Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

George Haden and the New Orleans Connection

Dates: 8 and 9 May at 20.00
: Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: John Jane





Conductor: Tommy Banks
Featured Performer: George Haden, Clarinet


Tommy Banks has a simple credo that has served him well for the five decades he has been associated with the music industry. That is - "If you donít like it, donít play it." Banks, or "Senator Tommy" as he has become affectionately known in his local community of Edmonton, maintains that when you do not enjoy playing the music, negativism is communicated to the audience, and is riposted. There was no sign of any such apathy with the music last Thursday evening, when "The Senator" joined George Haden and his quartet of journeymen musicians in an elegant evening of dixieland, jazz standards, swing, and a little ragtime. These guys seemed to enjoy playing together at least as much as the audience enjoyed listening.

To his credit, Banks still modestly regards himself as more of a working musician than as a performance artist. Aside from his two piano solos, one on either side of the intermission, when he delivered well blended medleys of jazz standards, he seemed content to allow centre stage to the charismatic George Haden.

Haden, a University of Toronto music graduate, certainly possesses immense technical ability, but also perceives himself as a consummate showman, and thus has a propensity towards gratuitous jest. Fortunately, he is much better at playing the clarinet than telling jokes.

Hadenís captivating clarinet artistry was amply demonstrated with an opening solo rendering of the show tune "Old Man River." The conclusion of the opening number brought the New Orleans Connection to the stage, reduced to a quintet for this concert, with trumpet and trombone joining Hadenís clarinet on the front line, and drums and double bass providing the rhythm section.





A little carefree shtick prefaced the ensembleís performance, with a waiter entering the stage complete with a bottle of champagne, then half filled five previously placed glasses on a tiny table at the right side of the stage. The five musicians, each taking a glass, saluted each other in a mock toast.

From that point forward the ensemble started to gel and delivered their tunes and improvisations in compelling style with songs like the brassy "Basin Street Blues," "Memories of You" and dixieland flavoured "Tin Roof Blues" featuring the stellar trumpet playing of Don Clark.

The post intermission selection gave way to the swing era, starting off with the Cole Porter classic "Begin the Beguine," an electrifying duet with Haden on clarinet and Williamson on drums. This was followed by the ever popular Rodgers and Hart composition "Manhattan," once again featuring an outstanding Don Clark trumpet solo.

The high point of the evening may well have been the Benny Goodman medley, which included one of my personal favourites "Cherokee." Williamsonís indulgent five-minute long drum solo could have been three minutes shorter, and why didnít Haden ever acknowledge the double bass player? Is transparency the fate of all proficient bassists?

The evening concluded with a single encore and the appropriately poignant "For All We Know (we may never meet again)." Too bad the Orphuem was barely more than half full, for these guys deserved a full house. For those who stayed away in favour of watching game seven between the Canucks and the Minnesota Wild, they may have since lamented missing out on an evening far less disappointing.

© 2003, John Jane