Swinging Kenny Colman keeps on hustling for gigs (Georgia Straight)

Swinging Kenny Colman keeps on hustling for gigs

The Georgia Straight, June 21, 2001

At times Kenny Colman feels like Rodney Dangerfield. The Vancouver singer has done it all and still can’t get no respect. At least not in his hometown.

Colman’s biography reads like a who’s who of show business: discovered by Sarah Vaughan; first gigged in Las Vegas on a bill with Lionel Hampton and Della Reese; sang for all the talk-show hosts, from Steve Allen to Johnny Carson to Merv Griffin; recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra; befriended Frank Sinatra; opened for the likes of Redd Foxx and Lenny Bruce; and played such hot spots as Monte Carlo, New York, and Cancun.

So why does this man have to hustle for gigs just like the next guy?

“I’ve done all these shows and I’m still looking for work in my hometown,” Colman says, on the line from his False Creek home.

The veteran jazz singer will be splitting the bill at the Vogue with Dee Daniels next Monday (June 25) in a show that promises to be a bit different for his Vancouver fans.

“Most people, when they see me in a club, it’s more intimate,” he says. “They’re drinking and having a good time, where in a concert, you can focus in more on a ballad and the attention is there. It’ll be a different thing for people to see me in a concert setting. I think they’ll enjoy it. I’ll be able to tell stories about my past and all that.”

Colman says part of the reason that he doesn’t get more work is a lack of venues in town. The Cellar is an excellent jazz club with a great feel, but doesn’t often book singers. So Colman continues to play casinos and lounges around the world while sitting in on the gigs of friends around town just to keep his chops up.

“Getting a continuous roll is always the hardest thing,” he says. “Getting that back-to-back continuation, you know? Always looking for gigs is a hardship. It’s hard on the wife, but you have to go with your work.”

Colman, while not in the vein of a scat-singing singer like Mark Murphy or Kurt Elling, considers himself a jazz stylist whose motto is Less Is More.

“I think the word jazz sometimes scares people off,” he says. “I surround myself always with jazz players because they’re the best players. And I always deviate from the melody and create melody, which is improvisation. I consider myself a very swinging, jazz-oriented-type singer. I can swing. And you can’t teach somebody to swing, you know? I mean, Vic Damone can’t swing. There are very few singers who can swing.”

Still, that and a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee. But as long as the 60-something crooner can still swing, he’ll continue knocking on doors.

“I still feel very strong and still driven,” he says. “If there was going to be a book about me, Driven would be the word. I still have the same energy and drive as when I was 28 walking up and down Second Avenue in the Village looking for gigs.”

"Universality of music" informs Fraser's tunes (Georgia Straight)

“Universality of music” informs Fraser’s tunes

The Georgia Straight, June 14-21, 2001

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival has been criticized for booking country stars like Emmylou Harris and rockers like Wide Mouth Mason, but no one has any cause to complain about the Legends of the Bandstand show at the Vogue next Friday (June 22).

“It’s definitely one of the most jazz-oriented shows, I guess,” Hugh Fraser says, on the line from his home in Victoria.

The Juno Award-winning pianist and trombonist’s quintet opens the Legends show and then plays a longer gig at the Cellar on Saturday (June 23). In the meantime, Fraser is happy to weigh in on the controversy about what kind of acts the festival should be booking.

“It’s kind of a misnomer that they are called jazz festivals,” he offers. “I think they’d be better served to call them music festivals. But we’re talking about a week a year. It is disappointing the treatment a lot of the festivals give Canadian artists, but that’s not just a festival thing, it’s a Canadian thing in general. When I lived in New York, and people had to phone my Manhattan number, I could instantly negotiate twice the fee that I do now that I live out here. It’s just bullshit.”

Having lived in New York, then in London for four years, where he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, Fraser recently returned to his hometown of Victoria. There he oversees his record label, publishing company, and educational commitments. (He is starting up a two-year, diploma-granting jazz program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.)

Besides being an educator and musician, Fraser is most comfortable identifying himself as a composer. He has written close to 200 compositions. And unlike those of many of his contemporaries, his tunes are at once modern, challenging, accessible, and swinging in a hard-bop context. That’s not surprising, given his philosophy of composition.

“I think a lot of jazz musicians, especially nowadays with so much jazz education around – and I’m guilty of helping contribute to that with all the teaching I do – sometimes have almost too much information,” he says.

He composes with what he terms the “universality of music” always in mind. “It means that someone 200 years from now on a bunch of electronic instruments can play ‘Take the A Train’ or ‘Perdido’ or something and it’ll still have enough of the essentials of solid organization that it’ll be really appealing. And that’s basically melody, harmony, and rhythm.

“Like, who remembers any UZEB tunes or Jeff Lorber fusion tunes?” he continues. “I remember hearing them live and being really impressed, but it’s like fast food or sugar. After the initial impact, it burns away, because there isn’t enough substance where it can be played by other people.”

And for Fraser, composing is not a matter of rehashing the same old stuff, either. “Everyone thinks that evolution is this progressive thing but I view it as keeping good energy alive,” he says. “Water and air are ancient and they’re the most important things to us. It’s the same with certain melodic and harmonic and rhythmic patterns. Instead of trying to throw them out to find something new, you have to build on them.”

