The Epistle of Q — Chapter Eighty-Six

Why do we so often think that good talent must be from somewhere else?

The Biblical expression, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country too often seem borne out by the way we treat our local heroes, no matter what profession or vocation or life-style they inhabit. Last night I went to the Dream Cafe (a delightful, crowded live-music eatery) in Penticton. The program was going to feature a local teacher, Justin Gllibbery and his trio along with a singer who goes by the name Yanti. I  know Justin as a great jazz pianist and an equally great music educator. I have seen members of his trio play at Jazz Vespers at St. Saviour’s Anglican church on the third Sunday of the month. And Yanti performs occasionally at a wonderful restaurant in Summerland with the Allan Crossley Trio as well as solo gigs at some winery festivities. So I knew it would be a good evening and obviously a good many other people thought so too since the place was sold out.

Well, the show was more than great. It was of a quality that would have made audiences at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto or the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown or the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton feel they had got their money’s worth, no matter the admission fee. This was as eclectic a jazz performance as I have ever sat through. I can’t begin to describe all the genres that were played and played with precision, energy, enjoyment and musicality. At half time Justin recognized an older fan in the audience who really likes Dave Brubeck’s music and even though it wasn’t on the playlist for the evening, he took time to give her about four minutes of Take Five. Justin is an incredible pianist and composer — trained in the classical tradition he seems capable of playing anything in any style. More importantly he makes sure each of his fellow musicians get opportunities to show their interpretative styles. Mike on drums showed us some jazz riffs that great rock drummers would have simply stared in disbelief. Stephan on electric bass (he prefers stand-up but there wasn’t enough room on the stage for it!!) can single-handedly change the tempo or mood of a song by the way he melds in the tonality of his bass. And even though I have heard her before, Yanti demonstrated a vocal range that had me speechless. She has power and sensitivity to the music that enabled her to interpret several jazz & blues standards in ways I found amazing. All of this would have made my evening.

But there was much more. Justin brought along a long-time friend, collaborator and composer who plays an incredible flugel horn and trumpet. When he and Yanti combined in a duet on St. James Infirmary I almost thought I was in New Orleans. At different times he brought Justin’s own compositions to a level that made them sound like they were composed by Bernstein. And then Justin brought on stage Larry, one of the best clarinet players I have heard outside Pete Fountain and he also plays sax. He too helped interpret some of the music with various awesome solos and duets with Stan who is an amazing alto and tenor saxophone player. When all eight of these musicians were on stage together, it was as if Preservation Hall had been transported to Penticton. It was magical.

And just when it couldn’t seem to be any better, Justin brought on stage a young eighteen year old daughter of another music teacher and she belted out another jazz piece with a bravado that belied her age.  And so it went all evening, sometimes a full stage, sometimes the trio, or an improvised duet or a quintet or whatever. Some pieces exceeding ten minutes yet seemingly but in a moment. It was as much concert as combo music. When it came time to end, the entire audience demanded an encore — Justin picked a piece that he had written some time ago. Larry was still on stage and was going to leave as he didn’t know the piece. No matter, the trumpet player simply pointed to his music sheet, and the encore was on with sax adding some great counterpoints. The encore ended with everyone exhausted — both on the stage and at the tables. A truly great evening…

As I think about last night I wonder how many communities fail to adequately recognize the musical talent within their midst, but instead pay big dollars to go to an arena to hear some group on their forty-eighth farewell tour try desperately to find an even adequate voice range to re-do their oldies. In Charlottetown the PEI orchestra when I lived there allowed patrons to sponsor various chairs. I decided it would be a good idea to instead sponsor one of the student musicians from UPEI — she played bass. I thought she was an incredible talent and figured this was one way to show that appreciation. Not many people even supported the chairs of the key regular members; in fact, some didn’t think the orchestra was a real one. In the Okanagan there are people who don’t go to the local symphony because it can’t possibly be as good as the Toronto or Montreal orchestras. Some will only go to hear local musical talent if it is part of a bigger entertainment package or is provided at very cheap (if not free) fare.

We really need to get past the idea that local means lesser. The young PEI bass player now has a Masters in Music from Memorial University and her voice is opera class (having spent a summer in Italy at a special school) and she is teaching young musical talent back on PEI as well as performing solo vocal parts in such productions as the Messiah. There is another young lady I first met at a Sunday dinner in Saskatchewan when she was not yet in elementary school — she and her sister performed a violin duet on their Suzuki mini-violins. She is now a member of the Richmond Symphony but also teaches school in that community and she has her students putting on concerts themselves. There is another who has her own band, and when she is not teaching her elementary students is composing, recording and touring. Justin still teaches students, organizes musical concerts and all kinds of activities in addition to incredible performances like last night’s. These are just four examples of the value to the future by vigorously supporting our local musicians — by giving them an opportunity to perform, by attending their performances and by recognizing that their talents are world-class even though they chose to stay local. Such talent always seems to pay it forward — giving hope to new generations that music will live on. Along the way as you support local, you may be privileged to spend an evening hearing them do something as great as anything you would have heard flying to Toronto or New York or Vienna.

Thank you Justin and all your colleagues…thank you Hannah, Robin, Allison and the rest of the unnamed talent I have had the pleasure of knowing who continue to give us locals the music of our lives.