Author Archive for Debbie

2016

DEBBIE INTERVIEWED ON BEACH CORNER RADIO

Debbie was recently interviewed by Dianna Chycki for Beach Corner Radio in Wasaga Beach.

During this 45 minute interview, Debbie answers questions posed by Dianna, on her early days in the music business, and features two songs from her new CD Full Circle: Back To Bacharach.

Beach Corner Radio


THE HARD WORK BEGINS

Since having the CDs in her hands, Debbie has been getting it to radio stations.  CBC has featured it on Fresh Air and Tonic, and it’s being streamed on CBC jazz streams.

Since all the Toronto publicists are busy, Debbie’s been promoting the CD herself – a slow process.  We have a review in the June issue of Wholenote.  Read Cathy Riches review here: Wholenote Magazine.


CD LAUNCH AT JAZZ BISTRO

May 26th was an amazing evening at the Jazz Bistro for the launch of Full Circle-Back to Bacharach.  Adam Cree, the brilliant soundman at the Jazz Bistro, was very leery about whether we could fit eleven musicians and singers on that fairly small stage.  But, we DID IT!   The audience was an amazing, attentive crowd – at times, people couldn’t get in because it was so crowded.  (“Best house in a long time” I was told by the manager, as we were tearing down).

The Hampton Avenue 4 – acappella jazz vocal ensemble, consisting of Debbie, Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Tom Lillington – did a short opening set, and brought the house down with their tight crunchy harmonies, and unbridled joy from singing together.

Songs from the CD, as well as other Bacharach/David songs – like Do You Know the Way to San Jose and Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head – were performed, and the audience enthusiastically sang the vocal parts – everyone seemed to know the words.

Colina Phillips sang some beautiful feature songs, as well as added her voice to the backup vocals, while Debbie sang.

The band was amazing – Mark Kieswetter, Ross MacIntyre, Charlie Coolie, Ted Quinlan, Chase Sanborn and John MacMurchie played beautifully.  Greg Godovitz, who was in the audience, remarked about how tight the band was, and asked how many rehearsals must we have had to get it to that level of perfection?  I replied – ONE.  Yep.  These guys just read what’s put in front of them, and FEEL it at the same time – they’re that good!

The singers were also excellent – The Hampton 4 and Colina Phillips sang their backups with perfection, and Debbie sang with strength, conviction, and total love for the songs she chose to record on this special CD.


PHASE TWO OF RECORDING BACK TO BACHARACH

February 4th, we all gathered at Number 9 Audio to begin recording the “jazzier” songs and arrangements on the CD.  We had Ben Riley on drums, Mark Kieswetter on 9 foot Boesendorfer, Ted Quinlan on Guitar and Ross MacIntyre on bass (this time mostly upright).  We recorded bed tracks for Close To You, I Say a Little Prayer For You, Promises Promises, The Look of Love and One Less Bell To Answer that day.

I had planned to just record four of the above, but when I heard “One Less Bell…” on my daughter, Rebecca Fleming’s playlist when I saw her in December, I decided then and there, that I must record that one too, just for her.

The recording went amazingly well.  A few days later we brought in Arturo Avalos to add percussion on Promises Promises, and The Look of Love.

John MacMurchy and Chase Sanborn add horns.

John MacMurchy and Chase Sanborn add horns.

After the horns were added to Promises Promises, and I Say A Little Prayer, we were ready to mix.

Finally, after mixing, mastering and putting the CD cover together – the CDs were manufactured, and ready for pick up on April 20th.

Debbie proudly displays the first copy of her CD, after picking them up at Number 9 Audio Group.Debbie proudly displays the first copy of her CD, after picking them up at Number 9 Audio.


TORONTO MENDELSSOHN CHOIR CONDUCTOR’S SYMPOSIUM

On January 30th, I was an audience member at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, while the choir sang a beautiful concert full of choral warhorses, conducted by the young guest conductors who had been tutored by Noel Edison during the previous week.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir sing Psalm 100 by Stuart Beatch, winner of the Debbie Fleming Prize for Choral Composition.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir sing Psalm 100 by Stuart Beatch, winner of the Debbie Fleming Prize for Choral Composition.

 I enjoyed listening to this wonderful choir, and I felt very happy that the prize winning composition for the award I endowed to the choir, was sung.  Stuart Beatch of Regina, Saskatchewan, won the prize for his work Psalm 100.


 

VIRGIL SCOTT’S MUSICIANS’ NEW YEAR

On February 2nd, 2016, Virgil’s annual musicians’ new year celebration and reunion took place at Timothy’s in Etobicoke.  Still a wee bit squishy, compared to the now defunct Hollywood on Queensway, but it was a fabulous evening of great music, with all sorts of old friends in attendance.

 

2015

This gallery contains 44 photos.

2014

This gallery contains 51 photos.

2013

Full Circle – Back to Bacharach – The Process

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THE INSPIRATION:

Toronto is a plethora of excellent singers and musicians. I’m so happy to feel still part of the Toronto music scene, and to enjoy the community,camaraderie and artistry of many singers and great musicians in Toronto  – most of whom are much younger than I am.

Over 10 years ago, Lisa Particelli began a regular evening of jazz jamming for singers, backed by live musicians. Entitled “Girls’ Night Out (Where Men are welcome too)”,   it became a very successful endeavor, and the singers who showed up to ply their voices on those magic evenings (featuring Peter Hill on piano, and Ross MacIntyre on bass) were able to hone their chops, play to an audience and get their names out there. I became a great fan of many of the regulars, including Sam Broverman, Ilana Waldston, June Garber, Gigi Marentette, Heidi Lang, Linda Carone – and so many others, including the beautiful Lisa herself.

Having reached the eighth decade of my life here on earth, I felt it was time to do a final legacy recording while I still had a strong voice. But what? I had already recorded many projects, including three solo projects, three with Hampton Avenue, my jazz vocal group, and three with ChoirGirlz, a roots-acoustic trio I assembled and led. All these albums largely consisted of my original songs and material.

When I sing, I cover so many styles  – from R&B, classical, roots/acoustic to jazz. I’m not a purist in any of those styles, and there are great singers all over Toronto, who do far better than I do in their specialties. So what could I do, which would set me apart from the rest of the great talent surrounding me?

My answer came, just after I sang one of my favourite songs (A House is Not a Home) at a jam somewhere,  and one of Toronto’s most talented jazz vocalists, Maureen Kennedy, said some kind words to me about my performance, adding “I could never sing Bacharach – it’s really difficult to do well”. BINGO. There was my moment of truth. I would do a tribute album to Bacharach/David – two of the finest writers of music in the 20th century.

You see, I’ve been singing Bacharach/David songs since the 60’s when Dionne Warwick, one of my idols, released so many songs written by the prolific duo.   When I started singing in nightclubs in the mid 60’s, backed by my husband, Gordon Fleming, on B3 and keys – Dionne Warwick was at the top of the charts every week, and it was her hits which people wanted to hear. So I learned those songs, as a “pup” and never felt intimidated by the challenges the music presented. (You don’t, when you’re in your 20’s – EVERYTHING’s possible!).

As my career became more successful (mostly as a studio and session singer), I continued to sing Bacharach/David songs at corporate functions where I sang with various bands. We had to include a few “oldies” for the families of the bride and groom or bar mitzvah boy, who grew up with those wonderful songs.

THE PREPARATION:

I decided I wanted to work with the best musicians – and because of his brilliant arrangements on other albums (esp. Pat Murray, and her Beatles tribute), and his intoxicating jazz voicings when he played keys, I wanted Mark Kieswetter to play on, and do some of the arrangements for the songs to be chosen.

Mark and I got together in September 2015, and discussed song possibilities – and oh, there were SOOOO many to choose from. I already had a few in my mind, which were “MUSTS” and we narrowed down our list of songs to do.

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I wanted to give the songs a new twist from the originals. For most of them, I had definite ideas in my mind — new chords, feel, tempi etc. Once I got the charts together, Mark would suggest some wonderful chord changes here and there, and we were ready to record the first six tunes.   I turned “Anyone Who Had a Heart” over to Mark, because I couldn’t switch the song up enough from what it was originally. MAGIC!!!! This song was a total challenge for me to learn, and for the band to play, but it turned into a stunning track, complete with Peter Mueller’s total rock-dude guitar solo to add even more “punch”.

THE RECORDING:

Number 9 Audio Group

Number 9 Audio Group was the studio in which I chose to record. Most of the studios of my past are now gone, razed, no more. Manta, Eastern, RCA, McClear etc. RIP. I knew of the one-of-a-kind Beckstein grand at Number 9, and felt we MUST have the best piano for the best pianist around. Good decision!!!

The Beautiful Beckstein 9 foot grand piano

For the first 6 songs, I wanted less “jazz” and more R&B/Groove feel. So I hired Charlie Cooley on drums, along with Ross MacIntyre on bass (both electric and upright), Peter Mueller (an old dear friend) on electric guitar, and Mark Kieswetter on piano and all keyboards.

We laid down the bed tracks first, and even though Bernie Cisternas was new to me at the time, it didn’t take me long to discover that Bernie is a wonderful recording engineer, with great ears, and above all – total respect for the ideas and musicians he’s working with. Bernie and I quickly became a real team, and for that I’m so thankful!

Then came the sweetening of the tracks – I brought in horns – John MacMurchy and Chase Sanborn, with the addition of my dear old friend and mentor, Russ Little on trombone for You’ll Never Get To Heaven.  Mark Kieswetter added some gorgeous strings and horns to Alfie, and suggested adding a sound of gentle wind at the beginning of Windows of the World.  Mark’s magic touches were the icing on the cake!

There were backup vocals added by Choria, some GREAT solos – including the one by Mueller, and by John MacMurchy, Chase Sanborn and Russ Little!

Before moving onward, we mixed the first 6 tracks, and took a break for the busy Christmas season.

In January, came the “Jazz” treated songs, where Mark played a larger part in the arranging and feel.

This time we had Ben Riley on drums and Ted Quinlan on guitar, while still having Mark and Ross as the hubs of the rhythm section.

Five tunes were recorded with this swingin’ section, (Close to You, One Less Bell To Answer, I Say a Little Prayer for You, The Look of Love and Promises Promises). We sweetened those tracks with Art Avalos on percussion, John MacMurchy and Chase Sanborn on horns and The Hampton Avenue-4 adding vocals to Close to You and Look of Love.

By this time, it was quite apparent to all of us, that we had something very special, and much bigger than we’d ever predicted.   A combination of the magnificent songs themselves, as well as the excellent musicianship and great arrangements created a gestalt, far bigger than the sum of it’s parts.  And I swear, I’ve never sung better in my long life!

Next step was mixing the final 5 tunes, and mastering the whole shebang, which Bernie did with aplomb.

Now the cover art is complete – the new head shot, by Yanka photography, is pretty sassy, and the design – implemented by Neale Ramakrishnan at Number 9 – is simple and satisfying.

The royalties have been paid to Mr. Bacharach and David, and we’re ready to manufacture.

The CD’s should be ready for sale on April 16th.

Keep your eye on the shopping cart on this website, where you’ll be able to order your own copy of this special CD, featuring the most melodic, heartfelt songs of the 20th century.  I’m proud of this fitting tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Bummer!!!

Colonoscopy and what it “Entails”

WARNING!!! The following is rated “R” – restricted only to those who are not offended by “TMI” – and want to know the ins and outs of this procedure, which most people must undergo in the name of health.  This is my personal account of my BEST colonoscopy yet!

 

Having had some not-so-pleasant experiences with my previous 3 colonoscopies, I was NOT looking forward to my “procedure” in 2013.  Matter of fact, the minute I opened my new appointment calendar for 2013, I thought – “Oh no – this is the year for yet another colonoscopy”.  However – I realized it was a necessity – as my maternal grandmother died of colon cancer, and it’s always good to catch these things early.

Three weeks before the date of the procedure, I received the notice from the Doctor in the mail about the “prep instructions”.    Despite promises three  years ago that there would likely be a more effective prep for my next one – the tired and familiar instructions to buy “Kleen-Prep” were unearthed when I opened the envelope.  My heart sank.  With Kleen Prep – one must fast the entire day before the “procedure” – having only clear juices and broths (and staying away from red jello or juice).  Then you’re supposed to  begin drinking this at-first decent tasting mixture – every 20 minutes, beginning at 6pm.  The instructions say you can stop drinking the liquid once the effluent runs clear.  Hmmm.  Then you repeat the same procedure beginning at 6 am the morning of the procedure.  Now if your digestive system is anything like mine – you end up drinking the entire 4 litres, and NOTHING happens for another hour, which keeps you up and running until at least 1 a.m.   And if your digestive system is like mine, and you do the 6 AM repeat – good bloody luck getting to the hospital without having an “accident”.

This year, St. Michaels Hospital called me 2 weeks before my procedure, and asked if I would like to be part of a research study, which may give evidence that colonoscopies may not be necessary if blood samples and stool samples are checked on a regular basis.  I felt very willing to take the time to do this – maybe to save my kids and grandkids from having to unnecessarily undergo the dreaded “procedure.”   So, a week before my colonoscopy date, I went to St. Mikes – had some bloodwork done, and was instructed to take poo samples during the week previous to my procedure, and send them off  in a safe, sealed container via UPS to be analysed.  Although this process was a tad unpleasant, it wasn’t even in the same ballpark as a colonoscopy in the “yuck factor”.

While I was at the hospital for these preliminary workups, I confided to the nurse about the unpleasantness of Kleen-Prep with my particular system, and I also told her I was a musician – and 6am is absolutely NOT in my vocabulary!!  She was so very sympathetic, and sent me to Dr. Kandel’s nurse down the hall, who would give me a requisition to purchase a relatively new product called MOVI-PREP.  Apparently the Dr. was having great success with the “cleanouts” this formula provided to the patients.

Four days before my procedure, I went to the pharmacy to purchase the Movi-Prep, and was told it had to be ordered.  Yikes!!  This was Thursday.  My procedure was Monday!  Luckily it arrived in on Friday, ready for the big “day of rectuming”.

I read the instructions – and found it a delightful surprise that a light breakfast AND LUNCH were allowed the day of the “CLEANSE”.  PLUS!!!  It only entailed drinking TWO litres of the mixture instead of four – and no 6 am crap!!!  YAY.

So, on the Sunday I began the Movi-Prep  at 5 pm, after a decent breakfast, and a light snack for lunch.  The mixture had a pleasant lemony flavour – but was quite sweet.  I have to say, after the 3 hours of drinking every 10 minutes – the imbibing turned into a most repulsive undertaking – and it got to the point I could only do one sip at a time.  With my slow system, it took a LONG time after I’d consumed the 2 litres before anything happened.

Because my blood vessels are very temperamental, and it’s difficult for healthcare workers to find good veins for taking or giving blood – a nurse friend of mine told me to DRINK DRINK DRINK WATER all day and all night and the morning of the procedure.  (Last time, it took seven painful pokes before they finally found a vein to administer the sedative – and I think they damaged a nerve in my wrist).  I drank copious amounts of water and herbal tea as a chaser to the MoviPrep,  even though I felt I was full of liquid already.

I was up ‘til 1 a.m. and a few times in the night.  In the morning – it worried me that the clarity they’re looking for in the effluent wasn’t quite there, and I was sure the Doctor was going to be very perturbed.

My procedure was scheduled for 12 noon.  I went by subway to St. Mikes, and checked in.  I gave them the questionnaire I filled out for the study, and they handed me an envelope with $35 cash in it for my participation!  Gettin’ paid fo’ sheeyot!  Whoo HOO!

