We interview jazz diva Maureen Washington - home at Christmas · 11.12.14 by colin newell
Bonus Interview –
It was a windy and wet Thursday night at Habit Coffee & Culture on Yates Street at the Atrium in downtown Victoria when we spoke with the lovely Maureen Washington – Jazz singer, mom of five, vocal coach, and mentor.
Born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia, Ms. Washington draws upon roots in frontier Canada with connections to Mississippi. The granddaughter of a musician, a singing cowboy no less, her musical fabric draws upon influences as diverse as Etta James, Holly Cole, and (to my ears) a very young Momma Thorton.
There is a certain purity, drive and laser focus in the work of Ms. Washington that defies explanation. It’s visceral, heartfelt, uncompromisingly grounded and targeted directly at the heart.
Some of the greatest music of all time is born of pain and is germinated and cultivated in disparity and conflict. Examples include some of the best works by the likes of The Police, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and others. Ms. Washington has certainly had her share of challenges but she processes life differently than most of us. She takes life’s most unpredictable curve balls and turns them into positivity. She then distills that positive energy into a musical phrase and the amalgam of this life experience is a beautiful sound, boiled down to its rhythmic essence. For the ears and the heart, it’s a wonderful thing.
Our conversation moved towards Christmas and why, according to Ms. Washington, “it’s the best time of the year and the toughest time of the year.” Her voice takes on a very special strength when tackling some traditional and seasonal material, as it does in her latest Christmas album (available over on CD-Baby). What could have been a painful journey is, in fact, a love story to her husband, her family and the world around her. In her latest CD, “Christmas Is…” Maureen Washington offers up a compendium of seasonal favorites. When taken as a whole, it illustrates a woman’s journey through adversity, guiding us into the now and is a pure celebration of the moment.
I love the overall sound of this CD. It has timeless classics delivered by a skillful vocalist. Ms. Washington comes across as everyone’s next door neighbor during a time of need with a hug and a hot cup of coffee on a snowy Christmas eve.
Ms. Washington is an artist to watch and performs locally and throughout British Columbia. You can visit her webpage over here. Catch her while you can!
Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.
Katie and a world of cards. · 29.11.14 by colin newell
Katie is a lovely 18 year old girl who has Cerebral Palsy. Together with her mom, Sue, they have been making stamped cards since 2007. Prior to receiving assistive technology, Sue used to help her daughter stamp the images on the cards.
Katie has a head controlled stamping machine made for her four years ago by CanAssist. She is now able to stamp the images for her cards through a switch control using her head.
Card making is Katie’s thing and it brings her great joy. She loves making cards and sharing them. Making and selling cards has given her a unique way to connect with people in the community. Additionally, this also allows Katie to give back to the community with the profits from her cards.
Katie has recently had hip surgery which has taken her out of card making commission.
Mom Sue and some of the neighbors put their heads together to see if they could come up with a plan to brighten her recovery. Sue suggested, “Since Katie will not be making cards for a couple weeks, I thought that it would be amazing if bright, beautiful cards made their way to her. Near and Far.”
“We have a world map up. Her sisters will open up the cards and we can mark on the map were they have come from. We have also created a box of inspiration. When someone sends a card if they could put in a single button or piece of ribbon – something cute that Katie can put on a card… That would be great. Once she is back to making her cards she will then have pieces of inspiration from everyone to put on her cards.”
“Please mark on the back of the cards were they are from. I know that Katie will want to look at each and every one for years to come. We are going to put the world map up in her room so she can always see it.”
If you feel like sending a card to Katie, which would be awesome, send them to:
6898 Central Saanich Rd.,
Katie thanks you!
Vinyl Tap Stories - Randy Bachman - A book review · 5.10.14 by colin newell
If you were as lucky as I was, young and impressionable, growing up in the mid-sixties – you were about to face down a musical and cultural revolution like no other in Canadian history. And if you were fortunate enough to be of that delicate age and being raised in Canada, you were most definitely in the front row seats for dramatic change, evolution, and revolution where everything the establishment held dear… would be turned on its ear…
At least for a while.
That was the mid-sixties. Growing up in the relatively idyllic confines of the West Coast on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island, a kid like me was surrounded by change – coming at me from all directions. And like any other kid growing up in Canada, our soundtrack was AM radio and Black and White television. And at the time, the AM radio generally got in way more of our attention than the TV.
TV for us, was restricted to the handful of channels we could pick up from a roof top mounted antenna system. And as I recall, we could pick from the following: Channel 2 (CBC Vancouver), Channel 4 (ABC Seattle), Channel 5 (NBC Seattle), Channel 6 (CHEK Victoria) – Channels 7,8,9 would come in depending on the weather conditions – and channels 11 and 12 (CBS Bellingham) would pretty reliable as well. In the 999 channel Universe in which we live, that would seem pretty limiting, but in fact, it was everything.
