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Lynn Miles at St. Lawrence Stage February 25

 

 She even sang as an infant in her cradle, her mother once said. 

An overwhelming passion for music has never left artist Lynn Miles in a performance career that has spanned 40 years. Instead, it has taken her from her home town of Sweetsburg, Quebec, to the major stages of North America and Europe. It has won her numerous music awards and honours as well as critical accolades. It has ensured her a devoted and growing fan base. 

On February 25, the extraordinarily talented Lynn Miles will return to the St. Lawrence Stage, the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, for one concert only at 7 p.m.

“Lynn is an artist that some people regard as one of Canada’s best singer/ song-writers,” said St. Lawrence Board member, Sandra Whitworth. “She came to us in 2008, and the audience reaction then prompted us to bring her back this year. It will be a great show.”

I had the chance to talk to Miles about her music, her career and her concert here in Morrisburg. 

“I kind of think my professional career was actually decided for me,” Miles said. “I was simply passionate about music. It still remains the chief love of my life. Over my career I have written some 600 songs, and I still feel that there is lots of music in me. 

But if ever the music stops,” she added, “I think so will I.”

An accomplished performer on  guitar, piano, and harmonica, her rich voice classically trained, Miles has seven albums to her credit and averages over 100 concerts a year. (She’s just back from Europe.) Her 2001 album, Unravel, won the 2003 Juno award for Best Roots and Traditional album. Her most recent CD, Fall for Beauty, was nominated for a Juno in 2011, and did win her the prestigious English song writer of the year at the Canadian Folk Music awards. With time spent in Nashville, she has also been described as a country artist. She is currently working on volume 3 of her Black Flowers Project.

“I see myself as a singer/song-writer, and to me that means I can make any music I want,” she said. “Others can interpret my music the way they want (I sometimes call it roots), but I find inspiration for my writing everywhere. I find it in the people I meet and in my family. I am a voracious reader; I wander art galleries; I listen to other artists. They all inspire my songs.” 

Some critics have commented on the “gritty honesty” of her songs, on their deep, hard “sincerity.”

“I do write about life’s problems and issues,” Miles said. “I write of things like addiction, heartache, the challenges out there. But I also believe that the one rule of an artist is to take something unattractive or challenging or dark and turn it into a kind of beauty, finding a way to touch people in the process. Many things find their way into my music.”

The power and poetry of her lyrics have always been inspiring.

I asked her about writing.

“My first rule is that there are no rules in music and writing. You must be open to what happens around you and willing to go in unfamiliar directions,” Miles said. “Each song is an experience. Some take half an hour to write; some cannot be finished in 10 years. You have to let the music simmer, then come out when it’s ready. Of course,” she added with a ready laugh, “all my pieces are my babies. And even if they prove to be ugly babies, I still love them very much.”

Miles will hold a song-writing workshop in Morrisburg on Saturday afternoon, just before her evening concert. It is capped at 20 registrants and is nearly full. 

Lynn Miles is looking forward to her  February 25 St. Lawrence Stage concert where she will be accompanied on stage by Keith Glass of Prairie Oysters

“It’s a great stage and always a great audience. It will be a fantastic time,” she said. 

Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. They are  available at www.st-lawrencestage.com or 613-543-2514, at the Basket Case in Morrisburg or Strung Out Guitars in Cornwall. 

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Don Ross, Graham Greer starring on St. Lawrence Stage

 

If you don’t already have a ticket for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert Saturday, January 21, featuring award-winning guitarist Don Ross, with singer Graham Greer opening, you should know: very few seats for this incredible evening still remain.

And it would be a real shame to miss this show: Ross and Greer are both powerhouse musical artists and performers.

I had the privilege of talking to the musicians earlier this week. 

Don Ross is an acclaimed Canadian guitarist who has already won an unprecedented two United States Fingerstyle Guitar Competitions. He has toured throughout North America, Europe and Asia winning over critics and fans alike. In 2003, Bruce Cockburn wrote, “Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he’s going to roll, but he never loses control.” 

Ross has released a number of albums, most recently 2010’s Breakfast for Dogs, under the independent CandyRat Records label. He has composed music for theatre productions and for the CBC. When he is not performing, Ross is a Dalhousie University professor, teaching the history of guitar and techniques.

“Performance is a musician’s life blood,” Don Ross explained. “You need an audience. I am really looking forward to the intimacy of the Morrisburg stage. I always think of an audience as a friend I’m happy to see again: to walk on stage to a warm welcome is very gratifying. Frankly, music is the boat I’ve sailed around the world on.”