They showed me to a room with lockers where you can store your valuables, and I got undressed, and into the 2 little gowns they gave me to wear – one worn frontways, one worn backways.   I sat and waited.  And waited.  And waited – and had to use the loo a couple of times to get rid of all the water I’d been drinking.  FINALLY an hour after the procedure was booked (they squeeze in emergency cases, which always ends up holding up the schedule) the nurse came and took my vitals, asked questions, and managed to find the right vein in the left hand, first poke!  I was happy and relieved, and I was sporting an IV attachment ready for activation.

More waiting and waiting.  Interestingly enough – I wasn’t in the least bit hungry, and it had been more than 24 hours since I ate.

Finally they led me to the room, where I got up on the table.  Dr. Kandel asked me how I was, and I said “Pretty good for an old broad”  giggles – Then in answer to what I “do” I told him I was a singer – and while the nurse began to hook up the sedative solution, they asked me to sing them a song.  I sang the beginning of Freddie Mercury/David Bowie “Under Pressure”.  That is all I remember.  At one point I woke up to see a bit of my insides on a screen beside me – all pink and shiny – but right back to sleep again.  Unlike previous procedures – there was no pain, and no consciousness of what they were doing to me.  I think finding a good vein for the sedative definitely helped!!

Suddenly I hear them say “You’re done. Roll over”   WHAT???  In my previous procedures, I was aware of every painful corner that little scope went around, and every conversation that went on while I was “under”.  In a previous procedure they had removed a couple of polyps – and one in my stomach too. (I usually have endoscopy at the same time as the colonoscopy).  But this time – I was all clear.  No polyps.  AND the Movi-Prep apparently did a fabulous job of cleansing – making the sightlines much easier for Dr. Kandel.

As they wheeled me down to recovery, I couldn’t help thinking of the scene in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” and the “machines that go “ping”  as I looked at the ceiling racing by.  They set my gurney up beside another person or two in recovery, all of them sleeping  – and I was sitting up drinking juice and eating cookies in no time.  I also was instructed to fart – the Dr. puts gas into the intestine to maximize clarity and room for the scope – so they won’t let you leave until a pfffft or two.  No problemo!!!

I felt on top of the world.  Immediately perky and alert, and so happy with the good news of a clear passage, and no necessity to return for another 5 years.

I didn’t bring anyone with me to take me home – I didn’t need anyone to do that. It seems that sedative they give you only lasts for me as long as it’s coursing through my veins.  I’m wide awake once they remove it.

So where did I go after I got back in my civies?  I went across to the “Eatin’ Center” and had a lovely “breakfast croissant” and bought myself some new “post colonoscopy” clothing.

Five years!!!  Hopefully, if I’m still around, that next one will be just as good as this one was – the BEST of all of them!!

Upon Becoming Old(er)

DECADENT BDAY SPEECH – 2013

This year, I reached a milestone birthday, and I gave a speech to the dear friends and family who honoured me by attending my Decadent Toast and Jam,  a musical celebration at the Dominion on Queen in Toronto, April 28th, 2013.  A few of them asked me to share the speech I gave about growing older, so here it is:

Recently, I received an advertisement on a torn-out magazine page  in the mail from an anonymous friend for a miracle wrinkle remover.  S/he wrote a personal note beside it saying “This really works!  Try it!”

I had reason to believe this “friend” can’t know me too well. Firstly, because my wrinkles are few and far between on my face – and secondly – because I don’t believe in trying to erase signs of aging by plastic surgery, or any other means.  To me – wrinkles are badges of honour.  And we should wear them proudly as we age.

I know, I know – you’re likely thinking – “You’re in a business where youth and appearance are key factors in success or failure” and that is true.  However – I’ve HAD a wonderful career, and though the money-making aspects of it have ebbed, I’m still enjoying making music and singing as my “expensive little hobby” (i.e. – today, if you want to perform it’s “Pay to Play”).

Yes – I do look younger than my years – but I’m convinced that is because I sing a lot (working those facial muscles) and laugh a lot – and I use Mary Kay moisturizer daily.  I’m not ashamed of my age – so I’m not going to do anything drastic to try and fool people.  Inside I’m still a bratty teenager,  while on the outside I’m a little rusty and creaky – but I’m still having fun.  Age is just a number, and you’re only as old as you believe you are.

There are certain traits for which people of a certain age are notorious.  I don’t exhibit all of them – but I do admit I often look back on the “Good Old Days” with my cronies.  And in many respects they WERE the “Good Old Days”.

I REMEMBER THE DAYS WHEN:

 

CHILDHOOD:

  • WE KIDS WERE LEFT TO OUR OWN DEVICES, AND WERE SHOO’ED OUT THE DOOR EVERY DAY TO PLAY WITH OUR FRIENDS UNTIL WE WERE CALLED IN FOR LUNCH OR SUPPER
  • WE PLAYED  IN THE CEMETERY – (then, a farmer’s field where the gravestones hadn’t been erected yet); WE RAN AND JUMPED IN THE SAND DUNES, AND WILD PATHWAYS THAT LED TO THE HUMBER RIVER BEFORE THE HOUSING BOOM TOOK AWAY OUR PLAYGROUND
  • FARMS WERE STILL AROUND US
  • WE COLLECTED SIX-QUART BASKETS FROM NEIGHBOURS FOR A FARMER WITH A MARKET GARDEN THAT WAS PART OF THE PARKLAWN CEMETERY. HE WOULD PAY US 2 CENTS FOR EACH BASKET, AND WITH OUR NEWFOUND RICHES, WE’D GO ONWARD TO POP’S VARIETY STORE ON GRENVIEW AND BUY BLACK BALLS, COMIC BOOKS AND ALL SORTS OF CONFECTIONS.
  • WE WALKED  TO AND FROM  SCHOOL WITH A FEW FRIENDS EVERY DAY, RAIN OR SHINE
  • WE COULD GO AND SKATE, OR GET A GAME OF BASEBALL HAPPENING  AT “THE OLD SCHOOL”  – A BEAUTIFUL OLD SCHOOLHOUSE WHICH WAS STILL STANDING ON THE EAST SIDE OF PRINCE EDWARD DRIVE IN TORONTO
  • 04 Run and Play – THIS IS A SONG I WROTE FOR MY GRANDCHILDREN, TO DESCRIBE TO THEM WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO GROW UP IN THE 50’S
  • MY FRIEND MARLEENE AND I WOULD BIKE ALL OVER OUR AREA OF ETOBICOKE WHEN WE WERE ONLY AROUND TEN YEARS OLD
  • WHEN WE WERE OUT OF THE HOUSE, OUR PARENTS DID NOT MICROMANAGE US – BUT WE SURE HAD A LOT OF DISCIPLINE IF WE DID THINGS THAT BROKE THE RULES  – AND THE NEIGHBOURS WOULD “TATTLE” IF THEY SAW OR HEARD SOMETHING.  IT WAS A GOOD COMMUNITY.

HEALTH

  • YOUTH GAVE US A SENSE OF INVULNERABILITY, AND DEATH WAS THE FARTHEST THING FROM OUR MINDS
  • WE SMOKED OR DRANK ANYTHING WE WANTED WITHOUT WORRY
  • WE NEEDED NO PILLS TO TAKE (EXCEPT BIRTH CONTROL)
  • DOCTORS WOULD RENEW PRESCRIPTIONS AND GIVE ADVICE OVER THE PHONE FOR NO CHARGE
  • DOCTORS WOULD MAKE HOUSE CALLS IF YOU WERE TOO SICK TO VISIT THE OFFICE.
  • ALL PHYSICALS, EYE EXAMS, ANY HOSPITAL TESTS WERE FREE
  • NOBODY IN CANADA WOULD GO BANKRUPT FROM PAYING FOR LIFE-SAVING TREATMENTS LIKE MEDICATIONS NOT COVERED BY OHIP, OR BY OUR MEDICAL PLANS
  • PRESCRIPTIONS WERE FREE OF SERVICE CHARGES
  • I COULD SIT DOWN ON A CHAIR WITHOUT EMITTING A LOUD GRUNT
  • EVERY NEW PAIN I FELT DID NOT CAUSE ME TO THINK  “YIKES!  IS THIS IT??”

SERVICE FEES:

  • THERE WERE NO BANK FEES EATING UP YOUR SAVINGS
  • A CHILD’S BANK ACCOUNT COULD SIT FOR YEARS, EARNING INTEREST, AND NOT BE DEPLETED TO NOTHING BY SERVICE FEES AND DEDUCTIONS
  • SAVINGS WERE ALWAYS GROWING AT THE BANK
  • I EVEN REMEMBER WHEN THERE WAS NO SALES TAX! (in the early ’60’s it was a shock when we had to start to pay 2% on purchases)

GOVERNMENT

  • WASN’T A PROFIT MAKING BUSINESS – IT WAS RUN FOR THE PEOPLE, AND FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL WITH THE AIM OF MAKING OUR COUNTRY A BETTER PLACE FOR EVERYONE TO LIVE.
  • IT WAS RUN WITH HONOUR, INTEGRITY, RULES AND REGULATIONS THAT WERE ENFORCED BY WATCHDOG ORGANIZATIONS
  • THERE WERE NO PARTISAN ADS FOR POLITICAL PARTIES – JUST ADS ABOUT WHAT PARTIES  PROMISED TO DO FOR US.
  • THERE WERE ENFORCED ETHICAL REGULATIONS IN THOSE DAYS – NO SMEARING ALLOWED
  • PRE MIKE HARRIS – YOU COULD GO WALKING OR SHOPPING WITHOUT BEING BADGERED AT EVERY CORNER FOR SPARE CHANGE – OR BUY A PAPER FOR THE HOMELESS – THERE WERE NEXT TO NO PEOPLE SLEEPING ON THE STREETS
  • PROVIDED HOUSING, SERVICES  AND CARE FOR THE POOR AND DISENFRANCHIZED

EDUCATION:

  • WE WERE TAUGHT TO SPELL CORRECTLY, AND USE PROPER GRAMMAR.
  • TESTS HAD TO BE PASSED BEFORE PROCEEDING TO THE NEXT LEVELS
  • ERRORS WERE MARKED ON TESTS, AND MARKS DEDUCTED, SO THE STUDENT COULD LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES, AND GROW IN EXCELLENCE
  • MUSIC WAS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM
  • POST SECONDARY TUITION WAS AFFORDABLE, AND DIDN’T LEAVE YOU IN HEAVY DEBT FOR YEARS AFTER GRADUATION
  • TEACHERS’ STRIKES WERE UNHEARD OF
  • EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES WERE PLENTIFUL, AND ADDED TO THE FEELING OF THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY AND SPIRIT

MAKING A LIVING:

  • 95% OF THE POPULATION GOT A JOB AFTER HIGH SCHOOL OR UNIVERSITY, AND WE HAD THE SECURITY OF KNOWING WE COULD SUPPORT OUR FAMILY UNTIL WE RETIRED – FREEDOM 55?????
  • BEFORE NAFTA THERE WERE JOBS FOR MOST OF THE POPULATION – INCLUDING JOBS IN MANUFACTURING
  • YOUR WORKPLACE PROVIDED PENSION AND INSURANCE COVERAGE
  • STANDARDS OF QUALITY AND EXCELLENCE IN OUR PRODUCTS WERE OF PRIME IMPORTANCE, AS WAS CUSTOMER SERVICE IN ALL CANADIAN RUN COMPANIES.
  • MADE IN CHINA? THE EPITOME OF “CHEAP” IN MY CHILDHOOD (we also believed if we dug deep enough, we could dig a hole to China.)
  • THERE WAS NO OUTSOURCING OF JOBS TO PEOPLE IN OTHER COUNTRIES WHO WOULD WORK CHEAPER.
  • 75% OF THE POPULATION WAS PART OF THE HEALTHY MIDDLE CLASS
  • THE MEGAWEALTHY PAID THEIR SHARE OF TAXES, AND THEIR INCOME WAS GENEROUS, BUT NOT IN THE STRATOSPHERE
  • UNIONS WERE HEALTHY, AND THEY WORKED HARD TO MAKE SURE THERE WERE  DECENT WAGES AND WORKING CONDITIONS FOR THEIR MEMBERS.    TO PERFORM  SOME JOBS, TO BE A UNION MEMBER WAS A MUST.

SOCIETY:

  • CHILDREN WERE TAUGHT MANNERS, ETHICS AND MORALS AT HOME, SCHOOLS AND CHURCH – AND IT WAS A FAR MORE CARING AND CONSIDERATE SOCIETY
  • FACE TO FACE, OR TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS WERE OUR WAY OF COMMUNICATION. (OR MAIL IF YOU WERE STRAPPED FOR CASH)
  • GUNS WERE NOT ON THE STREETS IN CANADA – ONLY IN THE U.S.
  • WE HAD NO KNOWLEGE OR FEAR OF TERRORISM (Although we were afraid the Russians may come and nuke us someday)
  • THERE WAS A LOT MORE TRUST IN EACH OTHER, AND IN THE DECENCY OF OUR WORLD.

ROADS AND DRIVING:

  • PEOPLE DROVE BY THE RULES 
  • AMBER LIGHTS MEANT – SLOW DOWN AND GET READY TO STOP
  • RED LIGHTS WERE FOR STOPPING
  • STOP SIGNS WERE FOR STOPPING
  • TRAFFIC CALMING SPEED BUMPS DID NOT EXIST
  • THERE WASN’T A TRAFFIC LIGHT AT EVER CORNER, AND TRAFFIC COULD FLOW
  •  MOSTLY EVERYBODY SIGNALLED THEIR TURNS AND INTENTIONS
  • EVERYONE HAD TO HAVE A DRIVER’S LICENSE, AND INSURANCE, AND THE RULES WERE ENFORCED
  • RUSH HOUR WAS FROM 4 – 6. 
  • I could make it from my Riverdale home to Roy Thomson Hall in 20 minutes, and get easy parking at the many lots around the hall ($5 for the night).  Now the parking has been replaced by condos.  🙁  It takes over 30 minutes to get there, and parking is from $10 – $25 for an evening.
TRAVEL:
  • TRAINS WERE FREQUENT, NUMEROUS AND EASY TO CATCH, AND TAKE ANYWHERE (I used to catch the Sunnyside train to get back to McMaster after a visit home to Etobicoke.  There were direct connections to small out-of-the way places – and every one of those towns had a train station)
  • I LOVED THE SOUND OF THE TRAIN WHISTLES, AND CHUGGING OF THE STEAM TRAINS WHEN I WAS A CHILD
  • TAKING A PLANE FROM PEARSON (THEN MALTON) WAS EASY – WITHIN MINUTES YOU WERE CHECKED IN AND AT THE GATE READY FOR TAKEOFF.  NO LINEUPS, STRIP SEARCHES, BAGGAGE CHARGES.
  • MEALS AND DRINKS WERE FREE ON MOST FLIGHTS
OUR CITY (TORONTO):
  • USED TO BE KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AS ONE OF THE CLEANEST CITIES ON THE PLANET 
  • OUR TRANSIT SYSTEM WAS SECOND TO NONE
  • THE SUN WOULD SHINE ON OUR DOWNTOWN STREETS, AND WE DIDN’T HAVE TO CRANE OUR NECKS TO SEE THE SKY
  • WE COULD SEE AN UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW OF OUR BEAUTIFUL LAKE FROM THE GARDINER EXPRESSWAY
  • WE HAD SOME BEAUTIFUL OLD BUILDINGS IN THE CENTRE OF THE CITY (NOW WE’RE THE CITY OF GLASS, AND EXPLODING BALCONIES.)
  • GARBAGE WAS COLLECTED TWICE A WEEK
  • MAIL WAS DELIVERED TWICE A DAY, AND ON SATURDAYS TOO
  • THE COUNTRYSIDE WAS ALWAYS WITHIN A 30 MINUTE DRIVE OF THE CITY
  • OUR MAYORS WERE DIGNIFIED, AND FULL OF INTEGRITY, AND LOVE FOR OUR BEAUTIFUL CITY

