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Swingin' With Oscar ‒ More Than Jazz Cooking at Cairns Recital Hall

By Mike Keenan

Published: March 15, 2017

Looking ahead, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival takes place July 28-30 in Niagara. The 4th annual festival includes an incredible lineup at venues from the vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Performing Arts Centre here in St. Catharines.

And speaking of jazz, Cairns Hall was literally cooking Saturday evening!  Chair of the jazz department at McGill University, Rémi Bolduc, and his Jazz Ensemble played a fitting tribute to Canada’s renown pianist Oscar Peterson.

The Rémi Bolduc Ensemble features Rémi Bolduc on Alto Saxophone, Taurey Butler on piano, Fraser Hollins on bass and Dave Lain on drums. Butler, as massive a man as was Oscar Peterson, was terrific on the piano, his swift fingers keeping pace with Bolduc whose alto sax highlighted most pieces. Hollins and Lain enjoyed their moments, and did not disappoint.  I sat beside Lain's sisters and grandmother, and after the last number of the first set, which featured a long riff by the drummer, his sister asked out loud, "How's he doing, granny?" Granny replied, "He keeps getting better!" A behavioural model for all of us to follow.

Rémi told the audience that during Canada's 150th birthday year, he wanted to celebrate Canada's international star, so he set about to study 82 of Peterson's works ‒ which took him 8 weeks to whittled down to the 10 selected for the show ‒  pieces he thought best reflected Oscar's breadth and depth.

Place St-Henri is a tribute by Peterson to where he lived as a youth in Montréal, and Rémi included Laurentide Waltz as another Québécois favourite. Rémi started the evening with Noreen's Nocturne, moving to Bossa Begine.  The quartet featured a wide range of music including For Count in the first set and then I Never Been In Love Before, and in the second set, Cakewalk, Samba Sensitive and Blues Riff.

Just before The Touch of Your Lips, the concluding number, Rémi expressed his thanks to FirstOntario's Sarah Palmieri for the booking and his pleasant surprise at such a large appreciative jazz audience in what was a new venue for this touring group.

Unfortunately, more than jazz was cooking this evening. As Rémi spoke, the fire alarm sounded and all of the lights in Cairns Hall turned back on. Apparently, the popcorn cooker overheated (a movie was being shown simultaneously in the Film House) which sparked the alarm. The St. Catharines fire department responded in minutes, but it was a shame that the eclectic musical performance was interrupted in dramatic fashion as the ensemble was exceptionally good.

Fraser Hollins, began his musical studies at Ottawa University and went on to hone his craft in Montréal at Concordia. He teaches at McGill University. David Laing was born in Kitchener. He studied at McGill University and began his professional career shortly thereafter. He also teaches at McGill. Talented Taurey Butler is a pianist of the highest calibre. He was born in New Jersey, and like the others, lives in Montréal.

What the group learned was that St. Catharines supports jazz. What we learned was that Rèmi Bolduc,playing on a Selmer saxophone, is considered one of the best jazz alto saxophonists in Canada. His compelling style and lively stage presence combine to create a lasting impression.

Jazz enthusiasts should be aware that the Mahtay Café and Lounge, directly across the street from the PAC, each first Sunday of the month, at 6 pm, offers its Twilight Jazz Series. Established in 2011, they are currently into their 5th season, and have introduced over 70 jazz ensembles and 100 jazz musicians to the Twilight Stage here in St. Catharines.

If you have suggestions or comments concerning blog topics to help celebrate St. Catharines, contact me at ‒ mjk6648@gmail.com

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