The phrase “heavy wood” has become synonymous with Don Ross. It is routinely used to describe his performance style and approach to music. However, he laughed when I asked him just what “heavy wood” means.

“Well, nothing actually. I borrowed the phrase from a now defunct 80’s band called Rare Air, a rock band that involved, would you believe, two bag pipes on stage. Nobody then knew what to call their music, so they called it heavy wood. I first used the phrase jokingly to describe my own music, but now it seems to be fully mine. 

I can tell you what heavy wood isn’t. It’s not folk, not rock, not jazz, not blues. But it borrows elements from them all. It has an edge and an energy. It’s uniquely my style now, I think.”

Two years ago, in response to fan requests, Ross produced an all vocal record. However, instrumental music is what he primarily writes and performs.

“A change of scenery, meeting a new person can inspire an idea. But I really believe that music exists just as music. It doesn’t have to mean something. I like to think that people who hear my music can interpret it in their own way.”

Of Scottish and First Nations heritage, Ross grew up in a musical household. In university he studied fine arts and philosophy, then started his novitiate for the Franciscans. In the end, however, he felt the call of music to be too strong to ignore.

“When I decided to be a musician, I went into it with all my heart. I love this life. I’ll probably die on stage” he said, laughing, “at age 97, with a guitar still in my hand. I wanted to be a dad, to be a husband, to be a musician. I take great satisfaction in what I do.”

“We consider it a real coup to be able to bring Don, one of the most respected musicians in Canada and one of the top guitarists in the world to Morrisburg,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board.

Don Ross will be holding a workshop from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, demonstrating his unique and dynamic finger style. Some spaces are still available. 

Cornwall resident Graham Greer is a familiar face and voice in eastern Ontario. January 21 marks his return to the St. Lawrence Stage following a stellar show in March of 2009.

A former member of the band, Barstool Prophets, and now a renowned solo artist, Greer is opening for Don Ross.

“The last time I performed at the St. Lawrence Stage, I enjoyed it so much I kept bothering the board to let me come back,” Greer joked. 

Board member Whitworth,  however, points out that the Stage is delighted to have a musician of Greer’s calibre coming on the 21st.

Greer is looking forward to working with Don Ross, an artist he has long admired. “I’m a big fan. I think Don attacks the guitar with a totally fresh view point. Sometimes he sounds like three people on stage playing. He’s incredible.”

A critically admired performer  himself, Greer put out a new self titled album in late 2009. He also toured the Maritimes with fellow artist Amanda Rheaume in the summer of 2011.  

At Saturday’s concert, he will entertain the audience with some new material he’s been working on. 

“I have a country twinge, a folk twinge, a rock twinge in my music. I think people can hear different undertones to my music, reflecting their own experiences,” he said. “I consciously try not to make my songs too much alike: nothing I hate more than making every song a reflection of the song that went before. I emphasize creativity, push to be creative.”

Greer’s lyrics are also thoughtful. He writes his songs in what he describes as “batches,” a throw back to his years touring with the Prophets, where time to rework music was often sporadic.  “I’ve never been a prolific writer,” he said. “But intelligent lyrics matter to me.”

Greer commented that in the studio a performer has more of an ability to “direct how something is forming. It’s fun to put the building blocks of a composition together.” 

He described live performance as “an altogether different animal. The overall structure matters more than the building blocks, and there is that element of instant feed back. Working with an audience buoys me up. I look forward to this concert. I think the audience will have a great time.”

He also added, with his irrepressible sense of humour, “I’m going to do my best not to drive people away before Don gets a chance to go on stage.” 

The 7 p.m. Don Ross/Graham Greer concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, Saturday, January 21, is nearly sold out. 

Information about tickets, or to register for Don Ross’ workshop can be found at www.st-lawrencestage.com. The Bas-ket Case, Strung Out Guitars, Cornwall and Compact Music, Ottawa, also carry tickets. 

Tickets are $15 in advance, or $18 at the door. 

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Jazz Henriques Style at St. Lawrence Stage

 

Ben Henriques is a man of few words. He prefers to let his saxophone talk for him.

On Saturday, December 3, at the St. Lawrence Stage, he “talked” to the audience with passion and fire as he performed classic and highly original contemporary jazz during his performance. Backed by the musical artistry of members of Trio Bruxo, Henriques delivered jazz his way.

Alternating between soprano and tenor saxes, Henriques  almost seems to lose himself in his music when he performs. His fingers flying, his eyes closed, he is a study in musical intensity. Whether his style of jazz is necessarily everyone’s taste doesn’t really matter: it is impossible to miss the passion, the artistry in his work.

