Paris attack looms over Strayhorn tribute

by | Nov 20, 2015 | A&E

Ken Kellar
A&E Reporter

Tragedy wasn’t far away when Humber’s musicians hosted a night to remember for jazz aficionados.

Humber Music held a stirring tribute for late Jazz-era composer Billy Strayhorn on Nov. 13 at the Lakeshore campus auditorium. The concert went ahead although reports of attacks in Paris started trickling in before and during the event.

The two-hour concert featured performances from both the Humber Faculty Quintet and the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble.Gord Sheard, the head of composition at Humber College, started the show by familiarizing the audience with the legacy of Billy Strayhorn, an Ohio-born jazz composer he referred to as “one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.”

“I think he deserves to be up there with the Duke [Ellington] himself,” said Sheard.

The Humber Faculty Quintet began musical proceedings with a set of Strayhorn’s tunes, led by pianist Nancy Walker. The Quintet is also comprised of tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, trombonist Al Kay, bassist Mike Downes and drummer Ben Ball.

The Faculty Quintet played five of Strayhorn’s jazz compositions over the first hour of the concert. They also spoke about the influence Billy Strayhorn has had on the jazz community, as well as his close professional and personal relationship with jazz legend Ellington.

Near the end of the Humber Faculty Quintet’s set, the band also paid tribute to former Humber bass instructor Lenny Boyd. Boyd was a well-known musician in the local jazz scene and also worked with titans of the genre like Miles Davis. He died on June 6 after a battle with cancer.

“Lenny helped build a world class music program and bass department, and I am incredibly honoured to continue Lenny’s legacy,” said Downes, who took over Boyd’s position at Humber in 2000.

Sheard introduced the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble and director Mark Promane, who was standing in for leader Denny Christianson,unable to attend due to last minute complications.

Promane led the Ensemble through nine Strayhorn compositions that featured a number of Humber students in prominent solo roles. Among them was Meagan Luchko, who lent her vocal talents to “Take the A Train”, a Strayhorn song made famous by Ellington, as well as the “Lush Life” finale, which also featured Humber jazz string players.

The music of the night offered an all too brief reprieve from the tragedies of the day, but it was a captivating ride while it lasted. Humber Music’s next concert will be the Vocal Showcase on Dec. 2.