MUSIC:

  • MUSICIANS USED TO BE ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING 
  • THE MUSICIAN’S UNION ACTED ON BEHALF OF MUSICIANS TO ENSURE THIS
  • CLUB OWNERS WERE OBLIGATED TO PAY BANDS, IN ORDER TO BRING IN MORE CUSTOMERS FOR THEIR BUSINESSES. THERE WERE VERY FEW COVER CHARGES.  CONTRACTS WERE SIGNED, PENSION CONTRIBUTIONS MADE – AND THERE WAS HELL TO PAY  BY THE AFM IF A CLUB OWNER RENEGED ON PAYMENT TO MUSICIANS.
  • 6 NIGHTS A WEEK GIGS IN CLUBS, WITH A DECENT WAGE – MADE FOR SOME REALLY TIGHT BANDS
  • PEOPLE ACTUALLY WENT OUT TO SEE LIVE MUSIC, A LOT!
  • RECORDINGS, TV SHOWS AND JINGLES – CONTRACTS WERE SIGNED, 2% WENT INTO A PENSION FUND, RESIDUALS  AND ROYALTIES WERE PAID FOR TAPED SHOWS, COMMERCIALS, RECORDINGS.
  • BEFORE NAFTA JINGLES AND MUSIC TRACKS HAD TO BE RERECORDED BY CANADIANS IN ORDER TO BE ALLOWED TO AIR (I used to be a singer for CTV’s “Stars on Ice” – a show where celebrity skaters would come to CTV in Agincourt, and perform their routines on an ice rink built in the studio.  The music they skated to were hits of the time, and at that time in the 70’s and 80’s – the CRTC ruled that all music for Canadian shows and commercials HAD to be re-recorded by Canadian musicians and singers.  Hence – I would have to try and clone vocals of pop stars of the day – Diana Ross, Irene Cara – and many others.  If we recorded a commercial for a product with a jingle made popular in the US, we had to re-record that as well, by an all-Canadian cast.  Those were the days when Canada took care of their own, and made it possible for us to make a good living).
  • PEOPLE HAD TO LEARN HOW TO SING PROPERLY, AND IN TUNE IF THEY WANTED TO BECOME PROFESSIONALS
  • SONGWRITERS WOULD RECEIVE GOOD COMPENSATION FOR RADIO PLAY AND TELEVISION USE.
  • THERE WERE NUMEROUS  RECORD STORES WHERE YOU COULD BUY RECORDINGS (out of which artists were compensated)
  • THE RADIO– RADIO PLAY AND EXPOSURE HELPED THE SALE OF RECORDINGS, AND TO MAKE THE HITS
  • CHUM CHARTS
  • JURGEN GOTH ON CBC WOULD PLAY ANYTHING I RECORDED WITH HAMPTON AVENUE, THE CHOIRGIRLZ OR AS A SOLO ARTIST.  (That exposure helped to sell a lot of recordings, and allowed a diverse audience to hear my projects)
  • WORKING IN TORONTO, VEGAS AND ATLANTIC CITY WITH PETULA CLARK – WHEN THERE WERE STILL FULL 15 PIECE BANDS ONSTAGE, AND NOTHING WAS PRETAPED.
But I don’t want to come across as negative – there are a lot of things that have improved over the years, and help to make the world an even better place:

HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER?  NOWADAYS –

  •  WOMEN IN AMERICA AND EUROPE – WE’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY!  OUR WAGES HAVEN’T REACHED PARITY WITH MEN, BUT WE’RE UP TO 70%  (WHOO HOO!)
  • BIRTH CONTROL ALLOWS CHOICE FOR WOMEN WITH LIFE DECISIONS
  • SMOKING IS NOW CONTROLLED – EASIER BREATHING FOR MOST OF US
  • THE INTERNET – INSTANT COMMUNICATION, ACCESS TO INFORMATION
  • TELEVISIONS – BIG FLAT SCREENS ARE A BIG IMPROVEMENT OVER 14”
  • OLD ESTABLISHED NEIGHBOURHOODS LIKE MINE – STILL BEAUTIFUL
  • DIGITAL RECORDING – MUCH EASIER (THO NOT AS FULL OF QUALITY) THAN ANALOGUE, AND A GREAT BLESSING FOR SINGER-SONGWRITERS
  • DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY – FAST, EASY, SAVES STORAGE SPACE, AND IMMEDIATE REWARD
  • CARS – A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE AND ENERGY EFFICIENT
AND I’M STILL HAPPY BECAUSE:
  • FAMILY AND GRANDCHILDREN
  • GOOD FRIENDS
  • KIND LOVING PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE ME
  • I HAVE GOOD HEALTH
  • SMILES, HUGS, HOPE FOR A BETTER WORLD
  • I LOVE MY HOME
  • I LOVE MY CITY, AND MY COUNTRY
  • I LOVE THE FREEDOM I HAVE AS A WOMAN LIVING IN CANADA
  • I HAVE GREAT FAITH IN GOD’S PLAN FOR ME
  • MEMORIES OF A GREAT JOURNEY
  • MUSIC – THE ABILITY TO STILL SING, ARRANGE AND BE PART OF THE MUSIC SCENE, WHILE COLLECTING A PENSION – THANKS TO ACTRA AND TMA (AND OF COURSE THE GOVERNMENT)
  • PRIVILEGE OF HAVING WORKED WITH, AND FOR GREAT MUSICIANS LIKE MY BAND HERE (BILL KING, DANIEL BARNES, RUSS BOSSWELL AND TONY QUARRINGTON)
  • ROBBIE RETTBERG – SO GLAD TO SEE YOUR FACE, ALL THE WAY FROM L.A.  WE’VE MADE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC TOGETHER IN THE PAST, AND I’VE LEARNED SO MUCH FROM YOU.
  • SINGING WITH GREAT SINGERS – LIKE SHARON LEE WILLIAMS, LYNNE DERAGON, HEATHER KATZ, MARY ELLEN MOORE, BRIAR BOAKE, SAM BROVERMAN, AND NUMEROUS OTHERS WHO COULDN’T BE HERE TODAY.
  • MENDELSSOHN CHOIR – AND THE PRIVILEGE AND EXQUISITE PLEASURE TO SING GREAT WORKS WITH ONE OF THE GREATEST CHOIRS ON THE PLANET
  • HAMPTON AVENUE – THE BRILLIANT SINGERS WHO WERE IN IT, AND STILL ARE
  • THE UKULELE – AND ALL MY UKE FRIENDS WHO CELEBRATE THIS GREAT LITTLE INSTRUMENT EVERY WEDNESDAY TOGETHER – RIGHT HERE AT THE DOMINION ON QUEEN

I HAVE BEEN TRULY BLESSED – WITH A RICH, CREATIVE LIFE, AND I HOPE AS I ENTER MY NEXT DECADE I’LL HAVE THE ENERGY AND HEALTH TO KEEP IT GOING AS LONG AS I’M ABLE, AND THE WISDOM TO KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO STOP.

THANKS FOR COMING – ALL OF YOU THERE WILL BE CAKE SERVED

AND NOW – THE FINAL SONG OF THE SET – A SONG I WROTE ABOUT “THE ONE MORE BIRTHDAY BLUES”.

 


You are invited to make your own comments, and add what you remember from the “Good Old Days”, and I’ll add them to the lists above.

Travelblog: Cruising on the Carnival Valor, 2013

 

CARIBBEAN CRUISE, 2013

Sometimes it’s difficult to even think of going on a vacation.  To me, vacations are for sharing with friends or lovers who enjoy doing the things you enjoy doing.   I haven’t felt the need to go on a vacation in 17 years – and really wasn’t complaining about it.  I love my home, my family and friends, and find plenty to keep me engaged and busy in my wonderful city.

One of the things I enjoy about Toronto is the Corktown Ukulele group (CUJAM) I play with most Wednesday evenings, and when the opportunity arose to go on a cruise with like-minded friends from CUJAM, I felt this was the perfect vacation fit!  Not only was this a chance to sail on one of the largest ships in the Caribbean in the middle of February, but I would be with friends, and learning more about my sweet little ukulele from virtuoso – Manitoba Hal Brolund.  I put my money down for this adventure in late 2012 to Captain Sandy’s Cruise Holidays – run by Donna and Harry Curtis – fellow uke afficionados from Ottawa, and began to get very excited.  Six of us from CUJAM would be going on this cruise, along with around 30 others from Ottawa, Vancouver, Texas and Florida.

I’m going to outline some highlights, points and helpful hints about my experience with this cruise:

 

The Journey begins!

PACKING:

My suitcase, a giant of a behemoth, ended up weighing 49 pounds, packed.

Two more pounds would have necessitated paying an extra fee for extra weight.  There was no need to pack as much as I did.  I learned that it’s quite OK to wear the same Tshirt  or tank top more than once.  Some clothing, (extra bathing suit, white tights, some tops) I never ended up wearing.  Bringing underwear for all seven days is a good idea.  It’s good to pack some light dresses or tops that can double as bathing suit cover-ups and dresses to wear to dinner.  2 or three light sweaters or jackets are a good idea – the night air can be cool.   Cutoffs, dress pants, a skirt, a beachbag.   A fleece hoody I purchased in Miami turned out to be one of my constant companions on the ship (which is air conditioned in many places).   I found that the urge to invest in colourful hats, dresses and other clothing at the ports at which we disembarked, was irresistible.  You will almost certainly go home with more than you came with.  A sunhat, and sunglasses are a must!  Also pack some plastic bags, Ziploc and otherwise – they’ll come in handy.  Hairdryers are provided by the ship.

Don’t bring too many shoes – sneakers, sandals and some low heeled dress shoes should be fine for everything, including dinners with “elegant” themes.

I brought backdated magazines I’ve been saving to read,  in my suitcase, for pool or beach entertainment, and by the time I was ready to come home – they were read, and disposed of.

CARRYON:  Make sure to include toothbrush, medications, your bathing suit, PJs, extra underwear, sunglasses, sunhat, sandals, reading material, camera and battery charger – if your luggage gets lost – you want to have enough to get you through to the end of the week.  You can easily buy what you’re missing when the ship lands in port.

WHAT TO WEAR IN WINTER:  Layers!  I wore jeans with lycra cuttoffs underneath, many layers on top, including my fleecy hoodie, sox and sneakers.  I had my important ID – passport, boarding pass, luggage tags and Canadian money in a fanny pack that I wore nearly all the time during the cruise.

CURRENCY:  U.S. dollars was the currency for purchases onshore.  Theoretically, if you stay on the ship, you don’t need any currency – everything you purchase, including photos, extra drinks are charged to your room, and the credit card they have on your records.

CUSTOMS AND AIRPORT; SATURDAY FEB. 2ND

When they say arrive 2.5 hours before your flight – they aren’t kidding!!!

It’s confusing to learn how to use the self-serve machines at the airport, which print your boarding pass at 6 am when you haven’t had a coffee.  After someone has helped you get that together – you get in the first LONNNNG  SLOWWWWW line to check in.

And FYI – you have to PAY for your checked luggage with Air Canada.  $25!!!

After checking your big suitcase, you’re ushered into another LOONNNNNG  SLOOWWWWW line to go through customs.  There is NO PLACE TO SIT and rest your tush for nearly 2 hours of zig-zagging with hundreds of others.  For someone with a bad back like mine – that can be agony. It didn’t used to be that way – those 9/11 terrorists really ruined it all for travelers. I guess I’d have been better to have a carry-on I could sit on, when needed.

BUT!!!  My uke was my carry-on.  My backpack had all my emergency items, including a fresh change of underwear, PJ’s, meds and supplements; makeup; sandals, my purse; a bathing suit.  (good idea – one of our seatmates on the plane never did receive her luggage, and lived a whole week on what she had in her carry on, and what she bought onshore).

By the time I was checked through customs, our plane was boarding.  Very close!!

FLIGHT:

If you’re hungry – you must buy food on the plane – quite expensive – but customs will not allow you to bring a lunch with you – unless it’s just bread and cheese (no meat, no fruits).  They allow you to bring water on ONLY if you’re diabetic.

MIAMI:

Ahhh – once we found our luggage, and got outside, the feel and smell of that humid tropical air was nirvana.

We did end up waiting a LONNNNNNG time for a chartered bus to take us to our hotel in Miami – I was glad to have my big suitcase that I could sit on as we waited.

Waiting for the bus in the warm, Miami air.

MIAMI HILTON HOTEL:

Checked into assigned room (after another LOOONNNNNG wait at the counter), and went down to the poolside with the ukulele to meet our fellow ukers.  We had a fun little jam and some food and drink, while enjoying the beautiful sunny late-afternoon breezes.

Pre-Cruise jam at Miami Hilton poolside.

Four of us decided to walk to a “nearby” plaza to pick up groceries for our morning breakfast.  “Just a 10 minute walk” turned into a 45 minute walk.  Much further than we were led to believe.  We noticed on our walk, there were VERY FEW WALKERS!  It seems most everyone drives in Florida.

We got to the plaza, and found a nice little Chinese restaurant where we enjoyed our dinner.  We then proceeded to do some shopping – groceries, and some clothing items.  I bought the most wonderful little sunhat for $8 – and that hat turned out to be my identifying label a few times on the cruise.

By the time we were ready to go back to the hotel, we were  all very tired,  loaded down with bags and groceries, and decided to take a cab.  THERE ARE VERY FEW CABS IN MIAMI!  “This isn’t New York” we were told by a helpful security guard.  Marya, who had a cellphone, called to order a cab, and we waited for over ½ hour outside Starbucks.  After 3 separate calls, a cab finally arrived, and we thanked the driver for coming.  Turns out he was NOT the one we ordered – he was just coming to the plaza to pick up some cleaning!

In Miami, it’s LONG wait for a cab.

Next morning after checking out of our hotel, our cruise directors, Donna and Harry, organized a dropoff to the plaza we’d visited the evening before – so we could all buy the allowed ONE bottle of wine for our personal use in our rooms on the ship.

EMBARKATION, Sunday Feb. 3rd:

Once out of the buses, it was time for more LONNNNNG LINEUPS, zig-zagging our way with 3000 others to have our luggage and passports checked.  After over an hour – we finally embarked to the Carnival Valor.

We entered a large lounge with comfy seating surrounding a bar, dancefloor and stage, where a decent guitarist was playing live to pre-recorded tracks for our enjoyment.  It was a bit early to be allowed into our rooms, so we enjoyed the music, and craned our necks to look ‘way up to a 10 storey atrium lined with see-through elevators.

 

The 10 story high atrium in the centre of the Valor

Looking down on the atrium from level 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally in my room – I checked out my new home for the coming week.  My room was about the size of a hotel room, with a generous window overlooking the pier.  Lots of drawers and storage, and comfortable seating.  A functional loo with a small shower.  Just as I was about to leave the room to explore further, my large suitcase arrived, and I spent another 15 minutes unpacking its contents into drawers and cupboards.

My Cabin – as roomy as a hotel room, with window and loo.