A quiet, almost diffident speaker between numbers, he seemed comfortable letting David Ryshpan of Trio Bruxo make most of the introductions.

Since this was an evening that featured original compositions by Ryshpan along with many works by Henriques himself, it was an arrangement that worked. 

“You’ve just heard a piece of Ben’s called ‘Paranoia is a Flower’,” Ryshpan laughed, following a number by times dreamy, a little sexy, a little wild. “He called it that because he says both grow the more you put into them.”

Later, Henriques showed a flash of his own humour when he introduced ‘All of Me’.

“This piece has been ‘remelodicized’ into Background Music by Owen Marsh. Remember folks, you heard it here first.”

Expertly backed by bassist Nicholas Bédard, drummer Mark Nelson and pianist Ryshpan, Henriques performed in a way that was often non-traditional, and unrestricted musically. In an earlier interview with The Leader, Henriques said that in contemporary jazz, “we seek to write music in a different way.” He clearly loves the freedom to improvise that modern jazz allows him. 

Numbers like ‘Captain Awesome’ or ‘Fortress of Solitude’ showcased Henriques’ skill and virtuosity. A quiet duet between just Ryshpan’s piano and Henriques’ sax was a memorable moment to me. 

Solo spots highlighting the  formidable talents of Nelson, Bédard and Ryshpan rounded out the evening. 

“Thank you, Morrisburg,” Ben Henriques said, “for supporting live jazz.”

Tickets are currently going very fast for the upcoming St. Lawrence Stage January 21 concert featuring Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening.

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Hot Jazz on a Cool Night: Ben Henriques at St. Lawrence Stage

 

  Do you like your jazz hot, with pulsating Latin overtones?

Do you like your jazz cool and contemporary, far removed from a paint-by-numbers approach?

Whatever your musical  tastes, Montreal jazz artist and composer, Ben Henriques, promises to present a concert at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, December 3, that will leave audiences breathless.

“I love playing the traditional jazz standards that go back a hundred years or more, and I love playing my own jazz compositions,” Henriques said during a recent interview with The Morrisburg Leader. “When I play, I guess you could say I switch hats to  perform in both genres.”

Henriques, who performs on both the tenor and soprano saxophones, saw his CD, Ben Henriques and The Responsibility Club voted number two album of 2009 by Radio Jazz Plus. A noted performer in North American jazz clubs, Henriques is actually performing at Upstairs  Montreal on November 30, then turning the recording of that show into a new album in late December, 2011. 

Henriques is bringing three talented backup performers with him to his Morrisburg concert. Noted artists themselves, they are no strangers to the St. Lawrence Stage. Accompanying Henriques will be members of Trio Bruxo, who presented their unique Brazilian jazz at a concert last November. 

Pianist David Ryshpan, bassist Nicolas Bédard and drummer Mark Nelson are joining Henriques for the concert. 

“I’ve been playing with these guys for years,” Ben Henriques said. “Mark and Nick actually joined me in The Responsibility Club. I think audiences will find some distinct Latin overtones in this Morrisburg performance. We are all very fluent in a number of jazz genres, so I feel,” he added, “that you will definitely hear a very cool combination of sounds on the stage. Certainly some improvising will be going on. I’m very excited about this concert.” 

Jazz doesn’t fit into neat musical pigeon holes. Performers and music lovers alike talk of smooth jazz, of fusion jazz, of pop-jazz and cross-over jazz. 

When I asked Henriques about this, he admitted that it was difficult for him to “define my style. I guess contemporary jazz is the best description. Traditional jazz sees harmony as functional and logical. In contemporary jazz, you could say that we seek to write music in a different way. You can incorporate a large ensemble in contemporary jazz, mixing instruments, even electric ones, that just aren’t part of the traditional approach.” 

I asked Henriques when he first fell in love with jazz.

He laughed. “I first played the saxophone in the school band. The truth is, I picked what I thought was going to be the least hard instrument to learn, especially when I knew I was not good at reading music at all.”

However, the experience of jazz, and the freedom it gives a musician to improvise, started Henriques on a life time love affair with the sax. He is currently working on a Masters Degree in Jazz performance at McGill University. 

Along the way, a number of artists have had a profound effect on him. 

Mike Allen and Campbell Ryga, West Coast musicians, were Henriques’ teachers and mentors.  “Remy Volduc of Montreal was a big influence. But my absolute favourite artist is Sonny Rollins (a Grammy award winner whose many compositions are considered jazz standards). Rollins has the big sound, and the saxophone was the focus of his performances.”

