the daily humdrum of our digital existence. Speed has its place, but time spent can signal value and create a pleasant weight of meaning. There’s a reason our religious services aren’t five minutes long, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that as digital technologies continue to dominate our lives.
By definition a Child Musical Prodigy is a young person capable of playing music at an advanced technical level with the interpretative and emotional maturity of an adult. The most famous Canadian prodigy in the recent past was pianist Glenn Gould. The most famous international prodigy, also in the recent past was Yehudi Menuhin. Both musicians started playing and performing at a very young age. Yehudi started violin lessons at age four. Prodigies are rare but not unheard of (pun intended). The big challenge for these gifted musicians is to be taken seriously and not be mistaken for “a monkey see monkey do” circus performer. Another challenge is to avoid “burn out “. A significant number of child prodigies fade into relative obscurity in later life. Having said that while their stardom is in assent in their early years it is startling to see and hear them perform. The question that always come to my mind how do they do it? While the rest of us mere mortals struggle to play a precise and accurate musical scale that can past critical muster there are children out there playing at a level that we can never achieve. It wouldn’t matter if we practiced twenty hours a day it would not happen. It’s just not fair!
Here is violinist Chloe Chua at the age of 11 accompanied by 20 year old Kevin Loh on classical guitar playing Astor Piazolla’s ‘Café 1930’ from his Histoire du Tango suite. Chua was the First Prize winner in the junior category of the 2018 Yehudi Menuhin Competition in Geneva, Switzerland. Loh, now 20, studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London for seven years (partially funded at the outset by none other than the Rolling Stones!).
The saloon bar in the Heritage Inn Convention isn’t a new venue. It has been around for a while and has mostly been used as a venue for stand up comedians. The manager took note of the success of Auntie Barb’s Bakery and Bistro as a music venue and figured “well he could do that”. It was a good move. For music the room is ideal. Perhaps a slightly raised stage could improve the sight lines but apart from that the lighting is reasonable and the sound acceptable. And, more to the point, the room is quiet and the audience respectful. Louis (“Louie”) Cupello has lined up some fine acts to get the ball rolling.
Local singer/song writer Maddi Keiver was back in town following her recent trip to Dublin, Ireland. She opened the evening with some cover tunes before moving onto her original songs Three crows at the Funeral Home,Crystal Clear,Landslide and Hopeless. In between these she squeezed in a version of The House of the Rising Sun.
Once again the Winnipeg / Thunder Bay musical axis strikes another blow. Every once in a while the musicians from that neck of the woods venture out into the wider world and refresh our memories of how central that axis is to the Canadian musical landscape. This time around it was the blues duo of Tracy K (vocals, guitar and blues harp) and her musical side kick Jamie Steinhoff (vocals, guitar and resonator slide guitar). Musically the duo has been around the block for a number of years; traveling back and forth across Canada and down “blues highway 61” into the American south to savor the heartbeat of the blues. Tracy was raised on sixties radio and her brother’s hippie records and began her professional career at twenty five while living in Toronto. She moved back to Beausejour in the 1990s, started a family and, eventually, began her solo career. She is inspired by local blues greats Big Dave Maclean and Brent Parkin, and contemporaries Rita Chiarelli, Sue Foley and Suzie Vinnick. She is currently Nominee for Blues Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards in October 2018. On the other hand (so to speak) Jamie Steinhoff started his musical life as a Blue Grass banjo player. He still has a great love for the style but over the years he has slipped into a role as a blues performer. As a duo Tracy and Jamie have traveled a lot in 2018 for folk festivals and a Home Routes Tour.
Perhaps Tracy is best known for her blues harmonica playing and her affinity for the old time female blues singers of by gone eras. In the first set she paid homage to Sippie Wallace with a version of Everybody Loves My Baby and Memphis Minnie’s Chauffeur Blues (originally recorded in 1941). Here and there throughout the evening Tracy performed some of her original material, a jazz tune here and there and even Anne Murray / Gene MacLellan‘s Snowbird. Her sidekick, Jamie Steinhoff, when not traveling with Tracy, has a real job as a cook. His musical repertoire includes some Blind Blake, Dave Van Ronk and Brownie McGee tunes with great finger picking on both the resonator slide guitar (in open D or open G) and a wonderful Guild F-40 acoustic guitar (I love the shape of that instrument). He also dipped into the country bag with an original song called Too Low Down to Sing the Blues (so I have to sing a country song). His back up slide playing on Nobody Knowns Atlanta Like I Do was outstanding. Here are images from the concert ….
