No one was more pleasantly surprised than organizers of the 17th annual Pender Harbour Jazz Festival when Saturday blossomed under a blue sky. The weather was perfect for outdoor wandering minstrels like the multi-instrumental Gary Comeau and Tim Hersey performing lively gumbo music in front of the Earth Fair store in Madeira Park, and for the four-hour outdoor jazzapalooza.
“The sun always shines for Dal Richards,” said festival coordinator Carole Rubin, while introducing the 95-year-old swing band leader and his group of musicians who entertained with mellow favourites and old fashioned banter.
“I may be legendary but I’m still alive,” quipped Richards, opening with In the Mood and indicating the asphalt “dance floor” at the front of the stage.
Vocalists Diane Lines and Jaimie Croil also doubled on instruments and they alternated on classics such as Dancing Cheek to Cheek and St. Louis Blues — this last was growled by Croil to the delight of the audience.
Richards quoted famous lines from Casablanca when Rick the bar owner asks Sam the pianist to “Play it,” then he sang As Time Goes By. Was his voice as strong as the other terrific vocalists? Maybe not, but it was still pure magic, and the crowd rose in appreciation.
It was up to Coast saxophonist Karen Graves to follow that act, which she did with ease. Of course it helped to have Miles Black at the piano, Rene Worst on bass and Bernie Arai on drums — with some dynamite original Black/Graves compositions in jazz arrangements.
Sophia Perlman, on tour from Toronto with her band, impressed with her smoochy, bluesy vocals. Though we were sitting by the marina in Madeira Park, it was easy to close our eyes, listen to that smokey voice and feel we were in the dark depths of a jazz club in the city.
The evening concert drew another legendary musician to Pender Harbour, tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds, who was celebrating an anniversary for his Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver. He called pianist Harold Mabern a legend and told how he had always wanted to play with the trio.
“I’ve never heard Cory play better,” Rubin said later. “The sweat was streaming down his face. He was playing from the heart.”
Another hit with the audience was Jackie Treehorn who reportedly rocked the Grasshopper Pub with their funky jazz. They were the youngest musicians at 20-plus to play the festival — between them and Dal Richards, the theme of this year was Generations of Jazz.
The Jazz Festival always features a few local musicians who remind us how talented they are. Guitarist Steve Giltrow played at the Painted Boat Restaurant and Gibsons’ Anna Lumiere and Graham Ord gave a free Friday performance. A new local group, Quartet Esprit, played melodic, innovative jazz, referencing classical music.
It rained Sunday, but the magic wasn’t over. Organizers packed the audience into the community hall.
“I always begin with Latin to get people’s blood pumping,” Rubin said. “Rumba Calzada was so tight and so sensual at the same time.”
Rene Worst, performing with Jennifer Scott on Sunday, had popped up everywhere playing with various groups throughout the weekend. But there was some energy in the air on Sunday and he gave a stellar performance. The Sunday jazzapalooza closed with the gypsy jazz of Van Django and the audience gave them a standing ovation.
“We went late, until 5:30, but there was not an empty seat in the house,” Rubin added.
More about the musicians can be found at www.phjazz.ca.