Tag Archives: Alex Pangman

Patricia Wheeler Quartet Brings Jazz Concert to Meaford

Sunday afternoon, April 29, from 3 to 5, the first in a series of concerts at Meaford’s Christ Church Anglican features a performance from Patricia Wheeler’s Jazz Quartet.  With Patricia on sax and flute, the quartet features Mike Cado on guitar, Ben Riley on drums, and Ross MacIntyre on bass.

“I’ve known the other three musicians for a long, long time,” Patricia says, “and played with each of them in different situations, not only jazz but rock ‘n roll, hip hop, funk, pop, country and western.  They’re very versatile.”

Mike Cado is a faculty member at York University where he directs the York University Jazz Orchestra along with a 15-piece R&B band, Soul Collective.

Ben Riley, for fifteen years co-leader of the soul/R&B band Planet Earth, has been in demand as a touring and session drummer for over twenty years, playing with the cream of Canadian artists from Moe Koffman to Domenic Troiano.

Ross McIntyre is a legendary bassman who tours with Emilie-Claire Barlow, plays on hundreds of sessions and has worked with artists as diverse as Wynton Marsalis, Ed Robertson and Jim Cuddy.

Patricia is, in a sense, bringing these old friends to show them where the music began for her.

She grew up with good music always being played in the house.  She says her father was “a very good amateur pianist and accordion player.  My mom started her record collection back in the era of the 78’s and still has most of those discs, so I just grew up being surrounded by good music.  My dad taught ballroom dancing for many years and my mom often helped him with that. He was always sourcing out new recordings to teach with and so that kind of music was always being played.”

She was lucky enough to live in a town where music was taught at an early age.

“I was very fortunate to go to school in Meaford where band music started in Grade 7 at Meaford Elementary School.  We did half a year with orchestral string instruments, like violin, and then the other half with band instruments.  We did festivals, concerts. 

“The teacher was a man named Ron Knight, who was exceptional. For any of the students who really enjoyed it he would give us opportunities to just go to another room and practise.  And then we would feed into Georgian Bay Secondary School and Charlie Strimas took over. He ran the music program for many, many years.”

Virtuoso Performances Bring Benny Goodman To Life

Review by Bill Monahan of Benny Goodman Tribute at Meaford Hall

While the audience was a fairly mature crowd at Saturday night’s Benny Goodman tribute at Meaford Hall, it’s doubtful that anyone there was old enough to have experienced the thrill of dancing to his music when it was new.  It was back in the mid-1930’s, almost a century ago, that Benny Goodman and his orchestra brought jazz to the mainstream with swing music.  Without the social context that created a sense of excitement over the original orchestra the music inevitably takes on an aspect of a museum piece.  But it is filled with such vivacity and excitement it is hard to think of this music as a relic.  Especially when it is performed at the level of the musicians in Ross Wooldridge’s band, who pulled out all the stops and created a bouncing energetic performance with some impressive playing.

A musician has to have pretty good chops to play this music.  It is full of rapid fire arpeggios and polyrhythms that only the best players can pull off.  Ross Wooldridge has that level of players in his band.

It was a sextet, reproducing the music of Goodman’s small groups.  His big band hits like “Christopher Columbus” and “Sing, Sing Sing” were not included because they were part of a different Goodman configuration.  The various small groups that Goodman formed have staked a place in history because they were integrated when such a thing was unheard of (and illegal), mixing the very best of black and white musicians, but more significant than that was the fact that his small groups contained some of the most innovative and accomplished jazz players the world had seen, names that have gone down in history.  For a modern group of players to reproduce the music of these innovators from a bygone era is a challenge that few performers could pull off.  This group not only met the challenge they played in a way that, had the audience been twenty years younger, would have had everyone jumping in the aisles.

Benny Goodman’s small ensembles featured the best musicians of the day.

Ross Wooldridge has a command of the clarinet that allows him to match the lightning quick runs that are integral to any Benny Goodman song but also to reproduce the instrument’s tone that gives emotional resonance to slower classics like “Moonglow”.  The members of his band have the same command, allowing them to match the virtuosity of the original players, all of whom have become jazz legends.  Any one of them would have been a standout if all the others hadn’t been just as good.  Michael Davidson has an amazing touch on the vibes, faithfully and passionately reproducing the original power of Lionel Hampton and ease of Red Norvo.  Danny McErlain takes on Teddy Wilson’s piano style with seeming ease.  Phil Disera brought Charlie Christian’s guitar stylings to life and Glenn Anderson did honour to Gene Krupa with a great rocking rhythm.  Lew Mele not only kept up on the upright bass, but mimicked the distinctive styling of Slam Stewart, Goodman’s bass player who had an unusual way of bowing the bass while singing along.