As a venue The Heritage Saloon is great addition to the local music scene and I am looking forward to hearing Ken Hamm perform here on Saturday November 3, 2018.
Tracy and Jamie would like express their thanks to the house staff and the audience for their support of live music. They would especially like to thank Tom Bungay for the sound system and John Bisset for the setting up the stage
The Nelson based Sax player Clinton Swanson has “brand name” recognition here in the East Kootenays. Over the years Clinton with his pork-pie hat and quiver of saxophones has been a frequent visitor to the area. Most recently he was with the Melody Diachun’s “Back to the Groove Tour” and also with Jon and Holly in a Cranbrook Summer Sounds Rotary Park concert. Because of that “Brand Name ” recognition it was understandable that the group was billed as the Clinton Swanson Blues Trio. In actual fact it was more appropriately the Kelly Fawcett Blues Trio with Clinton Swanson on tenor and baritone saxes and Doug Stephenson on bass. Once the concert got going it was easy to hear why Clinton said “we are part of Kelly’s trio and we are here to support him”. Kelly is a new face to most of us but he has been a long time friend and musical associate of Clinton and they have toured together frequently over the years. The other member of the trio, Doug Stephenson is also a well known Nelson musician who has also toured extensively in the Kootenays. He is living proof that to make a living as a professional musician these days one can’t have “too many arrows in one’s quiver”. I first encountered him playing bass guitar behind Gabriel Palatchi, then as a nylon string Bossa Nova guitarist with Melody Diachun, then as full on electric guitarist with Melody Diachun’s “Back to the Groove Tour”. On this particular night with Kelly Fawcett he is a stand up bass player (no pun intended). In every performance circumstance he looks like he is having way too much fun. He excels on all his instruments and that probably explains why he is in such demand. I am not sure how he is able to keep up his superb skill levels on all instruments. He must practice constantly, all day, every day. I must ask him about that.
In this day and age we are used to Blues groups being guitar based. You know the usual configuration – drums, electric bass, rhythm guitar and a screaming lead electric guitar backing up one or more vocalists. Kelly Fawcett is the vocalist and guitarist in the group, Doug is the bass player but there is no drummer. To be honest, the absence of a drummer is a plus. Without a drummer there was lots of space in the music to hear the vocals, the finger picking guitar leads and backups, and Clinton’s and Doug’s superb solos.
The night kicked of with a couple of standard tunes. Dr John’s New Orleans inspired Such a Night from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz and Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues. In the latter Kelly played some excellent open G slide guitar. From then on the night was a mixture of Country Blues, Jump Tunes (Let the Good Times Roll, Crazy About My Baby), old time tunes (Nobody knowns Atlanta Like I Do), a novelty number here and there, a Tom Waits number (Hey Little Bird Fly Away Home) and, to brighten up the sonic landscape, a few original tunes (Numbers Blues / The Gamblers Blues and Cheddar). For me there were a couple of standout tunes namely Kelly’s interpretation of Taj Mahal’s classic Fishing Blues and Clinton Swanson’s baritone Sax exploration of Harlem Nocturne. All in all another classic concert in the Fall Jazz and Blues Series. Here are some images from the evening ……..
As always, thanks must go to the volunteers, the organizing committee, The Burrito Grill for feeding the musicians and “A B&B at 228” for the musicians lodgings.
On stage, drummers are rarely up front and in your face. Usually they are buried at back, in the middle, or occasionally off to side. The best they can hope for is a raised stage behind the band. They may not always be seen but they usually are heard. Some might say that is not necessarily a good thing. By and large they tend to be loud, abrasive, and dare I say it, not always musical. However, there are exceptions and Tony Ferraro is one of those exceptions. He is the quintessential “man in the middle” with precise deft splashes of technical skill that perfectly fits the musical situations at hand. He is capable of enough powerhouse drive to fuel a big band. He can be as funky as all get out in an organ trio, or softly pulsing in a Jazz or Bossa Nova setting. He is a resident of the West Kootenays and is basically “the go to drummer” in the region. If you want to take a band to the next level then Tony is your man. We have been very fortunate in this area in that we often get to see, hear and experience such a master musician at play. He was recently in the area with Melody Diachun and her jazz group and a short time later with Lester McLean / Michael Occhipinti’s Jazz/Soul/Funk outfit.
