Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Jazz Vespers Family Christmas

Sunday's Jazz Vespers service at St. Andrew's Wesley United Church was a highlight of our week that I am thrilled to share with Our World Tuesday. Many thanks to the volunteers of that fine meme who encourage people from across the world to connect with each other every week.  

It was a Dal Richards Christmas Special.  And special it was!  Dal Richards is an institution in Vancouver, 95 years old and still wowing crowds with his musicianship and enthusiasm for life.

Here are Bill and Black Jack waiting for the concert to begin.  We arrived early and managed to get the last two spots in the front row.
There are some wonderful blues to be seen at St. Andrew's.
I caught a few of them as I walked around the church.. 
before the music began.
A half hour later, these seats were full.
There was even blue in the sound system.
The drums sparkled with anticipation and we weren't disappointed.
Wayne Stewart did a version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that felt true to the spirit and history of this Carol while adding a jazz-driven, or perhaps I should say, Wayne-driven, energy that was entirely unique.  My toes were tapping along and they had a lot of company!  He played piano behind all of the other songs, beautifully supportive when that was needed and brilliantly holding the limelight in solos.  
Bria Skonberg, vocalist and trumpet player, had come all the way from New York City and as you can see, she is beautiful in blue as she prepares for the show.
The performers did not know the order of the program.  Cards were placed on this tree by musicians, Jamie Croil (musical coordinator for Jazz Vespers) and Don Stewart.  
Just as in many homes a young member of the family is chosen to deliver the gifts from the Christmas tree, Emma Cooper's responsibility was to pick a card from the tree and deliver it to Dal Richards, who opened it, named the next performer and announced the musical selection.  Though the performers had previously chosen their numbers, the "when" part of that equation was as much a surprise to them as to the audience.  
We lucked out to be sitting next to Jan and Ted Downey.  Friendly, happy to be there, full of admiration for all of the musicians, and even enthusiastic about Black Jack's presence.  We couldn't ask for better seat mates with whom to share such a happy, musical experience.
I suspected Emma's participation was going to include more than picking cards from the tree as I watched her go over some musical decisions with Jamie.
It is one of our great pleasures that Black Jack is welcomed at St. Andrew's Wesley.  One lady who volunteers for Jazz Vespers unfailingly greets her with a great big smile and much- appreciated pats.  The dog in the photo below is another regular at Jazz Vespers.  
Once in a while, the dog joins in with an appreciative bark during the applause.  It always seems to me that this happens when the performance has been exceptionally brilliant.
I must be one of the few people in Vancouver who had never heard Dal Richards perform.  I had heard of him, of course.  His orchestra has performed for Vancouver's New Year's Eve party-to-be-at for 78 consecutive years, and he is booked to ring in the new year for the 79th time this year.  Everyone waited with anticipation for him to make his entrance.  His wife, Muriel, was at his side, as she has been since meeting him when he was 80.  (He lost his first wife, Lorraine, to Cancer.)   
The audience stood to give Mr. Richards a rousing welcome and he responded with a happy wave.  
His smiles seemed to grow as the concert went on.  I think this smile was in response to..  
a terrifically upbeat performance of "Little Drummer Boy" by Bria.
I believe Reverend Dan Chambers enjoyed it too!  He reflects between each musical selection and I am always struck by his attitude of welcoming felt, I think, by everyone who walks through St. Andrew's doors.  Yesterday, he talked about the "messiness" of Christmas, and I believe there isn't much that shocks him.  He "gets" that many, perhaps all, who seek the solace and enrichment of Jazz Vespers, struggle to find inner peace.  No matter the private beliefs, the (as he said) large or small amounts in bank accounts,  the neighbourhoods lived in, he wants that musical hour to be a breath of pure joy, and I can say that it always is just that for me.
I think it may have been for the dog as well.
Reverend Chambers lit the 4th Advent candle here and..
Don Stewart's hypnotic rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was smooth as silk.  He drew the audience into his mindset with each phrase, as though his voice travelled along invisible paths on the longest ever breath to every being in the church.  
The smiles of appreciation and expressions of peace continued to play over faces.. 
and the dog settled in for the long term :)
Jaclyn Guillou was next, singing "O Holy Night" with a depth of emotion that I can still feel.  I so wish I had a recording of that performance to share with you.  As much as I love that song, this version was different from any heard before.  In my mind, a new benchmark.
When I tried to express in a note how powerful her interpretation was for both Bill and me, she replied, "I really spent some time with the song to find where my soul and spirit laid within it, that was the end result!"  Well, Jaclyn, all I can say is a heartfelt thank you.  
 This lady danced quietly in a corner off to the side.  Look at that smile! 
Phil Boniface on the bass and Kristian Braathen on drums drove the rhythm under every solo. Though they were content to stay in the background a good part of the time, I knew that this concert could never have succeeded as it did without them.  And when their solos did come along, well..  all I can really say is.. Wow!
Emma's rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High" was lovely, and the perfect choice for a family themed Christmas.   
Jamie Croil conducted while playing as that number concluded.  He must have been very busy in the days coming up to this performance.  Along with all of the time and effort that goes into finding top musicians to perform at one of the busiest time of year, he had also composed and sung his very own song to open the show.  I hope he felt the response of a very happy audience all about him.  
But there was one more number and that one brought the audience to its feet.  Dal Richards sang "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with a strong, clear voice full of the warmth that is the very essence of Christmas.  
Look at the expressions on Jaclyn's and Don's faces!
Between stanzas, he applauded instrumental solos and..
as he sang the final notes, his appreciation for every member of the audience came back to him tenfold.  
A small smile at first, one of confidence, I think that he had enriched the day for many, 
but as the audience continued to applaud, the smile grew broader, and finally, 
there was a glow..
that filled the room!
This family Christmas had brought music-loving people together in exactly the.. 
sort of spirit Jamie had hoped it would.
A great time, a spectacular time, the best kind of time, had been had by all!
Autographs were signed, 
"thank-you's" were expressed,
and I even found one more blue-related sight that had somehow been missed.
And what could be better in a family Christmas than meeting new friends and discovering a common bond?  Bill and Ted discovered that they are both retired BCTel employees.
Stories were exchanged and the laughter rang in our ears as we made our way home..
on our bikes, only to discover the Winter Solstice celebrations in full swing..
in the park across from our apartment.  From here on in, every day will have just a few more seconds of light in it.
Many thanks to all of the fine musicians who brightened the shortest day of the year with their talent and spirit and many thanks to you for stopping by to read all about it.  


  1. Wonderful post Carol, I can feel the electricity!
    Thanks for the hot chocolate and conversation earlier this week. Merry Christmas to you, Bill and Black Jack!

  2. Your photos are very special. It must have been a wonderful evening. Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!

  3. Hello Carol, sounds like a lovely evening of music..I think it is cool that the dogs are allowed, very nice! Wonderful images.. I wish you and your family and Black Jack a very Merry Christmas!

  4. i know you enjoyed the concert. love the pup! :)

  5. One of these days, I'll get my passport...

  6. Oh how I remember Dal Richards from my childhood - so good to see he is still going strong! Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas Carol, Bill and Black Jack.

  7. Merry Christmas Bill and Carol. I remember trying to catch a glimpse of Dal Richards during the Winter Olympics … I believe he was carrying a torch and it is obvious many people still carry a torch for him. The stain glass window is a real beauty and so reflective of all the beaming faces. What could be better than a musical Christmas on a warm clear day like today in Vancouver?