I was the only one of the group without a balcony.  I didn’t figure it was worth it to pay $700 extra for one, but when I saw my friends’ balconies on the 6th level, I quickly changed my mind about the wisdom of my decision.  My window was rainspattered, and unopenable.  One of our people actually slept out on their balcony one night, listening to the waves and enjoying the sea air.  (That was the one night it rained – and she had to hastily re-enter her room at 4 a.m. to avoid being soaked).  I spent more time in my cabin, than originally planned – and next time, I will definitely pay extra for the balcony, if only for that fresh sea air!

One of the first things we had to do was participate in a lifeboat drill, and again – we had to stand for a LOONNNNNGGG time awaiting our instructions.  It was hard for me to believe that all of us in our section could fit into the lifeboat at hand, but thankfully we didn’t need it.

The Lido Deck on the 9th level was the place where we could eat wonderful food for most hours of the day.  On that deck were 2 saltwater pools and hot tubs – one near the bow in the noisy party section, and one near the stern in the quieter section.  Had a snack to tide me over ’til dinner, and was very excited as we left Miami behind.  We took photos from the stern, of beautiful Miami and the sunset, not long afterwards.

 

A view from the stern, 11th level, as we sail from Miami.

DINNER:

We had “free seating” in the dining room – meaning that we could eat dinner whenever we wanted.  My friends Jacquie and Bob and Sue ate together that first night.  I ordered gazpacho as an appetizer, and I was shocked when our waiter delivered a bowl with a little ball in the  middle of it.  I took a photo of it before I ate it, and was very relieved when he came with a little jug of the red soup, to pour around the ball. It was MOST delicious, as were all of the meals on the ship.

 

Gazpacho?

Ahhh – Gazpacho! and MOST delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One nice thing about our dining room, was that the wait staff, in the middle of serving dinner, donned Spanish colourful tops, and hopped up on the tray tables to do a performance for us every night.  They’d sing, they’d dance to a loud track – and after the initial shock, I grew to look forward to these performances.  My favourite one was the “Gangnam Style” routine.

At first I was imagining the thought-process of someone applying for a waiter job on our ship.  Answering questions like “Do you sing?  Do You dance?  Can you memorize clever lyrics to long songs” would likely get some applicants rolling their eyes.  But!  It worked!  And every night – their full participation in this exercise seems to have united them in a spirit of accord.

By the way – the wait staff were all very charming and affable.  Because they had 3000 people to feed between 6 – 9:30 – receiving the food was a slow process – dinner took nearly 2 hours each night.  But who was in a hurry????

Also – I was told if you like something you’ve been served, and want to make sure you can order it for your next evening’s meal – they will accommodate you if you order the day before!  Warning!  Dinner menus change every night.

SPECIAL FOOD SERVICES:

My friend Jacquie is lactose intolerant.  When dining room staff overheard this, they sent a dietary specialist to help Jacquie order the food that was fit for her condition.  Jacquie got to order her dinner from the next day’s menu, and it would be specially adapted to her needs.  Turns out that a lot of what she was served was bland and boring.  Jacquie told the lovely woman, Petra, that she wasn’t “THAT” lactose intolerant, and could tolerate the odd sauce or butter-enhanced additive.  They are very accommodating to people with special needs on the Valor.

ENTERTAINMENT:

In the large Ivanhoe Theatre (one level above my cabin) there was a big show every night

There were singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, magicians.  We received a taste of each act during the 10:30 show the first night, along with a welcome speech and introduction to the ship by the cruise director.

The house band was VERY good, and my intentions to hear more of them during the cruise, were dashed as I awoke earlier and earlier every morning, and went to bed earlier and earlier every night.

On the Casino deck, there was smoking allowed, and it seems that all the good bars and the available entertainment were on that deck.  Needless to say, I didn’t visit that deck often.

There were many “fun events” entertainment wise that were outlined on a flyer left on our beds at night, for the next day.  Along with the flyer, there was “towel art” – the room steward would fashion the towels into various animals, for our amusement and enjoyment, along with the flyer, 2 chocolates and a downturned bed.

BREAKFAST AND LUNCH:

I knew this cruise would definitely undo my ardent efforts to take off weight during the past few months.  So, I told myself I’d go to the gym (large and fully equipped) and WALK up 120 stairs to the 9th level every morning.  The gym?  Never did I go there after the initial look-see.  The stairs?  Yes – I did them 5 of the 7 mornings, and believe me – I never got to the point where I could do it without taking a few pauses for breath.  I also began every day with my regular stretch routine, based on the Yoga Sun Salute, with a few extra moves thrown in (about a 5 minute routine to keep supple).  I did the outdoor track on the 11th level twice – fast walking.

My breakfast on the Valor

 

The Lido Deck had a very large screen with very LOUD speakers, broadcasting whatever was on the screen at the time.  Could be newscasts; could be movies – I never stopped to watch – but proceeded to the buffet section, where there were numerous cafes and buffet stations containing every kind of food you can imagine.  My breakfasts consisted of oatmeal with raisins, raisin bran, nuts and a grapefruit. I ignored the custom made omelets, bacon, sausages, potatoes, fresh fruits and pastries that were copiously available.  I took a grande latte (an expense added to my final bill), which I brought back to my room, where I eased into my day.  This is where a balcony would have been really nice.

Lunch was also on the Lido deck, and I chose to create salads for myself with so many add-ons, I’m sure they were VERY high in calories.

My typical lunch, culled from the buffet on the Valor.

I discovered that mixing iced tea with lemonade from the drink dispensers was a very satisfying beverage.  There was also a “sweet station” where you could get various pies, cakes, wonderful cookies made onboard.  I did participate in this fare once a day, and I’m sure my blood sugar levels were suffering because of it.

Ordering drinks and cocktails onboard was not something I did.  The beer available was just the regular Coors Light type stuff.  Blech.

I ordered a pina colada one evening by the pool.  It was very disappointing (and expensive).  It was like a slushy – not like the pina coladas I’ve experienced on other trips.

EXTRAS:

Our welcome aboard was enhanced by a free bottle of champagne and a tray of very high-end pastries in each of our rooms (compliments of Captain Sandy’s Cruises).   We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to consume these little gifts.  I brought my champagne up to a gathering in Bob and Sue’s cabin, where we CUJAM folks rehearsed a few tunes for possible performance at one of our jams. The pastries?  I ate them bit by bit over a period of 3 days.  DELICIOUS!!

My personal bottle of wine remained untouched, and in my minibar fridge until the last day, when I brought it up to share with everyone as we jammed for the last time.

SECURITY:  Just before boarding the Valor, we had to have our photos taken before we were issued our plastic room key.  This key stays with you at all times, both on and off the ship.  (I kept it in my trusty fanny pack, which held my passport, ID, cash, and a credit card).  The key not only opens your cabin door, but you must present it every time you order something on board – an excursion, a drink, a bottle of wine for the dinner table, a latte.  This is the way they keep track of your expenses.

When you leave the ship, you present your room key to the security guard, who sticks it in his little machine;  and when you come back on the ship, after being in port, you must not only present your room key AND passport (with photo ID) – but you must submit anything you’re carrying – bags, outer clothing, purses, fanny packs, shoes – to an X ray machine (the same type of machine they use at customs).

MEDICAL:

I had a blister on my finger that looked a little scary, and I decided to have it looked at.  As a Canadian, used to waiting 8 hours in emergency with any problems,  I was very pleasantly surprised to have my blister examined by a Dr. within 5 minutes of arrival. They sold me a $3.00 pkg. of anti-biotic salve and bandages, and the Dr. told me if my arm began to hurt – to “skedaddle right back here as fast as you can” and he’d start me on anti-biotics.  That was kinda scary.  My arm did indeed begin to hurt – and I was fearing the worst – blood poisoning?  Amputation?  ARGH!  I went back 2 days later, and the nurse took my temperature, and told me I had nothing to worry about.

The facility had a lot of beds and equipment – and a pharmacy.

WiFi and INTERNET:  A friend went to the computer room on the ship, where they had WiFi – only to send a fast email to a friend, and check her inbox.  No more than 5 minutes did she spend before logging off.  It cost $15!  Wifi was apparently slated at .75 cents per minute – so I wisely steered clear of Facebook, and wordgames, knowing how time can add up surprisingly.  One Facebook friend told me a friend of his had to pay $2000 at the end of his trip for WiFi he didn’t think he had to pay for.  Yikes!!!

MOTION SICKNESS AND SHIP STABILITY:

The Valor is so huge, it didn’t move very much.  There were some whitecaps during the cruise, but I was hardly aware of any motion.  Sleep was wonderful (unless noisy hallmates, or  crew noises awakened me).

I did notice some people wearing patches behind their ears, and I’m certain that the medical clinic onboard could easily accommodate those who were feeling queasy.

I cruised once before on a smaller cruise ship called the Jupiter.  Now THAT ship (which I performed on) was rockin’ and rollin’ throughout the 2 week cruise.  The Caribbean was very rough at that time (end of Feb. 1980) and my cabin was towards the stern of the ship.  Conditions were so rough – we had to strap ourselves into our bunks to avoid being thrown out of bed during the night.  The crew was seasick, and in order to perform our show in our high heels, my fellow singer, Jamie Ray and I had to hold on to poles with one arm, and our mic with the other arm.

I didn’t get seasick then either.  When we got to our first port on that cruise – Granada – I got the feeling the island was floating, and wondered how it stayed in one spot.  While trying to find the answer to that question, I was informed that I had “sea-legs” as a result of the cruise.  The island wasn’t floating.  My inner ear just wouldn’t stop adjusting to the motion of the ship.

There was not a HINT of that sort of need on the Valor.

My ship — 11 stories high. The size of a large Toronto condo!
The Good Ship Jupiter in 1980, 1/8 of the size of the Valor. 
 

 

 

 

NIGHTLY ROOM SERVICE:  The cabins are cleaned twice a day – trashcans emptied, bathroom cleaned and towels replaced.  In the evening, the stewards have once again tidied, and turned down your kingsized bed, leaving an itinerary about activities that will occur the following day, topped with 2 chocolates, and a different piece of brilliant and fun towel art every night!

Towel Froggie

 

MANITOBA HAL BROLUND AND THE UKE EXPERIENCE:

Manitoba Hal Brolund teaches uke classes on our days at sea.

Our first day at sea was Monday Feb. 4th, as we sailed for Grand Turk (arriving on the morning of Tuesday Feb. 5th).

Hal had planned our first morning session based around suggested daily exercises involving keys, strums and rhythms.  He was extremely patient with questions, and gave willing one-on-one help to anyone needing it.

Our afternoon session consisted of learning and singing some songs especially chosen by Hal.

Hal gave us a concert on the Tuesday evening – and his ability with, and knowledge of the uke was very very impressive.  His singing is also wonderful – a beautiful voice has he!!

People who wished for private lessons were booked throughout the cruise by Hal’s able assistant Nicole, and kept our man very busy.

We had a second day at Sea on Thursday – and on that day Hal taught 2 group sessions based on blues uke playing, and gospel.

By the end of the cruise – one woman who had never before played the uke, was playing with the group – feeling more confident than she did the first day.

As we walked throughout the ship with our ukes, many of the other passengers asked if we’d be giving a concert.  We didn’t plan that – but decided that we would assemble on the Lido deck at 5 pm every evening, at the quiet stern section, and sing songs from the Jam book which was ably compiled by Mark and Sue Rodgers from Ottawa.  The ship would leave port at 5pm on the days we were at an island – so we’d be uking and singing by the pool as we pulled away from port.  We’d watch the ship maneuver its way back to sea, while watching the sun set, pickin’ and grinnin’!

Hal, Nicole et al - jammin' by the pool.

Hal Brolund was a wonderful gift to our cruise experience, and thanks to Harry Curtis for the idea!  There will be more cruises arranged in future with the same theme!

EXCURSIONS:

My CUJAM friends pre-booked excursions through the travel agency.  I didn’t do that, as I wanted to play my days “by ear” – depending how I was feeling, and who wanted to do what.

Jacquie, Linda-Marie and Marya booked a horseback ride the first day, and raved about cantering into the ocean on the horses.  They also partook of a “helmet walk” exploring the seabed, while weighed down with helmets of 75 pounds (with air supply).  That didn’t much interest me – but they raved about the experiences they paid a LOT of $$$ to partake in.

I had booked to go on a glass boat excursion at Grand Turk, to see the underwater flora and fauna – but it was cancelled, due to unclear water conditions.  So the day was spent visiting some shops, and going back to the ship and hanging by the saltwater pool.

ST. MAARTEN, FEB. 7

When we arrived at St. Maarten, I had nothing booked, and all my friends were going here and there on their excursions . I decided I’d best find something to do.  I booked one of the only excursions that wasn’t sold out – a trip on the Golden Eagle Catamaran.  I didn’t know anyone on the excursion, but quickly became acquainted with two sisters from Utah – Sheena and Emma.  There was snorkeling involved with this excursion, and when we got to the site – they handed out flippers, masks and snorkels.  I wasn’t too enthused about the snorkeling aspect – but figured I should be daring for a change.

We had to leave the boat, anchored about 100 feet offshore, either by jumping off the side,  or using the “chicken ladder”.  Well – you can well guess which choice I made.  With my mask covering my nose, and my HUGE flippers trying to find the rungs – I slowly eased myself into the not-so-warm Caribbean.  I had to do this faster than my usual slow pace – as there were people behind me on the ladder, rarin’ to snorkel.  When I got into the water, and put the snorkel in my mouth, I immediately got a mouthful of salty water.  Because we had life jackets on, there was no danger of sinking, and I finally adjusted it so I could breathe through it, and see a few rocks and little fish on the bottom.  I wasn’t that comfortable with the snorkeling – so went directly to the beach, and was helped out of the water by someone from the boat. “You gots ta take your flippers off first, ma’am” I was told.  Took a while to get my balance after coming ashore. (Sealegs again).

It was hot, sunny, and there was no place to escape the sun – my towel, sunglasses and camera were on the boat – and sitting, wet, on the golden sand didn’t feel like a comfortable option.  They gave the beach people a beer to drink, while standing, waiting for the snorkelers to finish their adventure.  I was very happy when the dingy picked us up and took us back to the boat.  It was a fun, rough ride back to the ship, with great scenery, and rum punch.

I was glad to tell my friends about MY adventure – and they had great stories about their excitement of the day.

ST. KITTS, FEB 8TH:

Good place to shop for beach wear, and souvenirs for the grandkids.  Went back to the ship for lunch, then back to the stores for more purchases in the afternoon.

One thing to watch out for in St. Kitts is the guys walking around with little pet monkeys – they bring them to you and put them on your shoulder or head, and take a photo with your camera.  Warning!  It ain’t free!  “Tree pictures for $12….”   Nope.

ST. THOMAS – FEB. 9

CUJAM friends Bob and Sue Cutler invited me to join them for this excursion off the ship, as Bob was familiar with St. Thomas.  As the three of us entered the town, after showing our passports and ship information, we began walking towards the Cable Ride, which would take us up the mountain that Bob felt we’d enjoy.  All along the way, we were shooing off taxi drivers wanting to take us somewhere.

On our way up the hill, past “Hooters” – just when we felt we were now clear of the taxi menagerie – we were approached by a friendly man, who asked if he could help us.  We began brushing him off, telling him in our friendliest way, that we were off to ride the cable car up the mountain, and then we would be getting a cab to Magens Beach.

Franco was very polite and helpful – pointing out that the cable car alone would cost us $21 each (U.S.D.) then we’d pay $8 on top of that for a one-way cab ride to Magan’s Beach.  He could offer us a much better deal – a guided historical tour of the town;  a trip up to the HIGHEST mountain (which was NOT the same mountain as the cable cars) AND he’d take us to Magan’s Beach, leave us there, and come and pick us back up for $24 USD each.  He seemed like a likeable, intelligent man, so we agreed that would be the best thing to do.  And we were very happy we did so.

