Over the last seven years, Diana Panton has certainly made a splash in the jazz world internationally. With five CDs, fans have fallen in love with the sultry voice and sparse arrangements of this jazz chanteuse. But her recent non-holiday CD, From Brazil With Love, featured a distinct growth in the arrangements and players featured in her music that certainly foreshadowed a new direction for Panton’s musical journey.
“Many jazz artists have gravitated towards Brazilian music for its beautiful melodies and interesting harmonies and rhythm,” offers Panton. “Brazilian music has likewise always had a pull on me for the same reasons. On my debut album ... yesterday perhaps, I chose to include a song called Dindi by the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. I had discovered that song years before on some sheet music I found at the Hamilton Public Library. At the time, very few people had recorded that song. It was on the setlist of my very first solo gig and has remained in my book ever since. Encouraged by favourable feedback I received for our rendition of that tune on the first album, I continued to include bossa numbers on virtually every recording to date.
“The two members of my trio, Don Thompson and Reg Schwager, also happen to have a special interest in Brazilian music and both have studied it extensively,” adds Panton. “They encouraged me to try a whole album dedicated to the music of Brazil. With their endorsement, I figured it was worth a try and so it came to be. Given the rhythmic and harmonic complexity of the Brazilian repertoire, it seemed necessary to add in a few more instruments (most notably percussion) to highlight the music to its best effect. For this purpose, we invited Silas Silva and Maninho Costa, two wonderful Brazilian percussionists. We also added in Kiki Misumi on cello and Bill McBirnie on flute for some additional tonal colours. It was definitely a personal expansion for me musically, with the most ambitious instrumentation to date — thus more moving parts to oversee, but it was a lot of fun. We had a great time recording this project in the studio.”
With a new album tentatively scheduled for later this year that further develops Panton’s musical journey with new instrumentation, the expansion of Panton’s performance possibilities began over a year ago when then HPO executive director, Annelisa Pedersen, suggested a collaboration with our local orchestra.
“Due to the proximity of the concert date to Valentine's Day, a love-themed setlist would be appropriate - not difficult for my repertoire as I have many romantic songs on my albums,” recalls Panton. “I love working with Don and Reg as a trio. I think this simple combination of instruments works particularly well for our sound, but it is very exciting for all of us to collaborate with the HPO on this project. Jazz musicians Guido Basso (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Jim Vivian (bass) will also be a part of this project. Obviously working with an orchestra is a costly endeavour and not one I could afford on my own as an indie artist, but I consider myself very fortunate to have been offered the opportunity. I think musically, the audience is in for a treat.
“Not only is the opportunity to work with the orchestra a thrill, but of special interest will be orchestral arrangements written by Don Thompson,” adds Panton. “Don is one of Canada's finest jazz musicians, but he is also highly respected by the classical community. He is also an exceptional accompanist who listens to every nuance and he brings this experience with him to his arrangements. In this case, Don took our recordings as the starting point to build the arrangements, so they have specially designed around my vocal stylings, which is a tremendous luxury for a singer — I like to compare it to having a tailor-made item of clothing, rather than buying something pre-made off the shelf. I can promise that Don's arrangements will be stunning.”
Panton and company will be featured also on two upcoming shows with Stuart McClean on CBC's Vinyl Cafe (May 13th - Milton Centre for the Arts and May 16th - Burlington Performing Arts Centre) but the debut of the expanded Diana Panton happens in her hometown as a prelude to Valentine’s Day.
“This concert will be romantic and lush,” smiles Panton. “I think our fans will enjoy hearing new arrangements of some of their favourite songs. I feel this is a concert that would appeal to jazz lovers, classical lovers and music lovers in general. Part of me secretly wishes I could watch this show as well as participate in it. I really hope it will something special for all involved - the musicians and the audience.
“I consider myself very fortunate in this business, but you never really know what the future holds,” adds Panton. “I endeavour to make the best possible music that I can and from there I hope for the best. So far, my hopes have been answered. Of course, it would be wonderful if this concert led to more collaborations with orchestras in Hamilton and elsewhere — we already had one inquiry to work with an orchestra on a return visit Russia — but we will just have to wait and see what the future holds. For now, I intend to enjoy the moment to its fullest.”
Diana Panton plays this Saturday February 9 at Hamilton Place with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. Doors are at 730 and tickets are $22 to $65; senior $20 to $62; HPO Go (aged 14 to 34) $12; children 5 to 13 $5 (all prices incl. HST).
Click on dianapanton.com
Marie Avery’s the Fire
Whether for employment, post secondary education or even love, a variety of musicians have migrated to Hamilton to enrich the cultural fabric of the city but when Marie Avery travelled from North Bay to make her new home in Hamilton four years ago, what the young musician was looking for was immersing herself in our culture.
“Living up north there aren’t as many opportunities and I felt I had to move to a bigger center and Hamilton seemed like the place,” explains Avery. “It wasn’t as expensive or as intimidating as Toronto so just packed up and said, ‘why not?’”
The classically trained pianist immediately made musical friends with producer Michael Keire, guitarist, drummer, producer Bill Majoros and eventually lending her talents to the live incarnation of Dark Mean and recordings for the Foreign Films. But it’s her own original music that’s her focus on her debut CD, The Fire, which takes from perhaps the techniques of her training and the ideals of the Beatles’ songwriting.
