The gallery of the Blue Mountains Public Library was transformed into a concert hall on March 20, as a sold-out crowd gathered to experience an evening of music and words reflecting on the lives and works of George and Ira Gershwin.
Event organizer Tony Bauer was the first to take the microphone on Friday evening, setting the stage with a brief history of the Gershwins and their influence on American Classical and Jazz music in the 20th Century.
Bauer finished his talk with some words of wisdom from the great musician himself.
“There is a quote from George Gershwin that I really like, and it’s somewhat telling. He said, ‘Life is a lot like jazz – it is best when you improvise.’ And that’s what we’re going to hear tonight from these three musicians,” he said as the crowd applauded the musicians into place.
Wayne McGrath’s trumpet grabbed everyone’s attention from the first powerful note, and Don Buchanan and Paul Danard soon fell in step, melding their piano trills and hopping baselines into a seamless performance.
A quick peek at their resumes brings to reason the impressive display that took place on Friday night.
McGrath, whose father was a professional musician, was inducted into the Saugeen Shores Hall of Fame in 2008 thanks to his contributions as a music educator, musician, composer and arranger in Port Elgin.
Buchanan has been part of the Grey-Bruce music scene for over 35 years, performing and arranging for big bands and jazz ensembles such as the Stardust Big Band and Noodle Factory Jazz Project. He has also done extensive work as the musical director for the Owen Sound Little Theatre at the Roxy for productions such as Les Miserables and Carousel.
Danard is a freelance classical and jazz musician and a private music teacher in the Grey-Bruce area. He studied classical guitar with Ray Sealey and jazz bass with Phil Nimmons at the University of Western Ontario.
As Friday’s performance rolled forward, the three musicians took turns breaking off into dazzling solos, the other two keeping time or stopping altogether while the soloist got lost in the moment, much to the delight of the crowd. The audience’s tapping toes throughout, as well as the comments exchanged during intermission, proved that the sold-out crowd was indeed enjoying the performance.
The trio’s second set included some more contemporary tunes, jazzed up and blended with the same types of improvisations and solos.
After the last note rang out, the crowd slowly gathered their jackets, with almost every face broken into a smile. Even so, it would be hard to find anyone in attendance that enjoyed the show more than Bauer himself.
“What an incredible evening,” Bauer said in an interview the next day. “To me it was just outstanding.”
A lifelong music lover, Bauer provided some insight into what he likes most about the style that was heard on Friday night.
“I like jazz because it is so creative. A good jazz musician has to have command of his or her instrument – they’ve got to be good at what they’re playing – but on top of that they’ve got to have the creativity to come up with all of those improvisations,” he said. “If you listen to them play, it’s like they’re having a conversation with each other. They listen to each other and feed off each other.”
It certainly was an enjoyable evening of music and culture for all who attended, with the chosen venue serving as the perfect backdrop for the event.
“It’s not very big, but it has excellent acoustics. Also, with all of the paintings, it just feels good to have music in that room,” Bauer said. “The gallery in the library was a wonderful place for it.”