He warned us, with a glint in his eye,  that we should listen to his historical “lecture” because he’d be testing us with some questions later on.  I told him that I had a question for him to answer first, and began to sing the melody of the jazz standard “St Thomas” as we drove.  He had no clue about the song – had never heard it before.  So, I guess it isn’t the theme song of the Island – likely just written by some jazz artist who was smitten by the place.

He took us past the landmarks in town, and halfway up the steep road leading up the mountain, he delivered us to Blackbeard’s Castle for a short look.  We weren’t charged entry to this historic site, as he was friends with the people who ran it.  We took photos of our ship, ‘way off in the distance, and the tour guide gave us the tale of Blackbeard, his reign of terror, and eventual demise.

 

The Valor from St. Thomas, Blackbeard’s Castle

 

 

Back in the cab, I was concerned that my prescription sunglasses had disappeared.  We looked all around the cab.  Nada.  I was a bit upset, thinking of the cost to replace them.  So when Franco dropped us off at the mountaintop Bazaar with incredible views of the turquoise Caribbean, my first stop was to find a new pair of sunglasses.  When I found a nice pair, I removed my hat to try them on, and VOILA!! There were my sunglasses sitting on my head beneath my hat.  Was I ever happy!

 

There were signs all over the Bazaar that it was famous for its banana daquiris – and even though it was before noon, Bob bought Sue and me one of those drinks.  Ohhhh my MY!!  Was it GOOOOD!  I wanted another one, but managed to discipline myself.  Meanwhile, Sue and I went looking for jewellery and clothing, while Bob searched out a Hawaiian shirt.  He put his daquiri down, in order to try on a shirt, and 3 minutes later – he found his drink was gone!  Someone just came and stole it.  The bartender was kind enough to give Bob another one at no charge.

 

Our tourguide, Franco, and the beautiful Caribbean behind us.

At the appointed 20 minute deadline, we met Franco in the parking lot, and he took us back downhill (Wow! Those ziggy roads are STEEP!!  Lucky they don’t have snow).

He dropped us off at Magan’s Beach, and we walked quite a way before finding a shady piece of beach to lay down our towels, backpacks and ukes.

I waded into the calm Caribbean a few times.  I was surprised the water wasn’t even as warm as the Y pool I’m so used to – but it was refreshing once we got used to it.  It was very enjoyable watching the pelicans swooping in for a dive, to catch their lunch.  They seemed to have no fear of the swimmers, and would land very close to some of them.

 

After a slice of pizza, more swimming, and singing a few songs with our ukes, our 2 hours were up, and we went in search of Franco.  We found his wife, who is also a cab driver, waiting for us, and she and Franco got us back to the ship in time to have a lunch, and a rest by the aft-pool.

I decided to finalize and pay for my bill (which contained my grande lattes, my pina colada, and my excursion on the Golden Eagle).  I lined up for over an hour to do this, only to find that it wasn’t really necessary (unless one had doubts about any charges).  After dinner that night, there was a printed itemized account of the expenses in everyone’s little mailbox outside our rooms, and these charges were automatically charged to the credit cards of each passenger.

Later that afternoon, the ukers grouped at our regular spot on the aft Lido deck, and many of us brought up our bottles of wine, or champagne from our rooms, to share with our fellow strummers.

We had our final dinner together, then went back to our cabins to pack up our suitcases, so they could be picked up, outside our rooms before midnite.  Cleared out shelves, closets and drawers, and packed them in the suitcase I had kept under my bed for the week.

Had to make sure I kept my gloves, hat, sneakers etc. for my carryon, so I could change into them at the airport, in preparation for the cold weather at home.

FINAL DAY – SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO:

I was wide awake at 6:30 am, and looked out my window to see we were now docked in San Juan.  The sun wasn’t quite up yet.

San Juan sunrise from 10th level

I got dressed in my layers, and went up to the Lido deck for the last time, to get some breakfast, and to scoff a croissant, some ham, cheese, pastries and a pear for my lunch.

Ate my breakfast, and made my lunch, and put it into the Ziploc baggies I had brought in my luggage.

Final View of near-empty Lodi deck on last day

Our itinerary told us we’d be disembarking around 8 a.m., and we had pre-booked an excursion for that morning in San Juan, beginning at 9 am,  as we had a few hours to kill before our plane left the airport.  This excursion was supposed to take us on a tour of the Baccardi rum factory, and a tour of historic San Juan.

We gathered in the lounge with our carryons and ukes, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It wasn’t until 10:15 that our group was finally called to disembark – there had been delays with other groups disembarking before us.

Then the lineups began.  We had to find our luggage, sitting under our group number sign in the terminal.  Thank God for the bright red bow on my suitcase handle.  That made mine easily identifiable.

Then another LONG lineup through US Customs.  By the time I got to the front, they examined my little customs form, on which I admitted freely to bringing food in – “Just my lunch” I said naively.  They put a big “A” on my form, and directed me to a separate interrogation room, where the customs lady examined my lunch and told me I would not be allowed to bring it into the country.  The pastries – they were OK.  But the ham, and the pear were definitely taboo!  So I stood there at around 11 a.m. and ate my lunch under the surveillance of the customs person.  Handed her my pear core to throw away, and I was cleared through to join my buddies, carrying my lunch conveniently in my gastrointestinal tract.

There was a bus awaiting us for our excursion, and since we were 2 hours late – we voted on a historic tour, rather than a trip to the rum factory.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and San Juan is a beautiful, clean city – with many historic forts and buildings.  We visited the Capitol Building – all marble everywhere.  Most beautiful.  We stopped in the center of town for lunch, and we were told to be back at the bus in one hour.  We wandered the narrow cobbled streets of the old part of town, and visited some mouldy little stores.  Some of us found a lovely little taverna on a side street, and I joined this group.  Since I’d eaten my “lunch” in customs, I opted instead for a Mojito.  (“When in Rome”…, said I).  I am a beer and wine-drinker, and don’t go too much for rum cocktails – but I have to say – this drink was NIRVANA!!  Loved the fresh mint and lime in the cocktail, and I’m so glad I finally could say “I know what’s in a Mojito”  MMMMM!

Final photo of the Corktown ukers with our guru and teacher, Manitoba Hal – in San Juan.

 

My beautiful Mojito in San Juan  

 

 

The bus took us to the airport for 1:30.  Our flight was to leave at 3:20.  CUTTING IT CLOSE!!!

Our line moved at a snail’s pace!  My big suitcase was weighed, and despite the fact that I had disposed of 3 years worth of Musicians, SOCAN, CAA and other magazines while on the cruise – it still weighed 49 pounds.  Yikes!

Once my bag was checked, I was directed “just around the corner” about a kilometer away, and proceeded to zig zag along with HUNDREDS of people needing to go through the security checks.  Around 3pm, I finally got to the head of the line – I could hear my plane was boarding, and I knew that a lot of my friends from our flight were ‘way back in the lineup behind me.

I was made to remove my sandals.  ????  Took off my hat, my fanny pack, my jacket, my backpack, my uke and put them on the tray for examination.  As I waited for my belongings to be spewed out of the Xray machine, it stopped.  Oh NOOOOOOOwuh!!!

The customs guy asked me if I was carrying knives.  KNIVES???  No  – I have NO idea what they saw in my backpack, but they removed it from the machine and began going through it, all the while, I’m hearing my flight was boarding, over the PA.

The lady found 2 bottles of water in my backpack, and told me I was not allowed to carry water “unless you’re diabetic”.  I told her I was.  So she went and tested the water, before giving it back to me, and letting me move onward.

I raced to the gate – another 2 kilometers away – and found it just as they were boarding my seat and row number.  My seatmate was ‘way back in line, and I still had to try and breathe deeply to calm myself, and put on my sox and sneakers, and a few layer things that would be difficult to put on once I was seated in the plane.  Do you know how hard it is to tie a pair of shoes when you’re under pressure, and people are waiting for you???

Boarded the plane, and was preassigned the BACK window seat.  My friend Jacquie followed in a few minutes – apparently a new line was opened to shuttle our flightmates through so they wouldn’t miss the flight.  Whew!

I decided to order my dinner on the plane, and knew exactly what I wanted.  HOWEVER, when you’re in the very back seat, and they start serving from the front of the plane – you take what’s left by the time they get to you.  I had a cold chicken wrap.  A large step down from the exquisite dinners we’d enjoyed during our week on the Valor.  Also, being at the back of the plane delayed us another half hour, as everyone deplaned.

We arrived right on time at Pearson airport, noting the snow that was covering the ground in Toronto. We donned our layers, gloves and scarfs from our carryons in order to await the taxi that would take us home.

Walking with Jacquie towards another customs lineup, J said her foot wasn’t feeling too good, and she was having trouble walking.  I told her I’d run ahead and get us a spot in the zig zag lineup, and she could join me at her leisure.  I kept checking behind me – no Jacquie.  How WEIRD!!  Finally, just as I was getting to the front of the line – Jacquie appears in a wheelchair, accompanied by a medic and a porter, who was taking care of her bags.  I was lucky enough to be called her “Companion” and we were zipped through the lineups, and waited to retrieve our checked luggage, all under the watchful eye of the porter and the medic.

We hailed a cab back to our neighbourhood – first stop was my house.  We had only HEARD of the worst snowstorm in 5 years when we were lazing on the ship.  We felt grateful not to have to deal with all that, as we basked in the tropical sun.  Well – reality must set in, and it bites sometimes!

In front of my house and driveway was a 3 foot windrow of a plowmound, and there was no easy access to my front door.  I was dressed in layers, but had my sneakers on.  I was so lucky the cab driver lifted my behemoth of a suitcase over the plowmound to my front door.  Waved goodbye to Jacquie, still in the cab.

Home at 10:30 pm.  First thing I had to do?  Don my gloves, hat, coat and boots and go out and shovel.

Welcome home!!!

There will be another ukulele cruise next year – plans are taking place now.  For further information, contact Donna or Harry Curtis at   http://ottawawest.cruiseholidays.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Message 2012

Here comes another Christmas!  The world didn’t end, as was predicted by the Mayan Calendar, and things are still chugging along in a relatively normal way.

Like most of you, this year I’ve experienced ups and downs;  disappointments and victories; sadness and happiness; loss and gain – a virtual roller coaster, as life often is.  By this time in my long life, not a lot surprises me, although great moments of joy are still sprinkled throughout my existence.  And more and more, I realize that change is inevitable.

The highlights of my year have been mostly musical – my birthday celebration in May with a great band comprised of old friends – Bill King, Russ Bosswell and Daniel Barnes at the Dominion on Queen was attended by a lot of friends and acquaintances.  I felt very honoured and blessed that so many showed up to offer their good wishes and enjoy our songs of the 60’s.

Enjoyed my annual performance with the Niagara Rhythm Section in Niagara on the Lake in May – it was a stellar evening, with a fantastic band backing me up. It was great to have Mary Ellen Moore with me that day – another lovely friend I’m so glad to have.  In the R&B field I’ve also showed my support for dear friends Robbie Rox and Cathy Young at the Black Swan, and at Virgil Scott’s celebrated “Musician’s New Years Eve” at the Hollywood on Queensway.

I fulfilled one of my “bucket list dreams” by performing a full evening of songs as a solo performer-guitarist at the Plein Air Artists’ Garden in July.   I love a challenge, and I worked hard to meet this one.  I am always far more comfortable with a band or fellow singers backing me up, providing me with the “wind beneath my wings”.  When you have to accompany yourself on an instrument, usually some of the aspects that go into the performance – confidence, technique, concentration, vocal power, instrumental accuracy are compromised when you put the two together.  I feel I did a decent job, and the people who were in the audience enjoyed it enough to stay in their seats while it rained on them.  Hopefully I’ll get to do it again in 2013 – it’s always fun to have something to work towards.  Maybe it’ll be easier the second time.  🙂

I had a wonderful jazz gig at the Homesmith Bar, backed by Mark Kieswetter, Jordan O’Connor and John MacMurchy.  Those gigs are few and far between.  It was 2 years ago when I last performed at the Homesmith – there are so many amazing singers and musicians in our talented Toronto music community – you’ve got to wait your turn.

On the home front – I got my main bathroom renovated, and it’s lookin’ mighty fine. Clean lines,  white and black.  No more tub!

I also traded in my beloved Suzuki Aereo for a more up to date Volkswagon Golf.  Bells and whistles – -I’m enjoying the remote locks, and the heated seats!

I have so many blessings – great friends; a wonderful son and daughter-in-law, and an adorable grandson Alex.  So far the health is good – with a few scares here and there.  That’s bound to happen when you get to be my age.  I also am blessed with a voice that still sings – and I’m thankful to be still adding it, along with my spirit to the Mighty Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, as I have been doing for nearly 40 years.

My house in Riverdale is still my haven – though with property taxes rising hugely, I hope I can remain here for a while longer.

Yes, there has also been sadness and loss, but I won’t dwell on that stuff in a Christmas letter.

I still awaken every morning with a song in my heart, and a prayer of thanks to the good Lord for such a wonderful life so chock full of blessings – my country Canada and my freedom as a woman;  my good friends and family;  the gift of music, and the good living it provided to me and my children;  my beautiful home and the health that allows me to still enjoy all of this.

I am looking forward to spending Christmas day with my son Gord, DIL Sara and grandson Alex.  And I look forward to 2013 – to playing my uke (on a cruise in February) and guitar, and doing more arrangements for the Ault Sisters, and raising my voice in song with the Mendelssohn Choir, and other bands.

I wish you all the very best of the season. And if you should feel a little sad – pick up a ukulele.  Instant serotonin!

Backing Up Babs

“Wow! That must be so exciting!” people exclaimed when I told them I was going to be backing up Barbra Streisand for her Toronto appearance at the Air Canada Centre.  I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of excitement – it was, after all, a job. And a “free” one at that!   I was one of 60 “peons” in the Mendelssohn Singers (a faction of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir), who would be backing up Babs.

We rehearsed the music to be sung in the finale, the night before the October 23nd concert.  During that rehearsal we were asked to sign a waiver that we would not speak to La Babs, or take any photos.  I could understand that to a point.  Barbra is known for being a very private person, and when she’s doing a number of shows, she deserves to have that privacy respected – at least for her voice’s sake.    We were given our schedule, and were told that we would be fed a dinner after the sound check, AND we would receive free tickets to watch the first half of the show. (Last year, when the Mendelssohn Singers were invited to back up Andrea Boccelli, we were served a sumptuous banquet backstage – complete with multi courses, and desserts).   To me,  free tix, free food, and a chance to play a miniscule part in this huge show, backing up one of the world’s most celebrated singers, was reward in itself.

On the day of the concert, it was rainy, and the 60 singers gathered outside the stage door at the ACC for our 3:30 call, while people from the stage crew came out, and regaled us with their pungent emissions from their cigarettes.  Many of us were wet, and coughing before we even began.  Finally we were herded into the bowels of the building, down some stairs, through a few doors, down a hall, up more stairs to a big square windowless “bunker” which would be our holding spot for the next half a day.  We found chairs, dumped our luggage, and waited for instructions, while our conductor made a chart of who should stand where, once we got onstage.  In about half an hour, we were herded back down the stairs to line up backstage in our assigned orders.  We were led to our spots – the area of the mammoth stage we were to be using was a horseshoe shaped “U” around the sides and back of the stage.  There were microphones placed every ten feet, around which 4 or 5 singers gathered in groups.   I was in one of the groups closest to the audience, and as we stood there awaiting our next instructions, I realized there were no chairs ANYWHERE for us to take while we were idle.   I figured I (with my bad back) could take the standing for about 15 minutes max.  After rehearsing our rather classy, choreographed entrance a couple of times,  Barbra entered the stage, and we rehearsed with the orchestra, the two songs we’d be singing with her – “Make Your Garden Grow” by Bernstein, and “There’s a Place For Us”.  Barbra was about half a block away from me, as I stood onstage.  That’s about as close as I ever got!  The rehearsal and soundcheck took 1 hour and 15 minutes, and my back was not happy (at one point, I sat on the floor in lotus position, which helped a bit.)