“I started making music when I was fifteen,” recalls Avery. “I think my very first song was an attempt to write a beautiful McCartney-esque melody. “These songs, I’ve been either holding on to them or chipping away at them for the last five years. We’ve been recording for the last two years when budgets would allow. Bill and Carl Jennings produced at Westmoreland Studios. I admire Bill’s skills as a musician and he was willing to put in the time and energy to make the project happen with me. We do have similar tastes as well.”
With her training and Beatles ideal, Marie Avery fashions sophisticated, intricate and complex musical arrangements for songs that journey into a variety of passions. Bill Majoros, Anna Jarvis, Dylan Matthews, Amber Edgar, Kori Pop, Loretta Hale join Avery for the live CD release party for the Fire. As a young artist, Avery is adamant about offering a physical offering for any new potential fans for an exciting debut that should greet a wide range of fans.
“This record took years to make, lots of energy and lots of people’s time and love went into this record and I personally love physical copies, if I could have afforded it, I would have pressed vinyl because I want to do something to show that this is valuable,” offers Avery. “I love the CD, I still buy and collect them, and that’s still part of my choice to print CDs for people who enjoy that.
“When I think of fire, it can be a very small flame or something warming or dangerous,” continues Avery on the CDEP title. “I felt that title encapsulated a lot of different emotional metaphors. All of my songs are deeply, musically complex and yet are catchy enough to get stuck in your head — that’s what makes a great song and I always aim for that.
“I hope to make music for anyone who is a fan of music, someone who can appreciate an attempt at good songwriting,” adds Avery. “I hope that I talk honestly about emotions that are universal to the human experience. I write symbolically, it’s not really obscure, but I use metaphors that pretty much anyone can relate to on some level.”
Marie Avery plays Thursday February 7 at This Ain’t Hollywood with the Benefit of the Free Man and Ophelia Syndrome. Doors are at 9pm and $10 gets you in.
Riddim Riders Return
While he’s been making music for two decades in Hamilton, few people would have put Mike Rajczak on any deathwatch. It’s scary just thinking of that but as life often offers many a strange plot twist. The 43-year-old Riddim Riders vocalist had a critical episode before Christmas that ended up cancelling their New Year’s Eve gig but that was the least of Rajczak’s worries.
“Yeah, my little brush with possible death was pretty crazy,” smiles Rajczak many weeks after the incident. “I went on one of my regular little runs, just about 5k, and once I got back from it I suddenly started to get the worst headache of my life. Had to get rushed to the hospital and they soon found out I had bleeding in my brain. As it turned out, it was lucky I didn't have a full aneurism, but I spent a couple weeks in hospital. Early on, I was saying my last goodbyes and stuff because I really didn't know what was going to happen. Even now, it's still a bit scary, life is obviously not guaranteed. It makes you aware that certain opportunities in life can't be wasted.”
Rajczak texted the band to cancel practice that first night but eventually a wealth of family and friends would hear the news and bolster Rajczak’s spirits.
“Eventually I was ok enough to get on Facebook from my hospital bed, and I started answering well wishes and stuff to people who had messaged me and were sending me a lot of love and prayers,” recalls Rajczak. “Overall, it was pretty overwhelming - the amount of people that sent messages saying they were pulling for me, praying for me. My family and close friends especially of course, but also people in the community and fans from the music scene and everything. Riders fans were hitting me up on the Facebook; I want to thank them so much. I got this beaded Rosary from the kids and staff at my wife's school - the entire school did a special prayer assembly just for me. Plus, the incredible care givers at Hamilton General who saved my life. I cried quite a few tears of gratitude while I was in the hospital. Although it was one of the most painful and scary experiences of my life it was actually also one of the most amazing experiences - the true human connections you make with people and stuff. I want to give a huge thank you to all the doctors, nurses and staff at the General. Especially all the people in ICU and Ward 7 West - I'll never forget how well you took care of me. Anyone from the General who comes out to the show is automatically on the guest list for this one - a huge thank you to you all! The people there are truly doing God's work.”
Undaunted by his brush with death, Rajczak was writing songs in his hospital bed. Life might look a little different now but fans are delighted that Rajczak, E.J. Dailey (keyboards/vocals), Franklin Joseph (drums/ vocals), Brian Carson (guitars), Danny Littrean (bass) and Jazz Testolini (back up vocals) are continuing with the passion of the Riddim Riders.
“I really gained a sense of inner-peace and tranquility while I was in the hospital,” says Rajczak. “I want to make this a really, really special show where myself and the band can thank everyone for all the support. We have a totally renewed sense of commitment to the music and to Hamilton. A return and rebirth type thing. I feel like Hamilton is really on the cusp of a cultural revolution of sorts — there's support for music and the arts like never before. We want to try to be at the forefront of that movement and inspire everyone we can to see that and be proud of what this city can offer. I want to make this one of the most exciting and quality shows we've ever done. I want to take the quality of our music, the Riddim Riders, to the next level now - more new material, thought provoking content, more exciting shows, artistry. I'm really hoping the rest of the guys in the band are going to be down with that, because that's the commitment I want to make. I just about died - so if I'm not going to do it now, then when? I ain’t getting any younger.” V
Riddim Riders return this Saturday February 9 at the Casbah for their sixth annual Bob Marley birthday celebrations with DJs Paulmolive and Rev Select. Tickets are $10 in advance and doors are at 9:30pm. Click on riddimriders.com