Sweat Not Enough to Redeem Bogus Sports (Georgia Straight)

Sweat Not Enough to Redeem Bogus Sports

The Georgia Straight, September 16-23, 1999

The weekend of bogus sports is over and it’s on to the real thing.

Goodbye, you funky-knickered golfers and alcohol- and cigarette-sponsored race-car drivers. It’s time for the real athletes to take over: baseball’s pennant race is in full swing, as are Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who continue to swing for the fence every time up to bat; ice-hockey training camps open throughout the land (I qualify hockey with ice for those stubbornly holding onto hope that field hockey will ever make it into print); and it’s only weeks before the NBA starts bouncing back into our consciousness. Kinda makes the impending darkness of autumn easier to take.

The beauty of this time of year for Vancouver (motto: City of Losers) is that both the hockey and basketball teams are tied for first. The Canucks (motto: We Can’t Get Any Worse!), without the distractions of Pavel Bure and Mike Keenan, hope to rebound from a very forgettable season. The Grizzlies (motto: The Canucks Stole Our Motto) are going with a new look since general manager Stu Jackson learned that his title enables him to make trades. So it’s encouraging.

It always amazes me that the dailies are expected to criticize some professional sports organizations but treat others like family. Attach a corporate sponsorship to your event and you’re guaranteed puff pieces and your very own supplement. Don’t insult the golfers or they’ll get their knickers in a knot and stay away. Half the racers don’t even speak our English or read our papers, so I don’t see why they get treated with kid gloves in the local press.

I realize there are those who will strongly disagree with my assessment of golf and car-racing as bogus sports. I’m willing to take the heat. Some of my closest friends are bogus-sports enthusiasts, so I’m used to it. In fact, I’ll anger a few more by lumping figure skating and virtually every other Olympic sport into that category. When ballroom dancing qualifies, you know there’s trouble. You want more? Just tune in to TSN at any time and flip a coin. Aerobics, darts, pro wrestling, fishing, bowling, on and on.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I have been forced, through threat of nonpayment, to cover such events for various other “sports” sections and publications. Indeed my rants against what are considered sports by the masses have appeared elsewhere almost biennially for years. It may be getting old, but on the off chance you’re not a regular reader of the Hicksville Weekly Swill, I humbly offer the set of criteriums (that’s how we wrote it at the Swill) I came up with to separate the sporting wheat from the bogus chaff:

  1. The event must require athleticism. Key word: require.
  2. It must induce sweat from the activity itself rather than external forces such as the sun, engines, adrenaline, or being grossly out of shape.
  3. It must provide a clear-cut winner.
  4. Participants should accomplish the feat with their own feet (hands… what have you).

At the very minimum, a real sport should include all these. Extra points go to sports with numbered jerseys.

Baseball fails number 1 but still qualifies under the numbered-jersey clause. (Bogus sports, by the way, are not to be confused with make-work sports like roller hockey, indoor soccer, arena football, and beach volleyball, which adhere to the criteria but which under no circumstances should be taken seriously.)

By these criteria – and excellent set, I think you’ll agree – you’ll never need wonder again what’s what. Bowling? Not a sport. Korfball? Sport. Pétanque? Nope. Table tennis? Most definitely. Just follow the easy-to-use step-by-step guide. I’ll walk you through it.

Golf isn’t a sport because it fails numbers 1 and 2. Some golfers are athletic, but it is not a requirement of the game in order to excel at it. And, folks, please remember: I love golf. In fact, I recently placed sixth in a miniature-golf tournament. I even took home the Spirit Award, so don’t accuse me of being antigolf. It’s a great game. Kick the Can is a great game too, but it’s not a sport, either (see point 1).

Racing enthusiasts disagree, but there’s no denying motor “sports” fail numbers 1, 2 an 4. They’ll tell you ad nauseam about the physical strains drivers go through, the muscular effort required to brace their heads against the phenomenal g-forces that can, literally, take their breath away. Yeah, whatever.

Figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and the like fail number 3. These are subjective events. Granted, they require athleticism, but so does ballet. We go to the ballet (theoretically speaking, of course) for the beauty of it, not to declare a winner. I don’t think anyone is served by having Karen Kain competing against Victoria Bertram for the prima-ballerina belt. And these events are, admittedly, beautiful. Admire them for what they are: ballet on ice, hardwood, and underwater.

And don’t even get me started on curling.

To further prove my point – and I don’t believe for an instant I should have to by now – consider the following inane exchange:

Fan A: “Do you like sports?”

Fan B: “Oh, yeah, baby!”

Fan A: “Yeah? What are your favourite sports?”

Fan B: “Figure skating and ballroom dancing are my favourites, but I also like horse racing, the luge, and interpretative dance.”

Fan A: “Hey, interpretative dance isn’t a sport!”

Fan B: “It isn’t? Why not?”

Fan A: “Hmm. Good point.”

If we accept this dialogue (Plato, eat your heart out), my grandmother is the biggest sports fan on the planet.