Back to our bunker, to behold stacks of pizza boxes on the tables,  a couple of bowls of salad, some dressing, and some bananas, apples and oranges.  THAT was our free food, and it was most disappointing.  Pizza was cold, not quite enough to go around.  By the time we finished our repast it was 6 o’clock – 2 more hours until the show started, and we were not allowed to leave the room, or the ACC.  Some people read, some yakked, some did puzzles, some napped.  It was a long 2 hours.

Finally it was time to take our tix, and find our seats for the first half of the show, up in the 300’s – the nosebleed section.  Until you turn around and face the stage, you have no idea how high you are until you get to your seat.  My friend, who I sing beside, began to freak out because of the height – it felt like it was straight down from where we were sitting.  She ended up having to leave because of her vertigo – and was led down backwards by one of our kind tenors – and she missed the show.  My seat was the most uncomfortable seat I’ve ever sat on.  With legs bent to a perfect right angle, knees directly over ankles – the toes of my shoes were jammed against the seat in front of me, and the only way to get comfortable was to splay the knees in a most “unladylike fashion”  into my neighbour’s territory – so we were playing kneezies throughout the first half of the concert.

All that discomfort disappeared, however, once Barbra entered the stage to a roaring full, adoring house!  She had us in the palm of her hands the minute she began her songs.  We were directly above stage right, so the pulldown screens, which were magnifying her face to the audience, were viewed by us from behind.  Any printing on the screen was backwards.  But we could clearly see her teleprompter, which rolled out the words for her intros and between songs “schtick”.  Her voice was a tiny bit husky on the top notes – I believe she was dealing with the effects of a cold.  But she carried it all through in a most beautiful manner. I felt so privileged to hear her stories about Marvin Hamlish and their great friendship, and to hear her sing some of my favourite tunes like “The Way We Were” and others, that I used to sing when I was singing with a Society Band.

Leaving the nosebleed section at the end of the first half, was an exercise in frustration, as a bunch of us from the choir, tried to find our way back to our bunker. We went through a few “Spinal Tap” moments as we tried to find our direction – weaving amongst the crowd of patrons, sometimes running into the same people, the same elevators – the wrong ones.  Finally, we did find our way to our room, and en masse, changed into our gowns and tuxes – all together in the same room.  Who cares if the guys see you in your underwear?  Gotta do whatcha gotta do!

After more sitting around in the bunker, we were finally led to line up at the entrance to the stage.  We could hear Babs singing one of my favourite songs (which I happen to sing myself) “Here’s to Life”, before we made our grand entry!  “Here’s to Life” always makes me verklempt – so I walked to my place in front of our mic, with a few tears trying to dry in my eyes.  After some talk, some thankyous – and a special moment where she thanked “The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir” for backing her (and made a gesture that indicated she admired our dresses with the white stripe across the top) – the orchestra fired up on “Make Your Garden Grow” and we sang our part.  We couldn’t really hear ourselves, and don’t know how we sounded (except listening back on Youtube the next day – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKlwSAQbt64&playnext=1&list=PL-idGcVAYBqTnUn_heAjP0588XN35KOWG&feature=results_video ).  We sang the finale – then made our exit – 5.5 minutes was the length of our moment of fame.

Back to the bunker to change quickly, and try to avoid the mobs racing for the subway.

I’m glad I was part of it – there were some lovely moments.  But “exciting”?  Nah.  It was really just another gig (with no pay involved).  🙂

 

 

2012

NEW SONGS:  Wrote Happy New Year for my CUJAM ukies, and got them singing it with me the first Wednesday back after the Christmas break.   Co-wrote a song with Ilana WaldstonThe Whatchamahoozit Blues.  Ilana is a lot of fun, with some zany lyrical ideas.  I crafted the music and arrangement and a lot of the lyrics.  Lost in Rosedale was written after my one-woman show in July, when I got rained upon very badly on the way home.  Cut through Rosedale to get back home, and got very VERY lost as I drove around for nearly 30 minutes until I found someone who could let me know how to escape the vortex.  Check it out:  Lost in Rosedale (cut#7)  .  If you scroll further down, you’ll find The Whatchamahoozit Blues with me singing it.

SOLO PERFORMANCES:  Winterfolk – I performed in a Song Circle with fellow songwriters from Songwriters Unite during Winterfolk – this year for the first time at the Delta-Chelsea Inn.

Guested with the Uptown Swing Band at the Gallery Cafe in Etobicoke – fun getting back to my “big band chick singer” roots.

Debbie fronts the Uptown Swing Band at the Gallery Cafe in Etobicoke. Photo: Gordon Deeks

Wailing away on some great R&B song with Bill King, Daniel Barnes, Russ Bosswell at the Dominion on Queen. May 2012

 

Songs of the 60’s at Dominion on Queen:  Performed songs by Bachrach/David; Ray Charles  and many more – with the able backing of the great Bill King on keys, Russ Bosswell on bass and Daniel Barnes on drums.  Betty Richardson, Colina Phillips and Mary Ellen Moore got up to do BG’s in Aretha’s “Respect” and brought the house down!!  What a wonderful gig this was – so many people came out to hear some good music, and wish me a happy birthday in May.

Debbie sings with the Niagara Rhythm Section on May 19, 2012 – with Steve Grisbrook, Penner McKay and Sandra Marynissen on percussion, David Norris on drums, Steve Goldberger on bass, and Rodger Niznik on keys.

 

 

Niagara Rhythm Section, May 19th:  Guested with this fabulous band at The Old Winery, and we rocked our tushies off!  One of the best nights yet with this ensemble!

Songs That Got Me Here:  I performed solo with my guitar and uke at the beautiful Artists’

It was a rainy night for Debbie’s first one-woman show at The Artists’ Garden, for the Plein Air series. Sam Broverman sits onstage under the canopy, and Al Mair sits in the front row under a brolly.

Garden run by Susan Brown.  I was part of the Plein Air series, and performed everything from Elvis to my own songs.  Singing and playing by yourself without a band is very different from what I’m used to – but something to continue honing!   It was a rainy night, but my audience sat under brollies, or onstage with me until the bitter end.  As we packed up – God decided to let’er rip, and the rain came down in buckets thereafter.  And THAT is when I got lost in Rosedale on the way home.

 

 

Terry Kelly and Debbie in the control room at Millstream – just after recording the BG’s for Terry’s wonderful CD, containing beautiful songs in the theme of war.

RECORDINGS:  Sang backup vocals on Terry Kelly’s new recording project, produced by Paul Mills at The Millstream.

 

JAMGRIA – A new open-mic Jam has opened in the east end of Toronto, helmed by Pat Murray, and featuring a stellar trio of musicians every week, ready to back up any singer or instrumentalist who wants to sit in.  Here’s a photo Bill Taylor  took of me on the first night of this great jam.

Debbie sings on the first Jamgria evening, backed by Artie Roth and Mark Kieswetter(unshown).

The Last Three Years – 2009 – 2011

2011

JAZZ AT TEN FEET TALL: Sang a couple of Jazz gigs with Bruce Harvey and Jack McFadden at this charming east-end Toronto bistro, run by Carin Redmon and Andy.  TFT had a jazz policy, that supported jazz music and musicians for nearly 10 years.  Just before my third gig there, it closed down, much to the sorrow of Toronto’s jazz community.

Bruce Harvey, Jack McFadden and Debbie perform at this beautiful homey welcoming bistro, Ten Feet Tall, run by Carin Redmon.

SONGS OF THE 60’S:  Performed my first “Songs of the 60’s” show at the Dominion on Queen with Bruce Harvey and Russ Bosswell in November ’11. The place was packed! It seems a lot of people want to hear well written songs from that era – written by great writers like Bachrach and David, and sung by singers like Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Petula Clark  and many more.

 

 

EDO SUSHI:  Sang my jazz songs at this lovely restaurant on Eglinton W. with Tony Quarrington and Jack McFadden.  It was a lovely, quiet gig, and the food they provided for us was terrific!

 

 

LIVE BACKUP VOCALS:  Sang BG’s for Rob Young at Hugh’s Room, and for BettyRichardson as well.    Also sang backups at the Westben Festival, for Rodney Brown.

Paul Mills (Curly Boy Stubbs) band leader of the Rodney Brown concert at Westben.

GUEST APPEARANCES:  Debbie was honoured to be invited to sing at a special concert honouring Canadian

Deb was honoured to be the one drop of estrogen among this stellar lineup of musicians, honouring Rob Rox

Icon, Robbie Rox.  This concert, hosted by Bob Segarini, took place at the Black Swan in Toronto. Here’s a Youtube video of me singing When A Man Loves A Woman   with the great band including Michael Fonfara on keys, and Terry Blersh on Guitar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldmphlR-uPc

RECORDINGS:  Sang backups for the new Rob Young CD, produced by Paul Mills at the Millstream.  Sang and arranged backup vocals for Sam Broverman’s sensational CD project containing all Johnny Mercer tunes, and produced by Ken Whitely.  Lots of horns and swinging big band material on this project, and Sam sings it all so sweetly!

ARRANGEMENTS:  More vocal and instrumental arranging for The Ault Sisters.  Some for Joe Sealy.  One for the Satin Dolls.

HAMPTON AVENUE-4:  Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell, Tom Lillington and I – better known as the Hampton 4 – were invited by the Green Door Cabaret Theatre, to put on a show of our Christmas material in December.  It was fun to get back to our slick harmonies and Christmas songs – but on the day of the gig, Suba had laryngitis and pneumonia, and was flying at half-mast.  We did our best for the appreciative audience that showed up, and hope they understood that sickness was marring our performance just a tad.  Suba’s beautiful smile held it all together for everyone, and we got through it!  The Hampton 4 also performed Christmas songs at the Rotary Club luncheon at the Royal York Hotel, and did our wandering Carolling gigs at First Canadian Place. Check out our version of my song Christmas (W)rapping:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNpdy5RSnvw

THE MENDELSSOHN CHOIR:  After a good audition in June, I was accepted back into the choir – but as a second Soprano.  This did not make me happy, as I can still hit the high C’s with the best of ’em – without sounds of strain, or wobble.  After a second audition to see if I could still remain a first soprano – Noel Edison declared he feels my sound is better for the seconds.  That’s the place I always feel the old cows are put to pasture.  However, sitting beside Jennifer Taverner and Cher Farrell– both Elora Festival professional singers – made it far more palatable.  I guess I’m lucky to still be in the choir.

This year we sang Bach’s St. John Passion at Koerner Hall; Mozart’s Mass in C;  Mozart’s Requiem at the Elora FestivalWalton’s Henry V with TSOBrahm’s German Requiem at Koerner Hall, and of course the Messiah.  We also did our Festival of Carols, and our Songs for a Sacred Space – performed in the St. Paul’s Basillica on Power St. on Good Friday.   I still love the the lofty experience of singing all these magnificent works with this magnificent choir, and the gestalt that happens when 160 voices are singing together.  Can’t be BEAT!

– 2010

NEW YEARS EVE: Performed my first New Years Eve gig in many years in Port Elgin Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron.  Jack McFadden led the band, which also included Bob McLaren on drums, John MacMurchy on Sax and Ted Gibbons on Guitar.  We had a wonderful time entertaining the New Years revellers for their dining and dancing pleasure.

CHOIRGIRLZ performed at Winterfolk on the Danforth in February.  Their final concert was at Plein Air in July – where they performed to a sold out crowd of fans and friends who love their harmonies and quirky songs!

ChoirGirlz at the Willow during Winterfolk, 2010

Debbie sings with Bruce Harvey and Jack McFadden at the beautiful Homesmith Bar at the Old Mill.

 

JAZZ GIGS:  I performed with Bruce Harvey and Jack McFadden at the Homesmith Bar at the Old Mill on March 19th.  Here’s Our Love Is Here to Stay from that evening.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpaXgHEPYYs

 

 

THE GALPALZ:  Briar Boake approached me about forming a duo – and performing an upbeat repertoire of oldies in Retirement residences. Since Briar is a fine uke player, and I’m ok on guitar – we worked it out.  We got a few gigs and went over very well with our audiences.  It was fun – with costume changes, and new songs.  Briar was great to work with.  Unfortunately with all the schlepping of gear and PA, with very small financial return, we didn’t continue after about a year.

Briar Boake and Debbie Fleming (The Galpalz) entertain the residents of Humber Heights on New Years Eve

 

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with the Vancouver Bach Choir in Vancouver – rehearsing Mahler’s 8th (Symphony of a Thousand) with the Vancouver Symphony during the Pre-Olympic ceremonies.

THE MENDELSSOHN CHOIR:  Still in the Soprano 1 section, though our director seems to doubt that someone of my age should be able to hit the high C’s clearly and strongly.  We went to Vancouver in January for the Pre-Olympic festivities.  We performed under the baton of Bramwell Tovey while performing Mahler’s 8th – Symphony of a Thousand.  Upon our return to Toronto, we performed The Verdi Requiem two weeks later with the TSO.   We did “Last Night of the Proms” with Bramwell Tovey – this year, with a “Kate and Wills” theme – here I am with my homemade “fascinator”.

Fascinating Debbie and her homemade fascinator, fashioned for Last Night of the Proms.

In November – another favourite of mine – Janacek Glagolithic Mass, and of course, the Messiah.  TMC is now performing at the spiffy new Koerner Hall – a gorgeous acoustic space for us!

BACKUP VOCALS:Sang backup vocals for the wonderful Betty Richardson at Hugh’s Room in November.

Debbie rocks it out with the fabulous Niagara Rhythm section-Steve Grisbrook on guitar, Penner McKay on percussion, David Norris on drums and Rodger Niznik on keys.

  R&B:  Did my yearly stint with the Niagara Rhythm Section in May, and twice guested with Robbie Lane and the Disciples as guest singer.  Please check out my version of  Proud Mary, as sung with Robbie Lane and the gang.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT-XcAfbugI

FIRST ONE-WOMAN SHOW: Performed my first one-woman show – entitled “Coming of Age in Etobicoke”.  It was a house concert, and very well attended.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, and eagerly asked me to write a sequel to the ongoing story.

CUJAM:  Still playing that uke nearly every Wednesday night at the Dominion on Queen. Here I am singing Dream a Little Dream of me, mistakes and all!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd2pFOlcjWQ

 

THE AULT SISTERS: Did a few vocal arrangements for this talented trio of young sisters – very enjoyable project.

2009:

Switched to Logic 8 – much better and less glitchy than Logic 4.5.  Makes chart writing and song recording much easier!

The St. Paul’s Choir, under the direction of Eric Robertson (top left) just before Eric was fired.

ST. PAUL’S CHOIR:  Resigned my position as Alto lead in the choir at St. Paul’s Bloor Street.      Politics within the church hierarchy, tainted my spiritual journey, when our beloved organist/director (and former R&B and recording studio associate) Eric Robertson was fired.