The TV may have provided the news (often grim reports from Vietnam, global strife in the Middle East, and rioting in the streets of America…) but it was the AM radio that provided the background music, the driving rhythm of our lives. It touched me. It touched every kid of every stripe anywhere in Canada. The CBC and independent AM radio would guarantee that. It was on a portable AM radio that I would tote with my everywhere where I would first hear the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Doors… and soon, very soon, Canadian popular music!
AM radio in the mid-sixties was generally all American and British all of the time. From time to time one would hear a Canadian artist on the radio but they were generally not identified as such – because it was not cool to be Canadian. It would be the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, David Clayton-Thomas, Ian and Sylvia, Niel Young, and many others in turn who would change the very ways we perceived ourselves as Canadians and how we forged a place for ourselves in the global music experience.
In Randy Bachman’s uncompromisingly complete “Vinyl Tap Stories”, he outlines, with impeccable and unrelenting detail, his journey, key role, partnership and often incidental participation in so much of the 60’s (and 70’s) mosaic. It was, after all, Randy and his musical partner Burton Cummings, who would musically score the theme music to every Canadian kid’s life between the age of 4 and 24 in the late sixties. Their songs, along with hit after hit by Gordon Lightfoot became part of our fabric, woven into our very nature, defining us as creative and sentient individuals… Canadians all!
Randy’s style, it should be noted, it not particularly dry or clinical – His easy going repartee is that of a story telling uncle… everything in no particular order… but his historical accounting is generally dictionary perfect with lots of “Hey, even I didn’t know that!” twists and turns at the end of many of his accounts.
Randy establishes, early on, that with a lot of hard work, sobriety, faith, dedication and unflinching focus (and a little actual creative talent thrown in…) that even a kid from Winnipeg (and some friends) can put it all on the line and make something big for themselves, and ultimately their fellow Canadians.
And they did. And the Guess Who would put Canada on the map of global cultural history and the history of rock for all time. In later incarnations of Randy Bachman’s musical vision (with the likes of the bands Brave Belt and Bachman Turner Overdrive), he would create music that was shoe-horn fit-perfect for the next generation of kids being raised on radio rock and roll.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is not just a book about the work of The Guess Who – it is a wonderful read on the important history of Canada’s place in the counter cultural mind-set of the time. Furthermore, Randy reveals the many influences that every other successful English and American artist had on him and his Winnipeg based musical collaborators. There are even passages about how Antonín Leopold Dvořák (a late 19th century Czech composer) influenced one of his songs!
Randy Bachman is one of very few, if any, important artists in our time that reveals the inner secrets of so many of these great songs – how they came into being – the moments of their conception and so on. If you are a music lover or practicing musician (as I am…) you will love the sweetness of each and every reveal.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is a welcome addition to my “Canadian heavy” musical library and a perfect companion piece to his tireless radio program “Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio. Enjoy!
The Lonely End of the Rink - Grant Lawrence - book review · 1.10.14 by colin newell
Regardless of the decade you grew up, in the last 50 years of the Canadian mosaic – one common theme provided the paving stones for your journey: rock and roll music and outdoor winter sports… most likely hockey.
And chances are, your fabric of choice in this environment would have been denim, leather or blue corduroy – your allowed uniform determined by membership, in cliques often limited to the rockers, the greasers and the rest of us; the young, naive, anxiety ridden innocents lacking a defined identity.
As the twentieth century drifted to its conclusion, several elements of fashion would appear along with more choices in group membership, arguably better music but some (if not all) of the common rites of passage would remain constant; the ever present fear and loathing of growing up in an environment rich with bullying, perceived violence and the emotional roller coaster of adolescence.
In this Grant Lawrence follow up to Adventure in Solitude, he captures the timeless essence of the Canadian male coming of age story – in a rugged and relentless environment of doubt and seemingly endless bullying from his peers.
Here in the 21st Century, bullying has finally been brought into acute focus – for its actual emotional and physical body count. In its engaging first half, Grant pulls us along for a gripping and visceral snapshot of his formative years as he takes us on a dizzying ride down painfully familiar territory.
What separates our now graying and rough sewn memories of youth from Grant’s testimonial is the colorfully crude reminiscence of the accompanying sound track – a veritable letter perfect chronology of regional punk and independent rock – something Grant recalls with impeccable detail worthy of a Ken Burns documentary, all the while illustrating his transformation from a geeky and awkward jock-hating nerd to a place of redemption, contrition and maturity.
The Lonely end of the Rink is actually three books in one (maybe four) – the first half outlines the 12 year adventure of Grants passage from child to teenager in the public school system. In its second half and denouement, Grant discovers the raw power of facing his childhood demons with the blade, the blocker and braving the bully on a level and albeit frozen playing surface.
Sutured into the fabric of this dialogue is a 30 year retrospective of Canadian hockey and a quirky matrix of Canadian musical genuflections – bowing towards hockey, its history, its tragedies, successes and absurdities and how utterly and irrevocably intertwined all these elements are in the Canadian experience.