Whether a person is new to the jazz sound, or a long time fan, Ben Henriques’ December 3 concert should be a must-hear event. 

“Hopefully people will feel that  they have seen something special on the stage,” Henriques said. “I think this concert will be a unique experience for concert goers, especially for those who may not have experienced a lot of the jazz scene. Hopefully, they will be happy. I’m really looking forward to the Morrisburg experience.”

The concert will be held at the Meeting Centre at 7 p.m., December 3. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, at The Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or at www.st-lawrencestage.com 

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Artists and artisans at upcoming St. Lawrence Stage concert

 

 It will be a gala night in more ways than one when the St. Lawrence Stage holds the third in its concert series on Saturday, November 19. Not only can the audience expect to enjoy performances by some outstanding musicians, but they can also see, and purchase, the works of noted local visual artists before the concert and during intermission. 

Bev Murphy a glass artist, Sandra Taylor-Hedges, a painter,  and painter/illustrator MiSun Hunter will be among the many different artisans whose works will be on display at the St. Lawrence Stage. 

“This is going to be an incredible evening,” said Sandra Whitworth of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. “We will be featuring six singer/song writers in our November 19 concert. Some of these artists are just emerging, some fully emerged,” she said, laughing, “but all of them great.”

Returning to the St. Lawrence Stage will be Morrisburg favourite Gene Ward. Ward is noted for his country-infused original music, revolving as it does around themes of love, loss and the joys of living life to the fullest. His promises to be a memorable performance.

Mélanie Brulée, also a returning   St. Lawrence favourite, will again light up the Morrisburg stage with catchy new songs and her powerful real life lyrics. Brulée has lately been weaving her unique musical magic as a solo artist.

New to the St. Lawrence Stage, with an ever-growing area fan base, will be artist Tracy Lalone of Cornwall. She has recently opened for Graham Greer and Melanie Brulée: in October, she appeared in Cornwall’s Artsfest. Lalonde is hard at work on her  much anticipated debut album, due out some time in early 2012.

Making their first appearances at the St. Lawrence Stage will be musical newcomers Chris Thompson and Samantha Martin, as well as established  singer/songwriter, Kevin Head. 

“As a solo performer, I’m a little bluesy, more in the style of, say, Lyle Lovett,” said transplanted Maritimer, Kevin Head, who has shared the stage with the Rankins, Valdy and Chris deBurgh.

Head, funny and outspoken, says artists can find inspiration for their music in anything. “Snow falling on the roof, a child laughing, can all lead to a story. The best songs, I think, are often love songs, but love songs about a place or a home. I want to avoid getting all twisted up inside and then writing dreary songs about it,” he laughed. 

A versatile musician, Head is looking forward to the November 19 concert. “Maybe I’ll be the curve ball on the program,” he joked. “I’m not always predictable. But it will be fun.”

Music is definitely the focus of her life and her career for Toronto-based singer-songwriter Samantha Martin.

“As a soloist, I would say I am roots blues, country blues, a sound that I describe as more mellow,” the 28-year-old said. She has performed extensively with The Haggards, and is in the process of creating a new album for release in March of 2012. “I am more secure, more polished, more confident with this album,” Martin said. 

Proud daughter of a trucker, Martin says of her writing: “Mine are, I guess you’d say, ‘road-worthy’ themes, the relationships in a family, the effects of distance on those relationships.” She has recently found herself exploring new and challenging themes. “I love the imagery of religion. My love songs, I guess, are a little grittier,” she said. Her music, says Sandra Whitworth, is going to “blow audiences away, with lyrics that tug at the heart.”

Just 20 years old, musician Chris Thompson is already building a sterling reputation as a “finger style wizard” in the performance footsteps of Don Ross and Andy McKee. 

“Finger style is a mesmerizing style to me, a style that gives listeners the impression that there are a number of instruments at play on stage. There can be a rhythmic beat to the performance, and an approach that creates energy and drive in the music.”

Performing his own music, Thompson attracted a lot of attention at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals in October where he was matched with guitarist Jason Fowler and show cased at the Festival. 

“You find the riffs you like in writing and build from them,” Thompson explained. “There are no limits to where your music can go. It’s important to convey a message, yes, but you also have to be yourself, be a bit of a showman. I look forward to the St. Lawrence Stage.”

Tickets for this showcase of outstanding  musical artists and gifted artisans at the St. Lawrence Stage, Morrisburg, on Saturday, November 19, are available at the Basket Case and Strung Out Guitars or by calling 613-543-2514. Tickets are $10.  Doors open at 6 p.m. for this concert.

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