CHOIRGIRLZ   had a banner year.  Appeared at Winterfolk, The Wellington County Library

Mary Ellen Moore, Wendell Ferguson, Debbie Fleming and Dorothy McDonall – ChoirGirlz with Wendell Ferguson at Summerfest 09.

in Harriston,  Toronto Taste, Beaverton’s 125th Centenary celebration, Plein Air and Summerfolk. 

MENDELSSOHN CHOIR:   Performed  Berlioz Damnation of Faust in February;  Mendelssohn Elijah, the Proms;  Berlioz Requiem and Carmina Banana at the Elora FestivalIsrael in Egypt at the new Koerner Hall;  Britten’s War Requiem; and of course the Messiah.

The Debbie Fleming Trio plays at Trane Studio in Toronto – featuing Bruce Harvey on piano, and Jack McFadden on bass.

SOLO PERFORMANCES AT: Winterfolk,  Statlers Cabaret, and at the Anchorage in NOTL with The Niagara Rhythm Section, and at Trane Studio with her jazz trio.

 

BIG VOICE TV, WITH ELAINE OVERHOLT:  Arranged a chart for The Fawcett Sisters, and helped to coach them for their appearance on the show, which featured Carol Fawcett coming into her own, under the guidance of Elaine.

STAR WARS  at the Air Canada Centre:  Sang in a choir assembled by Susan Suchard.  We were accompanied by an orchestra from Britain, and I met and conversed with  emcee Anthony Daniels – the original C3PO from the Star Wars movie.

ANDREA BOCCELLI  at the AIR CANADA CENTER:  Sang backups for Andrea  in a choir made up of members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.  It was lovely to reunite and chat with David Foster, who was accompanying Andrea.

RECORDING PROJECT:  During the slow days of summer, I compiled a children’s CD/DVD for my grandchildren Sadie and Benson. I recorded some familar and some original songs as Gramma-Lama-Ding-Dong, and added the songs, and photos of the children to a DVD entitled “Special Times”.  It was a favourite Christmas gift.

UKULELE:  I began attending CUJAM – (Corktown Uke Jam) and learning to play ukulele in July of this year.  David Newland, and Steve McNie run this very entertaining and educational evening every Wednesday at the Dominion on Queen in Toronto.  I LOVE my uke!

 

Make Lemonade – performances by choirs everywhere!

Make Lemonade, written and arranged by Debbie Fleming is being performed by choirs all around the world.  Check out some of these Youtube offerings:

Hampton Avenue

Sheldon-Williams End of Year Concert

Halcyon Chamber Choir

Siyacula Youth Choir

Ecco with SonoLux

The ChoirGirlz Journey – Start to Finish

Back in 2001 when Dorothy McDonall, Mary Ellen Moore and I were singing soprano with the famed Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, we became friends, and ultimately decided to get together to learn some songs we bonded with from the “O Brother Where Art Thou” sound track – a movie we loved, and which gave us inspiration. We began rehearsing on Monday evenings in the summer – the night usually reserved for the choir during the year – just so we could continue our friendship, and explore uncharted musical territory!

We were all learning something new – I was learning to play guitar; Mary Ellen and Dorothy were learning to sing challenging harmonies, and we embarked on a journey together, that at first had modest and realistic goals which we set for ourselves. Our first “gig” was a house concert at my place, where we performed 12 songs we slaved over during 8 rehearsals, for our good friends from the Mendelssohn Choir. We felt, after that trial by fire (It was indeed a HOT summer night), that we should try and secure some gigs at retirement homes every few months.

Enter Peter Occhipinti – a guitarist from the famed jazz family in Toronto, I hired to paint my house. Peter heard ChoirGirlz rehearsing one night, while he was painting my powder room, and invited us to perform at a community event he co-ordinated in Scarborough. We jumped at the chance, and prepared even more new material, and seemed to go over well with the audience. Around the same time, 9/11/01 occurred, and I began writing songs for the ChoirGirlz to sing, inspired by the impact of these events.

Our Friday night rehearsals became etched in our calendars, and something we really looked forward to at the end of a busy week. We always began by sharing stories of our week – our frustrations, our joys – and our friendship grew deep as we each learned a lot from each other on how to deal with STUFF. After “Thai-ing One On” with delivered dinner, we’d work on new songs and familiar ones – and as we got better as musicians, I was inspired to write a lot of songs for us to learn. As my guitar playing got better – I opened myself up to learning more complicated chords that included more jazzy colours, and the vocal harmonies followed suit!

Our first recording of mostly original songs, was done in my little studio – vocals done in my living room, and mixing and mastering done out in Mississauga with dear friend, the late David Norris-Elye, who helped to put a bit of a professional “ping” to our sound. Our CD release that year was at Hugh’s Room, and we had a lot of good support from friends and family that night. We also met Greg King – http://www.gregking.ca – photographer extraordinaire – who took us under his wing, and came to nearly every show we performed from then on, and took fantastic pix of our journey. If you go to his website – you’ll find a page under my name – Debbie Fleming – and there are pages of Choirgirlz concerts to view.

We’d try and put on some sort of “show” every 2 months or so – to keep our material fresh, and find incentive to do new material. We became members of the OCFF, and attended the OCFF conferences in Ottawa every year – doing “Girlzilla Showcases” of our own – setting ourselves up in the halls of the hotel, and serenading people with our songs as they walked by, or joined in. We had many laughs, and met many fantastic people in the folk community through those conferences. The Good Lovelies, who are now Juno and Folk awards winners – found ChoirGirlz to be one of their inspirations as they were starting out – and we had planned to put a show together called “Songs of Bitches”, but life got in the way, and the show never happened. At one of those conferences, however, we met and jammed with John Jackson and Steve-Paul Simms, and had such a ball together – we ended up doing a show together at Gate 403.

From our yearly gigs at Free Times Cafe, Plein Air Salon (where we will do our final show July 7, 2010); to the ultimate peaks of our professional association -performing at Summerfolk and Winterfolk – we have had an incredibly rich journey in our 9 years together. We have released three recordings of our songs – each of us has contributed to the writing of our material. We’ve learned to be not only singers, but entertainers – and people who come to see our shows always end up leaving with a smile on their face, and a lighter step.

But as with everything – Change Gonna Come – and in order to stay viable and alive in this sometimes cruel music business – Change GOTTA Come – or you lose your audience. People who come out to live shows understandably want to hear new material, and have a new experience whenever they go and hear groups like ChoirGirlz. Yes, we have our original songs that we’ve recorded, that we feel we must perform at every concert we do. Some songs are a must – like audience favourites Angel Wings (written by Mary Ellen) and Vacuum Cleaner Tango (by moi) – but the demand for new material has become a demand that we can no longer easily accommodate.

Learning a new song involves a lot of practise and homework – learning vocal parts, getting guitar chords smoothly under the fingers, and more recently – -bringing in the new instrumental sounds of ukuleles as an extra colouring for my guitar accompaniment. I must confess, adding ukuleles to our sound was my idea of bringing our sound up a notch, and both Dorothy and Mary Ellen found a new love in being able to make their own accompaniment with these sweet little instruments. That being said – in order to impliment the new sound – there would have to be more effort put into practising, so we could keep our beautiful vocal harmonies, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, playing uke. Not as easy as it looks. Unfortunately, Mary Ellen is performing the work of two people at her very demanding day job as a church accountant, and understandably, when evening comes, she has time only to eat and sleep. Dorothy is very busy with her writing, with her horse, her volunteerism, her involvement in her Chadora Club – not to mention the increasingly difficult journey from Aurora to Toronto in order to rehearse weekly – no time to practise.

We mutually decided that we’ve far surpassed where we originally intended to travel on this journey together. We’ve had some fantastic times together, laughter, tears, great songs, fabulous harmonies – and each of us has learned a whole lot. We decided we’ve “Gone about as far as we can go” in the present circumstances. We realize that it’s far too difficult an effort to continue to expand, grow, promote, publicize and face the frustration of dwindling audiences, with our schedules as busy as they are.

We look forward to singing some of our favourite songs for you at our Plein Air Salon concert – and hope the weather will be good for this lovely outdoor rain-or-shine concert. If it rains – well – I guess the universe will be crying just a small tear for the end of the ChoirGirlz most AMAZING journey. Hope to see you there. Check out http://www.choirgirlz.com for details.

ChoirGirlz, Plein Air,

Niagara Rhythm Section

For the past 5 years, around May, I travel to Niagara on the Lake to work with the award winning Niagara Rhythm Section led by Steve Goldberger.  The band is made up of Mr. Goldberger on bass and vocals, Steve Grisbrook on guitar, Penner MacKay and Sandra Marynissen on percussion, Dave Norris on drums and either Roger Nyznik, Denis Keldie or Herb Nelson on keys.

What BAND!  They get their groove on every time!  They were playing for years at the Anchorage, and later, Corks – and are now playing at the Old Winery Restaurant in Niagara On The Lake every Saturday evening with special guests!  I’m very privileged to be one of those special guests.

It’s always little bit of heaven for me to “loosen up the belt” on my favourite R&B standards for two long sets.  It’s quite a fun adventure using my big voice once again, since I’ve been used to mostly “blendy” group singing and sweet jazz for so long.   I love to get the audience grooving, and dancing their faces off.  Can’t wait ’til next year!

MOVING DAY – Moving elderly parents to Assisted Living

It seems 2007 was a blur of activity for me — not necessarily in the music area — but busy enough that I didn’t have the chance to do needed phoning and booking of gigs for my jazz trio or ChoirGirlz.  I was doing what a lot of people of our age-bracket are doing — moving my parents out of their home of 60 years, and into retirement care.   It was quite the journey, going through dusty memorabilia dating back years and years.  Good Will became my new best friend, and I became the Queen of Schlepping for a number of months.  Thanks to an expert in the field of Elder care, Ms. Pat Irwin, with whom I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the move itself was smoothly implimented.  Visit her website at www.eldercarecanada.ca to find out more helpful information.  I wrote and recorded a song about the experience which you can click on.  It’s entitled Moving Day.

CHOIRGIRLZ EARTH HOUR CONCERT, MARCH 29TH 08

Earth Hour Lights Out at Trane Studio


SATURDAY MARCH 29TH, 2008

Trane Studio

964 Bathurst St. (just south of Dupont, West side)

Shows:  8 pm and 9:45

Admission:  $10

Excellent food!  Reservations recommended

Phone: 416.913.8197

Hosted by ChoirGirlz, and featuring Crabtree-Mills, Rosemary Phelan and Peter Verity.

Saturday March 29th was designated as Earth Hour throughout the world, and in order to do our very small part to conserve the rapidly depleting energy sources of our planet, we were all asked to simply turn off our lights between 8 and 9 pm on March 29th.  On 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney’s energy consumption by 10.2% for one hour, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road for one hour.

At Trane Studio, I assembled a stellar group of singer-songwriters to provide entertainment for this concert, where we all performed acoustically, with no PA, while our audience dined on great food, to the soft light of candles.
It was like a campfire — we were lit with battery operated lanterns, and we invited the SRO audience to sing along with our Earth Hour song.

Interesting how quiet an audience is when they’re not bombarded with the amped up sounds blasting from the stage.

ChoirGirlz got a large photo in The Toronto Star, advertising their successful Earth Hour show at Trane Studio

Listen to our version of  The Earth Hour Song– written to teach people how to conserve the energy we use (on our CD “Livin’ It)

SONG FOR THE DOCTOR, AND DOUG RILEY MEMORIAL CONCERT:

                       September 2007 – In Memory of a wonderful man, and musical genius – by Debbie Fleming

Doug Riley, ueber-talented keyboardist from Toronto, passed on suddenly Aug.27, 2007 at the age of 62.  He set the bar so high! Excelling in R&B, jazz, classical, blues — playing Hammond B3 and piano — it will be very difficult for anyone to come close to his genius.   My association with Doug was a long one, having recorded hundreds of commercial jingles and recording sessions under his guidance.  I like to say that owning my house is thanks to Doug Riley (and Trudel Productions, for whom Doug plied his talents).  The hole that is left in all our hearts and souls, now that Doug is gone, is huge, and we are all grieving, and missing him so.

Two days after Doug died, while carrying him around in my heart and soul every waking minute, the chorus of a song came to me. By the end of the day, I had written a song for Doug, called “Song For the Doctor”.  I sang it for some of my friends, and we all agreed we had to record it in Doug’s memory.  The response was nothing short of mind-boggling.

The recording of the song took place on September 23rd at Phase One Studios.  With everyone, including the studio, donating their time, and Lou Pomanti at the helm as MD, we had 43 singers, 12 musicians and a very helpful number of people looking after catering, photography, video, and making sure everyone was taken care of.  By the end of an 11 hour day, we had it all in the can.
   Gary Gray  mixed it,  Charlie Gray mastered it and Accudub manufactured it.

We were so privileged that singers such as Jackie Richardson, Dione Taylor, Sharon Lee Williams, Shawne Jackson, Colina Phillips, Cal Dodd, Wayne St. John, Roy Kenner, George Olliver, John Finley, Molly Johnson, Danny B were there to add their voices to the rest of the choir.  All singers had worked with Doug over the years either in the studio, or on live gigs.  It was an amazing feeling among all of us, both vocally and spiritually,  and that translated to the recording, which was sold at the Memorial Concert in November.  The artwork was beautifully designed by Juno award winner, Michael Wrycraft — an 8 panel tribute in words and photos to Doug Riley.

 

Concert Details:
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18th, 2007
4.pm A CELEBRATION CONCERT IN HONOUR OF DOUG RILEY

 (A musical benefit for the Doug Riley Scholarship Fund
in association with the Faculty of Music,
University of Toronto)

CONVOCATION  HALL,   31 Kings College Circle    
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

Soloists:   David Clayton-Thomas,  Cal Dodd,  Dione Taylor,
 Courtney Farquhar,  Danny B. &  Michael Burgess

Featuring voices of:
 Sharon Lee Williams,  Shawne Jackson,  Colina Phillips,
     Brenda Russell,  Jackie Richardson, Betty Richardson, Kim Richardson,    Sheree Jeacocke,
  Debbie Fleming,  Lynne Deragon,   Neil  Donell,  
Roy Kenner,  Wayne St. John,    Steve Kennedy and a choir of close to 40 handpicked singers, all of whom are singing on the recording “Song For the Doctor”  You will see Debbie’s Song For The Doctor around 4’17”.

Doug Riley Memorial Concert Part 3

The concert featured a  Classical Section,   Famous People Players,
 A Jazz Segment, featuring Don Thompson, Phil Dwyer, Guido Basso,
Mike Murley, Ted Quinlan and many others.  
A Doctor Music Section,  A Motherlode section,   A Gospel section,
An R & B section with Bernie LaBarge,
 David Clayton-Thomas and his band with Bruce Cassidy and Lou Pomanti,   Planet Earth With Ben Riley
.   Jesse Riley  provided a spectacular Police Honour Guard during the Concert.

_________________________________________________________

 

During this concert, Song For The Doctor was performed as the grand finale to the show, with the full monte of singers and horns, as it was recorded. The CD single of the song was sold during intermission and after the show.  All proceeds for the sale of this song  go towards The Doug Riley Scholarship Fund through the U of T Faculty of Music.   Song For the Doctor may be purchased through our shopping cart .

Song For The Doctor, CD Single, written by Debbie Fleming

Singers and Musicians – Toronto’s Elite – who played on this CD are all together at Phase One Studios.

Back to R& B roots!!
 Troiano Tribute

On May 15, 2008, I was privileged to have been invited to sing as a guest artist at the Third Annual Tribute to Domenic Troiano – a fundraiser for the Toronto East General Hospital, taking place at the glorious on Toronto’s Lakeshore. The night was a perfect spring night – the moon on Lake Ontario was breathtaking, and reconnecting with friends from the music business was such a pleasure. The Lincolns, led by Prakash John and fronted by Steven Ambrose,  provided a dance set for the audience, and the dancefloor was crowded to the max.  What a band!

