Tribute honours late jazz great Kenny Wheeler’s music career

by | Nov 21, 2014 | A&E

Phil Witmer
A&E Reporter

Humber music students and faculty paid musical tribute to the late Canadian jazz great Kenny Wheeler on Nov. 14 at Lakeshore campus.

The two-and-a-half-hour performance, part of Humber’s Composer Nights, covered material across Wheeler’s half-century-long career in jazz composition and performance. Acting music program director Andrew Scott, said the concert was initially planned earlier this year as a benefit for the then-ailing Wheeler, but became an in-memoriam show after he died in September from cancer.

“We want people to recognize this singular voice in jazz music who made a huge impact as a composer with his lyricism and melodic skills,” said Scott of the noted flugelhorn player.

The night opened with the seven-piece Faculty Small Group, led by Piano Department head Brian Dickinson. Befitting Wheeler’s primary instrument, horns played by Humber music faculty members, Mark Promane, Kirk MacDonald and John MacLeod dominated many of the lively pieces the group performed. Dickinson told stories of Wheeler in between songs, relating his love of punny song titles, such as “3/4 In The Afternoon,” which refers to both hours of the day and the time signature of the song.

After a short intermission, the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble took the stage under Promane’s direction. It took on Wheeler’s more ambitious and involved compositions, blending Latin and classical influences using its larger, big band styled arrangement.

Andrew McAnsh, 25, a fourth-year Bachelor of Music student, served as a surrogate Wheeler for the set, ably handling the extended flugelhorn solos for each piece. When asked about what it was like to stand in for such an accomplished musician, McAnsh said that it was “euphoric” and he felt honoured to be selected for the role.

Promane MC’ed the rest of the concert. He shared a story about playing a show with Wheeler, which, according to him, “easily ranks in (my) top five” music performances. He also said that this was among the few times that these particular pieces had been played in North America, as Wheeler was based in Great Britain for much of his career and made his name there.

Poignantly, the concert ended with “Kenny [getting] the last word…as he would want it,” as the PA system played a recording of a short solo flugelhorn piece by Wheeler that sang and sputtered before slowly fading out into applause from the crowd.