Each player had an opportunity, almost with every song, to stretch out with a solo and they were all exuberant and joyful flights of rhythm.  Most impressive, though, were those passages that are built-in to all Benny Goodman music where a couple of instruments play these lighting fast sixteenth note runs in unison.  Ross’s group showed how well they gel with these segments.  When the clarinet, vibes, piano and guitar played the same lines, they were so tight that it was like one instrument, a beautiful instrument with all these tonalities blended together.

While the audience was marvelling at the musicianship and bopping to the rhythms it wasn’t until Alex Pangman came out on stage that the audience was actually transported to the day when this music was new.  It was as if a portal had opened and a woman from the thirties stepped through it, colourized like a Turner Classic Movie.  What is most unique and special about Alex Pangman is that she doesn’t mimic singers from that time.  If she did she would have had as big a challenge as the other players because when it came to “girl singers” Goodman’s band also featured the very best of the day.  Instead of imitating one of the many great voices that enhanced Goodman’s band, Alex Pangman has internalized these songs from long ago and when she sings them it is with her own personal emotion that makes them resonate with the audience.  The mutual respect between her and Ross is evident and he made a point of mentioning at several points her new Juno-nominated album, “New”.  In fact, her songs were sprinkled through the sets, so that she came and went, allowing Ross to introduce her again and again.  And her selections featured her recordings rather than Goodman’s.

There were a few instances where the program veered away from Goodman’s body of work.  He was the King of Swing, preceding bebop by a generation but Ross threw in a bebop number on the basis that Goodman would have liked it.  There were no complaints.

There were a lot of great songs: Running Wild, Honeysuckle Rose, Moonglow, and a version of Stardust by Alex Pangman that can stand up to any version on record.

At the end of the concert, Alex Pangman was given an opportunity to explain that she is the recipient of a double lung transplant and to urge everyone in the audience to sign their donor cards.  She pointed out that her lungs were donated by a grandmother and they have served her well.  She also mentioned Raven Taylor, the young Owen Sound woman who recently underwent a similar double lung transplant.  The local musical community had risen to the challenge of raising money for Raven’s medical expenses through a benefit that had been arranged at The Marsh Street Centre by John Malloy and Florian Lenders.  Alex dedicated to Raven the final song of the night, a song of joy and optimism called “Shine”.

While we have recordings of these old songs that are so full of innovations and spirit that they almost jump out of the grooves, nothing quite matches the thrill of seeing these masterpieces performed live.  To perform them requires such a high level of musicianship that there are few living musicians who have the interest and ability to bring them to life.  We can be grateful to Ross Wooldridge and every member of his band that they bring us this rare pleasure.

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Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Featured at Benny Goodman Show

The King of Swing, Benny Goodman took the world by storm in the mid-thirties with his new swing music and he started this new thread of jazz with several groundbreaking “girl singers”.  Singers like Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, Mildred Bailey, Helen Forrest, Peggy Lee, all had voices that breathed life into the songs of early jazz.  This week when Ross Wooldridge brings his Benny Goodman show to Meaford Hall, he will have a girl singer who also has a voice all her own.

Alex Pangman has interpreted the songs of early jazz long enough now that she performs them in a voice that is distinctly Alex Pangman.  When she sings them these songs belong to her.

Christopher Louden of Jazz Times Magazine says it best:

“As salutes to Depression-era swing go, it’s hard to imagine a more authentic, or more delightful, evocation…Unlike the vast majority of contemporary vocalists whose approach to such material sounds patently artificial, Pangman is startlingly authentic in her interpretations. In other words, she’s not a poseur but a peer to Ruth Etting or the great Connie Boswell

Melancholy Lullaby, a song that truly does belong to her, she wrote for the 2001 film Torso:The Evelyn Dick Story, about the famous Canadian murderer who was convicted, acquitted and convicted again in the forties.  It won Alex a Songwriter of The Year nomination from the National Jazz Awards.

Kevin Clark, Alex Pangman and Ross Wooldridge (photo by Jaymes Bee)

The jazz of the early 20th century burns bright inside Alex Pangman and always has, since she first started collecting shellac.  An early mentor was Jeff Healey.  Later collaborations included people like Jim Galloway’s All-Stars, trumpeter Kevin Clark, drummer Don Kerr, Bucky Pizzarelli and Meaford’s favourite tourist, Tyler Yarema.

She went country without leaving her favourite musical era when she spent some time in the back room of Toronto’s Cameron House jamming with the city’s bluegrass and string-band underground.  She ended up in a promising band called Lickin’ Good Fried but had to drop out when a childhood disease finally got the better of her and she had to have a double-lung transplant.

The issue of a double lung transplant is fresh in the mind of local musicians. Not long ago musicians from Meaford and Collingwood got together to create a benefit for Raven Taylor, a local woman who also had to undergo a double-lung transplant.  She has recently returned home with a new set of lungs.  When Alex Pangman went through the same thing she immediately undertook to teach her new lungs those old songs.  The result was The Alley Cats, an album called 33 on the Justin Time label and a cross-country tour, where her new lungs managed to breathe in a wide variety of Canadian smells.