Last year at the same function, I saw and chatted with Doug Riley for what was to be the last time, so there was a little bitter-sweet involved. I decided to sing “This Little Light of Mine” to honour the bright light always shining from Domenic Troiano and other great musicians such as Doug Riley, Oscar Peterson and Jeff Healey when they were still with us.  In the band, led by guitarist-extraordinaire Bernie LaBarge, were Grant Slater on keys, Rob Gusevs on Hammond B3, Paul Delong on drums and Howard Ayee on bass.  Backing me up in the vocal department were Sharon Lee Williams, Shawne Jackson, Colina Phillips, Lynne Deragon and my dear friend B. J. Cook.  
You can check out my performance on YouTube

Sentimental Songs Contest

DATE:  Feb. 17, 2008

TRANZAC CLUB

ADDRESS:  292 Brunswick Ave.,
(south off Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina)

in the beautiful city of Toronto Canada

TIME:  7:30


Murphy’s Law:  With ten entrants in this “mawkish” song contest, that has gone on for at least 10 years, under the auspices of the Flying Cloud Folk Club, I performed my song “Summer in the City”.  It was a ditty I wrote out of frustration with the renovations surrounding me a few years back.  My philosophy has always been “Make Lemonade” (another of my songs!), and instead of allowing myself to go quite mad with the barrage of noise, dirt and disorder surrounding me daily,  I wrote my song.  Since I was told this “Sentimental Song Contest” was supposed to be with a wry and mawkish undercurrent, I figured I’d perform this “cathart” tune – without the help of my ChoirGirlz, as both were busy that night.  I didn’t care if I won the prize — I am a beer and wine girl, NOT scotch (which was to be the prize, along with a box of Kleenex — very symbolic).  Being a “Sentimental Songs Virgin” — I knew not what to expect, and just wanted to be there to enjoy the songs that other people brought to the table.  I sang my song.  I heard some really fun ones — David Newland played his uke, and sang about crying in the rain.  I heard a song about unrequited love between a lobster and a crab, and about yearning for Charlotte (which I figured would win). Stewart sang an old song about a dog “Old Shep” — I remember Elvis singing this years ago.   When the winner was announced, I was totally aghast that my song “Summer in the City” was the winner of the night.  I think when you go into something not even THINKING of winning, and not really knowing what you’re doing — the chances of winning are quite high.  (Like the time I first joined the Musician’s Curling League in the ’80’s, and we all shot a rock for the chance to win a turkey — because I had NO experience or technique in curling, and not a hope in H*%^llof winning — I shot one of the closest rocks in the competition, and walked home with a turkey for our Christmas dinner that year.   The next year – when I knew a bit more about what I was doing — NOT EVEN CLOSE. )  I guess you win when you’re relaxed and have no expectations.  Now I have this GOOD bottle of scotch.  Hmmm.

Deb’s Still At It!

January 2007

Well folks, last year was a very busy year in my life.  The JAZZ part of me did a few gigs with my band — Orleans Newmarket, Gate 403 and the revered Montreal Bistro.  Just a few weeks after I appeared there with my band – Bruce Harvey, Jack McFadden, Donnie Vickery  and  John MacMurchy the favourite Jazz room in the city of Toronto closed its doors for good.  Although there are still a few small places in Toronto for jazz musicians to play, there was nowhere like the Montreal Bistro — where the  grand piano was always tuned, the food was amazing, and there was a “no talking” policy while the musicians played and the singers sang.  Can’t get more special than that.  We are still mourning the loss, and hope that Lothar and Brigitte Lang will be opening another venue soon in Toronto.

The CHOIRGIRLZ part of me took up about 75% of the year – arranging and co-producing our second CD entitled “Girl Time” during the summer.

Mary Ellen, Dorothy and I during photo shoot for our 2nd CD “Girl Time”

 It’s an album we are all proud of, and it features the swingin’ Bebop Cowboys backing us up.  The band is led by Steve Briggs on guitar and mandolins, the co-producer of the “Girl Time” CD, and incidentally – -my guitar teacher.  In the band along with Steve, are John Adames on drums, Victor Bateman on upright bass, Burke Carroll on steel and dobro, Denis Keldie on Accordian, the totally amazing Drew Jurecka on fiddle and Duncan Fremlin on banjo.  Produced at Soundhole Studios owned by uber-talented   Ray Montford, it all fell together like clockwork.  The CD may be ordered and listened to via the ChoirGirlz website.   Choirgirlz have done a lot of performing as a result of the new recording, and we’re reaching  ever wider circles of appreciative fans .

Steve Briggs at Soundhole

Steve Briggs, co-producer of Girl Time, takes a sunny moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GREG KING has a slew of great photoz he’s taken of both me, and Choirgirlz — we even have a special page on his website.  Go to gregking‘s website  to check out the talents of this fantastic photographer.  He did the cover of our CD, and there are photos on his site of the CD cover shoot.

The CLASSICAL part of me had a very busy year with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Because of my involvement with

Festival of Carols Recording session 06

Noel Edison conducts Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, as they record Xmas CD “Festival of Carols” in a heatwave, during June 2006.

ChoirGirlz and Jazz, I chose not to be a member of the Mendelssohn Singers — the smaller 80 voice unit made up of the creme-de-la-creme of the Mendelssohn Choir.  I was part of the recording of Christmas music that was done in June, and released just before Christmas this year. It is a lovely recording entitled A Festival of Carols, and will be a seasonal favourite for years to come. I also enjoyed going to Elora to sing the Mozart Requiem and the mighty Mahler 2nd Symphony — better known as “The Resurrection Symphony”.  What a thrill to sing both those amazing works under the baton of Noel Edison with full orchestra!  We will be performing the Mahler again this year – I think in April.

The Hampton Avenue 4 part of me enjoyed thoroughly reuniting with Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Tom Lillington as we sang carols at First Canadian Place and The Atrium on Bay before Christmas in 2006.  The wonderful arrangements in our book just rang out pitch-perfectly, and I felt my life was full-filled musically.  We don’t get much chance to gig together any more — Suba is heavily involved in recording and touring with her jazz/Indo/fusion group  autorickshaw .  Dylan has just left the talented group  Cadence to pursue more writing and recording, as he is becoming greatly in demand for both these talents.  Tom is busy with his piano tuning business, and also tours extensively with the Canadian Chamber Choir.  With ChoirGirlz’ busy schedule, it’s really difficult to find a window of time to just get together, let alone do a gig.

PLANS FOR 2007 include:
Getting my jazz trio back on the rails and doing more gigs around the GTA.
Performing with ChoirGirlz — Winterfolk is our first 2007 gig — the weekend of Feb. 9 – 11th.  It’s free admission for all, and taking place in the Broadview-Danforth area.  Go to  Winterfolk  for more info about venues.
Practising harder on GUITAR and taking a few more lessons from Steve Briggs.
Getting back to a more healthy workout regimen at Metro Central YMCA.
Writing more jazz vocal arrangements and having a few more “singoffs” with members from Hampton Avenue and Cadence.
Writing more music for my wonderful church choir to sing (St. Pauls Bloor St.)
Writing more songs for ChoirGirlz.
Laughing more.  Enjoying my granddaughter Sadie.  Spending time with friends.  Eating healthily, and drinking good beer, enjoying life.
 It’s gonna be a busy year!

Rained out at Parti Gras

June 2005

Parti-Gras, the weekend before the Beaches Jazz Festival, took place at the Distillery district.  Debbie and her quartet were to follow the wonderful June Garber in the afternoon.

Rain began to fall, and the outdoor “Tankhouse Diva Stage” was protected only by overlapping patio umbrellas.  By the time Debbie and her band stepped onto the stage, the rain was coming down steadily, and dripping onto the drumstool.  The kit was moved to slightly drier ground, tarps were loaded atop the floor monitors to protect them, and to successfully muffle the sound coming out of them.   Nobody seemed to think about protecting the singer, and Debbie stood in a puddle while holding a mic and singing “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On Your Head” as a soundcheck tune.

A few diehard fans took to the tables and chairs, wrapped in protective raingear, and prepared to get up and dance anyway!  During Debbie’s third song, a massive series of “poofs” took place in the speakers, which immediately lost power along with the piano,  and that was the end of that!  Debbie felt very frustrated not to be able to sing her songs for the audience who had come to hear her, however she was saved from electrocution, and lived to tell the tale.

Debbie Gets ’em Dancing Wherever She Goes!

September 1, 2005

Debbie had a busy run of gigs in May and June 2005.   She guested to a full house in Markham, with the marvellous Sgt. Pepper’s Quartet consisting of the great Norman Amadio on piano, Frank Wright on vibes, Jack McFadden on bass and Don Vickery on drums.  These guys swing their patooties off — and Frank Wright is downright amazing as he continuously dances like a twenty year old from one end  of his vibes to the other!

The Distillery Jazz Festival was fabulous — if a little chilly.  The crowds were out to have a good time, and Debbie and the boys got them up and dancing in front of the stage!  Debbie’s catchy tunes usually do that — it’s hard to stay in your seat with the infectious rhythms — swing, bossa, Latin — ole!

For more photos of Debbie and her gigs, check out Greg King’s website — Deb has her own special feature page.

Debbie appears at the Distillery Jazz Festival in May

Photo by Greg King

 

LE SELECT BISTRO – DOWNTOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL

Debbie, Jack McFadden and Bruce Harvey appeared at Le Select Bistro during the Downtown Jazz Festival.  A white-tuxed Bob Segarinni and his very nattily dressed party of four graced the narrow aisle at LeSelect with some fancy ballroom dancing while Debbie filled their requests.

What Radio is Saying About “Steppin’ Out!”

Debbie’s newly released solo CD “Steppin’ Out” was requested and played by many radio stations across Europe, America and Australia.  The kudos and reviews were very positive:

**” you reached me good on A Bad Goodbye. That track is soulful and heartfelt.”

Fradley Garner,
International Editor of Jersey Jazz
(Journal of the New Jersey Jazz Society).

 

**” For sure this CD will get airplay in my program Jazz & Blues Tour as from next Tuesday — really like your style !”

Joost Van Steen
Jazz and Blues Tour, Holland


 

**Your style, is perfect “mainstream”, … really nice and …. your voice is so
beautiful! Classic, yes, but also modern, thanks to your particular
 approach. My sincere compliments. For me will be a pleasure to insert your
music in my program.

Bruno Pollacci – “AnimaJazz” – Pisa – Italy

 

**”Steppin’ Out” arrived today and I love it. It will go in our show “Jazz World” starting next week.  Great songs – well done, and great arrangements too I think. All good wishes for your musical future!!

TONY WICKHAM
Presenter, “Jazz World”, Radio Maldwyn

**Wow!!  You’ve got a HOT CD!!  Thank You so much for sending it  to us at WJSK.  I just received it this PM, previewed it, and into our ON AIR programming computer it went.
We have a “Traditional Jazz’ format daytime, with a smooth, layed back jazz style on our evening programming and “Steppin’ Out” covers both time periods!
 I am one who appreciates diversity in one’s career,  now you’re on top by going SOLO!
  A salute to Jim Morgan, who definitely has “ears”.  Your CD technically, is excellent.

Frank Pingree
WJSK Radio, USA

 

*
*Thank you for sending Debbie Fleming, “Steppin Out”CD, to WBCX at Brenau University in Gainesville, GA!
We will be adding the following tracks for airplay in a variety of our eclectic formats:
 Que Pasa
One More Birthday Blues
I’m sure we’ll be adding more tracks in the future on Eclectic 89.1 WBCX covering NE Atlanta and North Georgia!

Scott Fugate, WBCX, Georgia, USA

 

**You have every reason to be proud of the project, good music, good rhythm, nice groove, great voice, very professional performance (choosing your partners is very important and a good indication to the attention given to the project).  One can be only complementary and respect your maturity and musicianship.
I am very glad to have this little treasure and my audience will be sharing my delight with me tomorrow night (Thursday) during the show as 1st introduction with more to follow in the coming weeks.

Ilan Oz
Belgium


 

**My audience sure liked you, Debbie, got a couple of calls saying so. I have very faithful & devoted people and they are constantly in contact with me.  If I pass something that is not appreciated I’ll know about it within minutes).

Ilan Oz  jazzinbelgium.org

Steppin’ Out Gets a 5 Star Review! E-Jazz News in California:

Debbie Fleming..Steppin’ Out..Riverdale Records..2004

CD Reviews / CD Reviews

Date: Apr 06, 2005 – 08:23 AM

By John Gilbert
First and foremost, let it be known that Debbie Fleming is a first rate
 composer and lyricist. Every tune on this album goes right to the heart
of hip. There is a message in every tune and it comes from the soul. The 
ballads exemplify Fleming’s ability to coax romanticism out of a song
without waxing any saccharine sentimentality.
“Let’s Jive” is a masterpiece of solid jazz writing and combined with
Fleming’s cool vocal, it is both bouncy and true to the genre. Her
phrasing is impeccable and the timing is true. A clean tone and clear
 enunciation are the ingredients that make it all come together. John
MacMurchie’s saxophone solo is free of mindless notes, He gets after 
this number with an artistic zeal bred of professionalism and talent.

“Corner Of my Mind” is a thoughtful reminder of lifes travails superbly
 written and sung beautifully.
“Crazy In Love” features a great melody with ultra hip words..MacMurchie 
is in his groove and his solo is a joy to listen to. I would like to
 hear more of this fine artist. Fleming again brings this tune to life 
with her interpretive powers.

I highly recommend this recording, it is not only tasty and cool, it has 
more hits than a relevant google search.
This album can be purchased at CD Baby or by visiting the artist’s
website at http://www.debbiefleming.ca
  5 STARS
Visit California Coast Jazz At:
http://community-2.webtv.net/johnnyjazz/johnnyjazzsjazzpage

___________________________

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January 24th CD Release Launch, Montreal Bistro

Bistro Band

Groovin’ at the Bistro

 

It was a cold frosty evening on Monday January 24th, but there was some hot jazz, and some warm vibes permeating revered Montreal Bistro, as Debbie Fleming took to the stage, backed by her stellar band.  The room was close to full, and the audience was enrapt as Debbie soared through her originals and cover tunes.  Bruce Harvey gave excellent support on the beautiful grand piano, as Jack Mcfadden pumped out the rhythms on his upright bass.  Don Vickerytapped out some fine rhythms on drums, and John MacMurchy played some exciting solos on saxophones.  Debbie and John did a number of duets throughout the night, and Debbie’s treatment of heartfelt ballads such as “Suppertime” and”Lush Life” evoked audible catch breaths from the audience.  Many compliments came from the audience who enjoyed and were amused by Debbie’s quirky lyrics.  Many of Toronto’s finest singers  and musicians came to support Debbie — Julie Michels, Michael Danso, Michele Mele, Gregg Lawless and Steve Briggs, as well as Larry Green from Jazz.fm.
Toronto Star Review of Debbie’s new solo jazz project “Steppin’ Out”In a Toronto Star feature on Thursday Dec. 23, 2004 headlined “What’s On Disc”Star Jazz Critic Geoff Chapman includes Debbie Fleming’s “Steppin’ Out” under “Some good Canadian discs that slipped past the review radar this year. First Vocal Jazz:”*Debbie Fleming’s Steppin’ Out on Riverdale shows off her versatile pipes, big range and quirky originals like “One More Birthday Blues” and “Let’s Jive”.