Jackie Washington Day Tribute Concert, Tivoli Theatre (Hamilton, Ontario, June 15, 2003)

When the Friends of Jackie Washington decided to hold a concert to help raise funds for the newly established Living Trust it seemed like a great idea, but a lot of work. When, after six weeks of phone calls and planning, and headaches, and tension, tickets finally went on sale, there was a sense of relief. One week before the show, only 60 or so tickets had been sold. The naysayers were smirking, and the Committee (led by the tireless Marg Stowe) just kept plugging away adding name after name to the list of musicians who wanted to take part. After a feature article in the Hamilton Spectator, 300 tickets were sold, then a cover story on VIEW Weekly and the rest of the tickets were spoken for. It was a SELL-OUT! A Father's Day Sell-out, and what a way to spend a Sunday evening!

There was a real buzz entering the historic Tivoli Theatre originally built for live theatre, then turned into a deluxe movie-house, scheduled for demolition but saved, and now enjoying a new life for little theatre and special events like this. The audience was older, grey-haired, jazz fans and music lovers — but the vibe was exciting, expectant. The lobby hot, sweaty, noisy; raffle tickets and CDs being hawked. Last minute preparations being made. "Where's Chris Robinson?" "Who's setting up the Lanois video?" "Mose, how's it goin' man?" Some live jazz from Matt Kennedy and Fred Purser added to the ambience. "Hey, they're rafflin' off a Taylor guitar!"

A little pre-show schmoozing out of the way, and we took our seats. Long-time Hamilton radio personality Bob Bratina was host for the first half. He told stories about growing up in the east-end, and talking to Jackie Washington on his radio show. Stories about Jackie and his siblings, buying one movie ticket and popping the exit door to sneak in the rest of the family. Then he introduced Jude Johnson. Backed by the Jackie Washington Tribute Band (Michelle Josef on drums, George Koller on bass, Carlos del Junco on harp, and musical director Marg Stowe on guitar) Jude set the mood with a warm rendition of "Wonderful World." Her impression of Satchmo on the last verse brought laughs and applause!

Ian Thomas was next. Playing an acoustic guitar, sitting centre-stage ("I'm over 50 now, I can sit!") he was accompanied only by George Koller, whose sympathetic electric up-right bass was brilliant. Thomas sang a couple of tunes from the Boomers' albums. "Modern Man," and the moving and anthemic "Rise Above It." His between-song patter was hilarious, showing a gift for comedy equal to his brother Dave's.

The show switched gears as pianist/composer/performance artist Scarlett made an appearance. Backed by the band, and resplendent in a sparkling crimson gown, her red hair flowing, smoke billowing, she played an exciting blend of new age and world music with classical leanings. Not jazz, but not bad at all. Her closer, the bluesy "Baby" had the audience singing along, and the band rocking. Chris Whiteley and Caitlin Hanford came out with the band, to play a stunning version of Les Paul & Mary Ford's "Bye, Bye Blues." The man of the hour, Jackie Washington, sat in the front row, taking in the show, tapping his foot, grinning a wide smile. He was having as much fun as the rest of us!

Garnett Rogers played an acoustic "Beulah Land" as a singalong, accompanied by the fine mandolin playing of Randall Hill. Hill then returned with his band Streets & Hills, for some bluegrass picking and high harmonies. The first half of the show was rounded out by a full-tilt boogie performance by Tom Wilson. "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" sung to Ken Whiteley's rolling piano! Then Tom brought out his son, who served as music stand, holding the lyrics for Colin Linden's tribute song "Jackie Washington." This song will be featured on the new Blackie & the Rodeo Kings CD, BARK. It was time for a breather, a visit to the bar, or a stroll to the end of the lobby to watch the exclusive video tribute from Daniel Lanois.