Last June the extra fine vocalist Melody Diachun was in the Studio Stage Door in Cranbrook as part of her “Get Back to the Groove Tour”. The initial kick off concert of the tour was at a Jazz Festival in Calgary. Cranbrook was the stop before the Kaslo Jazz Festival and then all points West down to the coast. With the exception of Cranbook the group played to sold out crowds. As usual Melody surrounded herself with a group of first class musicians that included Tony Ferraro on drums, Doug Stephenson on guitar, Mike Spielman on bass, ClintonSwanson on saxes and the Edmontonian Chris Andrew on keyboards. True to her promise of “getting back to the grove” she kicked off the evening with ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man and an her own original Get Back to the Grove. What I like about the Stage Door as a venue is the opportunity to really hear the music. There are no impaired sight lines, no idle chatter or bar room clatter. It’s just about the music, the musicians and the the audience. The little nuances that might be easily passed over in other environs are there to be appreciated. When Melody picked up the shakers and beat out a groove Tony was right there behind her doubling the rhythm on his snare. The resulting pulse was mesmerizing. When Clinton Swanson rolled off the end of a solo guitarist Doug Stephenson was right there to pick it up and extend the melodic line that Clinton was exploring. And so on. The evening just rolled on with magical vocals and sparkling solos. Here are some more images from the evening:
Tucked away in a little strip Mall in the old Big Picture electronics store in Cranbrook is Auntie Barb’s Bakery. It is the brain child of Barb Smythe and Todd DeBoice and it operates as a Bakery and Bistro that also caters to Banquets. The establishment does have another life. At the back of the main room is a professional stage and performing area complete with a black backdrop and professional stage lighting. For musical aficionado Tod DeBoice it is dream come true. He now has an opportunity to hear and support musicians of his choice in an environment that will show case their talents to the best advantage. A couple of bands slipped into town without my knowledge and performed in this new Cranbrook musical venue. However, I stumbled on a poster in the local library advertising the venue. The names on the poster, MichaelOcchipinti,Tony Ferrero and Felix Pastorius immediately caught my eye. Michael is multiple Juno nominee and top of the pile guitarist from Toronto. I have no hesitation in suggesting that Michael is the most “over the top” talented guitarist in Canada. Over the past year or so he has performed several times in the area including a tour with the outstanding Italian vocalist Pilar. Tony Ferraro, as I mentioned above is the “go to drummer” in the Kootenays. Although I didn’t immediately realize it at the time Felix Pastorius is the son of the late great bass player Jaco Pastorius. The leader of the band Lester McLean (vocals, guitar and alto sax) was an unknown to me but given the company he was keeping my expectations were pretty high.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018, 7:30pm – Lester McLean Soul / Funk Band featuring Michael Occhipinti at Auntie Barb’s Bakery.
At the opening of the show Michael Occhipinti warned me that this wasn’t going to be a jazz performance. After it was over I begged to differ. It may have been masquerading as Soul and Funk but it was all jazz to me. Of course there were the Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Arethra Franklin hits and a sprinkling of Classic Rock (Drift Away and Harvest Moon). On a blues shuffle Michael Occhipinti did some romping around with his guitar set to an organ effect that made you look for the keyboard that wasn’t there. Lester played some searing alto sax solos and the giant in the back (Felix) played some blistering solos and backups on his Vinny Fodera six string bass. At one stage he was trading riffs with Michael that were over the top brilliant. This was an outstanding night of music.
New York may have The Blue Note and the Village Vanguard but Cranbrook has Auntie Barb’s Bakery. What more could we want.
Just a few years back (1993 to 2013) GREAT BIG SEA was an almost unstoppable force in Canadian East Coast music. Over a twenty year period they dominated the scene with their mix of Newfoundland traditional music and rock and roll sensibilities. A founding member, and key performer, in the group was Sean McCann. Sean is very up front about his motivation to perform. It was about “booze, sex and rock and roll”. But every thing has a price and by 2013 he knew, for his health and family situation, he needed to get off the “Party Bus”. He quit the band and relocated to Ottowa – “That’s where all our tax money goes, so why not.” On his retirement from the band he noted he had been on the road with Great Big Sea for 20 years….. He was 46 years old and it was time to make a change. Great Big Sea struggled on for a while but it was not the same . The band is now in happy retirement. The two key performers, Alan Doyle and Sean McCann, while still tipping the hat to the “Great Big Sea Repertoire”, have gone onto solo careers.