Grants Lonely Rink is a brisk and bracing icy breeze in your face, a rock and pop cultural timeline and an immensely respectful first person tribute to Canada’s great frozen obsession – impossible to put down until the final period. Gritty, accurate and equally painful, it is a welcome addition to the Grant Lawrence collection of great stories.
This house - a new series - Chapter 1 - welcome home · 3.08.14 by colin newell
This is the first in a series of many, many blogs to come on the joys of home ownership in Victoria B.C. Canada.
After a search of what feels like 20 years (yes, it can and often does take that long to find the right forever home on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island.) we are finally here. And it still feels somewhat (at times completely) surreal.
We have been living in a 2 BR / 2 BTH unit for the last 16 years or so – a large 1250 sq. ft place that made up for its flaws with a 270 degree water and mountain view – and I dare say that the view never got tired in all that time. That said, there was no real house pride because one could not really impart ones own sense of style on it. And now, with a house, it is a moderately blank palette.
One of many questions that comes up for me personally is: Why have a house and a backyard anyway? What about all the work and the stuff that needs to be maintained. Well living in a flat, apartment or condo requires maintenance – it is just that you pay someone else to do things that you can likely do yourself… cheaper and at times better… and learning new things at the same time – because learning keeps you sharp and fresh and prepared.
It also comes down to “you have to live somewhere…” and pay someone for the privilege – so you might as well pay yourself (and the bank…)
I will not spend too much time on the journey to get here because everyone knows how desirable it is to live in the city and country around Victoria and Vancouver Island… and how pricey it can be.
Tommy Emmanuel launches Pan-Canadian Tour · 16.05.14 by colin newell
This week, my nephew William (an aspiring guitar player), and I (a guitar slinger since the mid-70’s) had the pleasure of seeing finger style guitar player Tommy Emmanuel – in person at the Mcpherson Playhouse in Victoria, B.C.
Arguably one of the hardest working solo acts in the business, Tommy has been touring for over 5 decades. Starting his career at age 4 in a family rich with musical heritage, Tommy was playing professionally by the age of 6 in a family band and by 10 years of age had already toured Australia.
With a Chet Atkins “Certified Guitar Player” title (and I know of no other players who have this accreditation…) and 2 Grammy nominations, Tommy’s 7 year stint of touring a minimum of 300 dates a year is truly breath taking and staggering. It is no wonder that his skill with the 6 string guitar borders on the unnatural and nearly impossible. His evening show, comprised of 2 1.5 hour sets, left everyone (particularly the musicians in the audience) staggered and, like me, elated and exhausted at the same time – witnessing the level of showmanship and raw focused talent.
As mentioned above, there is a major influence from Chet Atkins, who was clearly a leader in guitar playing technique from the 1940’s through executive production roles in the 70’s – and his influences (which are readily audible in Tommy Emmanuel’s style include Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes, Les Paul and Jerry Reed.) And in Tommy’s show, he displays all of these with perfection and aplomb. In fact, some of the delivery is so rapid fire that you often are not sure if Tommy is drawing on some historic influence or cooking it up on the fly and in the moment. Either way, it is guitar fireworks like you have never seen.
Being an acoustic and electric guitar player, with a (I think) modest level of accomplishment at an intermediate level, I felt like 1.5 hours of Tommy’s playing would be perfect for me — because I am there for the joy of the music and the learning. In fact, a guitar workshop (which he does frequently) would have been a better choice. Fact is, I am more of a technique technician than an actual performer – meaning I spend way more time hammering out technique than actual melodic playing. But for the fan of Tommy and his art, his show was engaging, long on humility and genuine engagement and light on the grandstanding typical of this level of artist. His sense of humor infused all but the most serious of tunes – and there were a few… and I will not spoil the surprise as this is, after all, tour date number one.
Not surprisingly, the McPherson theater was a full house – what was odd, however, was the age group of the audience – 65+. There were even 90 years young folk at the show and as many guitar players as I know, many were clearly absent. And upon additional investigation, I found that many of my guitar playing friends who worship Tommy’s skill set and live shows, discovered that the local show was not very well locally publicized. Even I kind of fell upon some tickets that my nephew had purchased months ago (that his guitar teacher had tipped him off to). And by the time I had clued in and checked the theater online ticket listings, there were only singles available. Which is not a problem for the artist, because the room was full. I guess in an ere of social media, when one wants to follow an artists tour, they need to subscribe to their feed – whether it is facebook, e-mail or twitter. Whatever works.
Anyway – for the rest of you Canadian guitar players out there that want to catch Tommy Emmanuel live, head over to the tour date page – His shows feature a lot of his original material, many of the cover tunes that he interprets oh so well, and some humor and story telling thrown in for good value. As I quipped to my nephew, “Everything I can play on the guitar, and I mean everything I know… Tommy can play in about 5 minutes at break neck speed…”
I have seen many, many YouTube videos featuring Tommy Emmanuel and his live performances are hotter than anything you can watch on a screen — if such a thing is possible.
So grab a ticket. And enjoy! And happy guitar playing!