I guess they didn’t like it.  Her body was rejecting her new lungs as she was opening for Willie Nelson at Massey Hall in the summer of 2013 and had to have another double lung transplant.  By March of 2014 she was recording again.The irony is that, having been born with cystic fibrosis, if she had come along during the era when her favourite style of music was in vogue she very likely would not have survived to adulthood.

As with any musical style from the distant past there are always performers who approach it almost as a parody.  Alex Pangman stands out because she sings these old songs as if she means them, not as if she’s displaying museum artifacts.  There was a special approach to vocals in the 30’s and 40’s when the delivery was smooth and understated except for tiny nuances that subtly bring out the emotional substance of songs that, to modern ears, might sound exceedingly sentimental.  Alex Pangman understands this and her vocal delivery presents the true mood and sensation of music of that era without being imitative.

The concert with Ross Wooldridge playing Benny Goodman favourites is Saturday Jan. 14th at Meaford Hall, tickets are $45.

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Benny Goodman Tribute At Meaford Hall Highlights History

Coming Saturday night to Meaford Hall, Ross Wooldridge and his seven piece band bring the music of The King of Swing to life!

Almost everyone recognizes Benny Goodman as the name of the clarinet-playing bandleader who was popular during the second world war, but many may not be aware that he, like Elvis and The Beatles, was an entertainer who made a permanent change in pop music and in the process created a new genre that dominated musical style enough to be given its own term: “the swing era”.  Even the exact date, Aug. 21st, 1935, can be pinpointed as the day the music was born.

The King of Swing

As a young classically trained clarinet player, Benny Goodman was something of a prodigy, capable of impressive virtuoso performances.  He developed his own band at a young age with the help of his brother-in-law, John Hammond, and independently wealthy young jazz fan who pursued recording and writing about the new music motivated by his love of the sounds and by his personal conviction that there was something very special happening within the African-American music scene.  Fletcher Henderson was a particular favourite of Hammond with a unique energetic style built in to the rhythm of his arrangements.  Henderson, a black man, didn’t sit easy with the racism that severely restricted opportunities for artists like himself and his career was faltering when Hammond introduced him to Goodman.  Hammond believed that combining Henderson’s unique musical stylings with Goodman’s exceptional playing was a winning combination.  Fletcher Henderson became the arranger for the Benny Goodman orchestra.

Goodman had a regular Friday night radio show out of New York called “Let’s Dance”, where he featured this new “hot” jazz.  While this late-night show caught on with a few young people it didn’t go over well with the older generation who considered it far too loose and amoral for white people to be playing.  The advantage of a radio show, though, was that a live performance was broadcast right across the country through the radio networks.  When Goodman and the band started off on a summer tour from New York to the west coast, they played to lukewarm audiences but every show reached a larger radio audience.

History At The Palomar Ballroom

It was a discouraging tour.  Like Christopher Columbus, hero of what would soon become Goodman’s first big hit song, the band was sailing toward uncharted territory and there was no guarantee of a safe landfall.  But in August they finally played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles and on that night everything changed. A huge crowd of young people turned out jumping with enthusiasm, having developed a love for the band by listening to their broadcasts as they traversed the country.  The Swing Era was born that night and from then until big band music faded after the Second World War, there were officially two categories: Sweet, as played by the likes of Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman and swing a la Henderson and Goodman, who became known as The King Of Swing.

For a band to reproduce the excitement and energy of this band, they have to not only bring along a tight ensemble of energetic players but they need a leader who can really play the clarinet. Ross Woolridge has an impressive history as a jazz player, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer.  In addition to contributing to jazz recordings he is the leader of Toronto’s Galaxy All-star Orchestra and producer of shows that highlight tributes to the Big Band Era.

For this performance, Woolridge has his critically acclaimed Tribute to Benny Goodman Sextet. This group was featured at a sold out concert presented by JazzFM and The Sound of Toronto Jazz Series in 2005, and they have been in demand ever since. They have released to excellent reviews a new CD for 2012, recorded at a concert performance.  The band performing on Saturday at Meaford Hall includes Michael Davidson (vibes), Danny McErlain (piano) Phil Disera (guitar), Lew Mele (bass), Glenn Anderson (drums) and Alex Pangman (vocals).

This concert will be, along with a jumping lively musical experience, a brief encounter with pop music history.

Showtime is 8pm Saturday January 14, tickets are $40 and available online at www.mefordhall.ca, by calling 1.877.538.0463 or stop by 12 Nelson St E in historic downtown Meaford.

Here’s a sample of Ross’s Galaxy Orchestra in a show where he blended the music of Benny Goodman with that of Artie Shaw.:

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