The video, recorded by Jennifer Tipoulow on mini-DVD, arrived by courier Saturday afternoon. It had been recorded on the ferry to Victoria, on Thursday, June 12th! Talk about cutting it close. It begins in a grey fog, which clears slightly, and shows Daniel Lanois playing his acoustic guitar, standard wool hat pulled down low on his forehead, singing about "Jackie!" Percussionist Brian Blades stands behind him, singing harmonies and dancing. The song is a bit of a throwaway but the moment is perfect. After singing to his old friend, Lanois makes a heart-felt tribute to Jackie, and fades into the fog. Two and a half minutes, but very special.

Connie Smith, television announcer, took on the chore of host for part two. She introduced Hamilton's Queen of the Blues, Rita Chiarelli (backed by a trio of singers, Gwen Swick, Caitlin Hanford, & Suzie Vinnick with Randall Coryell on tambourine) got things rolling with a steaming version of "Night Time is the Right Time." One audience member near me had his fingers in his ears for this one, but the rest of us were soaking up the blues! Marg Stowe's guitar solo was outstanding! Jeff Healey was next. Not the heavy blues band anymore, but a different style of music altogether. Playing with pianist Reide Kaiser and bassist Colin Bray, Healey was a charming raconteur, and a hot trumpet player. He stood to play the trumpet solos, and sing, and then sat to play his unique style of laptop guitar. Shadows of Lonnie Johnson and Eddy Lang hovered over his shoulder as he ripped off beautiful six-string parts. "Indiana" and "My Monday Date" were highlights and Healey's mastery of early 20th century jazz was impressive indeed.

A break from live music brought out a group called The Marilyns, a half dozen zaftig women in red dresses with boufant wigs danced around Jackie to his obvious delight!

Marg Stowe and George Koller, fronted by Gwen Swick, performed a lovely version of one of Jackie's favorite songs, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Solos were taken by Chris Whiteley (trumpet) and Carlos del Junco (harp) and electric guitar by Ms. Stowe. The stage was set for the big event. The featured act. Introducing a new CD (to be reviewed separately) Ken Whiteley, Mose Scarlett and JACKIE WASHINGTON. Why the fourth chair? What's going on?

Jackie, who is in his 84th year, was assisted to his seat, and he placed his big Gibson guitar on his lap. Ken took centre stage, with a mandolin (a 12-string guitar close at hand); and Mose sat stage left, his Martin in his hands. Jackie led off with his distinctive rhythmic guitar chording, and his warm friendly voice. With a twinkle in his eye he sang songs the trio hadn't prepared, but Ken and Mose adapted quickly and they were right there. Listening to Jackie and friends is like attending a workshop on popular songs of the 20th century. Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" was introduced by a chuckling Jackie, "I don't think you've heard me play this one before!" Ken laughed so hard he nearly fell off his chair ... but they caught up and owned the tune. Jeff Healey came out to fill the fourth chair, and added his jazz licks to a couple of songs, an especially nice rendition of "Wait Til the Sun Shines Nellie," featuring Mose on lead vocals. George Koller strolled out to add some bass, and then the stage filled with guests for an old fashioned singalong on the gospel chestnut "Mary Don't You Weep." After a standing ovation Jackie thanked everyone, especially the Marilyns ("Now that I'm a DOCTOR I can prescribe Viagra!" he quipped, referring to his recent honorary doctorate), and when Ken asked if he wanted to sing another one, Jackie said, "I'm a ham, and I can't resist an opportunity to show off!" Two songs later the show was done. Almost four hours of fun and outstanding performances! All for $15! And all the proceeds from box office, from the raffles, from CD sales, from an auction, go directly to the Jackie Washington Living Trust to help provide for Jackie in his remaining years.

Thanks to everyone who gave selflessly to make it as great show. Thanks to each and every musician, technician, sound guy, grip, and to all who bought a ticket. Thanks to Marg Stowe and the Friends of Jackie Washington for putting this all together. And thanks Jackie for being you! Happy Father's Day indeed!

[David Kidney]