For this evening, Sean kicked off the night in true Newfoundland fashion with an acapella sea song and followed that up with a collection varied material from his own stock of original songs and a few Great Big Sea staples thrown into the mix. Like all good singer/song writers Sean is essentially a story teller and the dialogue in, and between the songs wove the evening into a tapestry of his life so far. For the most part of that life he has traveled with his favorite guitar “Brownie”. A beat up old Takamine Dreadnought that shows the many scars of a hard life on the road . It is emblazoned on the deck with Sean’s mantra “Help Your Self”. To round out the team there was his second DADGAD guitar, a Takamine Jumbo, and his Bodhan (an Irish Frame drum). Part of the tapestry of the evening included the drinking song Red Wine and Whiskey and his recovery song Doing Fine. On the later there was some especially fine finger picking on the DADGAD guitar. Here are some images of a fine, intimate evening of story telling……. @@@@@@@@@@@@@@
The Cavaquinho – It looks like a Ukulele and so it should. The Cavaquinho is a Portuguese instrument that has, in one form or another spread around the world. In the hands of Portuguese immigrants it traveled to Hawaii in the nineteenth century and under went some changes. With the adoption of gut (nylon) strings and tuning systems peculiar to the islands it became part of a whole new genre of music – Hawaiian music. The sound of the Ukulele instantly conjures up images of the islands – trade winds, surf, palm trees, grass shirts and hula girls. Of course since that time the instrument has traveled back across the world and, in recent years, has undergone a resurgence in popular interest. In the meantime the original Cavaquinho has remained popular in Portugal, Brazil and the Cape Verde islands. Although Portugal had colonies in Angola and Mozambique the Cavaquinho doesn’t seem to have become part of their folkloric traditions. But it is in Brazilian Choro that the instrument has it’s most noticeable impact. Choro is the most Brazilian of all musical styles and it grew out of the European Salon music tradition imported into Brazil and spiced up with local samba style rhythms. In one form or other the style has been around for a hundred or more years. In that genre of music the Cavaquinho, the Pandiero (Brazilian tambourine), the Seven String Guitar and the Bandolin (5 course mandolin) create music that is very melodic, rhythmic and harmonically sophisticated and somewhat uniquely Brazilian.
Although the instrument is not in common use in Canada, Godin Guitars in Quebec manufactures a unique version of the instrument that can hold its own in the company of the more traditional instruments. It is a hybrid steel strung instrument tuned Brazilian style D G B D. Basically, that is an an open G tuning, a octave higher but almost identical, to the top four strings of the acoustic guitar. The difference is that the top string on the Cavaquinho is tuned down to D. Speaking from experience it was tempting to just tune the guitar like a Cavaquinho and play it as such. It was good idea at the time but basically it doesn’t work. The Cavaquinho has a very short scale length and the normal Cavaquinho Choro stretches from the 1st and 2nd to seventh fret are dam near impossible on the guitar. Beside it does not have the nice high traditional Cavaquinho sound. D’Addario manufactures stainless steel ball end strings (EJ93, gauges 11-13-23w-28w) specifically for the Cavaquinho and are available from a number of on line sites. It is unlikely you will find them in your local music store. The Godin instrument is equipped with their signature on-board electronics that is virtually free of feed back. In that regard, and in other manufacturing details, the Godin Cavaquinho is similar to their acoustic and semi-acoustic Nylon Classical, Multi Oud and Seven String Guitars.
So, that’s the background so now for the sounds. The first three videos below demonstrate, for me, the attraction of the Cavaquinho and Brazilian music in general. These young musicians look like they are having fun. The guitar in the first and third videos are obviously Godins. In the third video the guitarist is throwing in some very interesting chord progressions. All three tunes are pretty well classics in the Brazilian Choro repertoire.
There a lots of Cavaquinho tutorials on YouTube and the approach they use to teach the tunes has, for me, a lot of appeal. The first tutorial, Garota de Ipanema is better known as the The Girl from Ipanema, by the well known Brazilian composer Tom Jobim. The tune is probably the most recorded composition on the planet. I have lost count of the number of Cavaquinho and Brazilian Guitar tutorials that are available on YouTube so there is plenty out there to explore.
I know local musicians aren’t likely to stumble on or acquire a Cavaquinho but the above videos might just attract some interest in the instrument or also in that very rich and varied world of Brazilian music. This is only the tip of the iceberg.