On May 25th, 2019, Debbie Fleming was awarded The Slaight Music Legacy Award, by the SING Vocal Arts Festival, for her contribution to vocal music in Canada as arranger/songwriter/contractor/producer/singer over the years.
Debbie’s early years were the 40s and 50s, when everyone listened to music on the kitchen radios. There was a plethora of music styles played on each station, and Debbie’s ear always tuned into the vocal groups of the day, which were plentiful! Vocal groups like the Modernaires, the Ink Spots, The 4 Freshmen, the HiLos – the Andrews Sisters, McGuire sisters were featured on radio, and Debbie just loved vocal harmony! She remembers asking her parents, when she began grade one, if they thought there would be harmony in the school choir. Her sense of harmony deepened when she began piano lessons at 6 years old.
When the 50s arrived, and the advent of Rock and Roll – DooWop groups like the Platters, the Skyliners, the 5 Satins and many others ruled the hit parade, along with Elvis Presley (backed by the Jordinaires), Ray Charles (backed by the Raylettes). Vocal harmony was everywhere, and Debbie would learn all the backup vocals, instead of the lead vocals. When she finally joined a band, she preferred to sing as a backup vocalist, as singing lead led to intense stage fright.
When she met Ronnie Hawkins in the late 50s, he approached her about putting a vocal group together to back him up, ala the Raelettes, to go on the road and hit the “big tahm”. She turned down this offer, in order to get her education.
At McMaster, she was introduced to jazz, and sang with a dance band in Hamilton. It was then, she began to absorb the beauty of jazz harmony!
In the late 70s, when she began to sing in recording studios, she sang in the company of singers who were jazz musicians, and loved groups like Singers Unlimited, Manhattan Tranfer, the Hi Los. Debbie put a group of 8 singers together, and named them Sing-Co-op-8, and they would get together on Tuesday evenings, and sit around her dining room table and sight read arrangements by Gene Puerling, Phil Mattson, Manhattan Transfer – just for the fun of singing those crunchy jazz harmonies that they loved so much! Sing-Co-op-8 did a few gigs around Toronto over 2 years. But it was difficult to keep it going, because of all the singers’ schedules.
Her dream to sing backup vocals for artists came true with her record-backup work for many of Canada’s top artists. Then she got a gig backing up Petula Clark when she was touring North America – this was where Debbie felt most fulfilled.
During the 80s, Debbie was hired to assemble vocal groups for jingles and commercials, and she sang in dance bands as a soloist – to put the food on the table.
One of her most valued singer friends, David Blamires, who had sung in Sing-Co-op-8, began to tour with Pat Metheny in the late 80s, and came home to Toronto after a tour with a cassette tape of a new vocal group from Chicago – Take Six. Debbie felt the sky open up upon listening to Take Six’s incredible jazz harmonies with a funky, gospelly, R&B influence on their first album. This was when Debbie became overwhelmed with curiosity about how Take 6 arranged their amazing songs. She sat at her dining room table, and lifted “A Quiet Place”. The top and bottom parts were easy to lift and hear. It was those middle parts that could make things very difficult. But she did it! And now, she needed to hear how her arrangement sounded. She got some friends from the studio, and from the Mendelssohn Choir, together to sightread that chart, and a few of the old Sing-Co-op-8 charts. Her love for vocal groups was back!!!
She approached Phil Dwyer, one of Canada’s top jazz sax players, who was teaching at York University, and asked if he knew any singers who could sight read, and may be interested in singing some jazz charts. He introduced her to Suba Sankaran, and Dylan Bell, who were students at the time. They began joining these reading sessions, along with Tom Lillington, Don Laws, Judy Tate, her daughter Emilie Claire Barlow, Larry Folk, Stephanie Taylor and a few others. That is when Hampton Avenue was born. They recorded a Christmas CD, and a sophomore project called Everybody Sing.
By this time, Debbie was working with Atari Notator, and later Logic – and with this notation software, was inspired to write and arrange many original tunes for the group.
Hampton Avenue shrunk over the next 10 years, and became a group of 4 – with Debbie, Suba, Dylan and Tom. They would perform infrequently, while Debbie also had a female trio called ChoirGirlz, who would also perform, with Debbie accompanying on her guitar. Debbie wrote and arranged many original songs for this group.
Debbie retired from the Mendelssohn Choir (after 40 years singing with the group) in 2015. She still kept busy with Church choirs, and the Hedgerow Singers. She was hired to do work with the young Ault sisters, who recorded and performed many of Debbie’s arrangements. While still singing on occasion, Debbie considered herself semi-retired.
When Debbie was informed of the Slaight award, she was very surprised, as she has always considered herself as flying under the radar. But looking back on her very musically fertile career, she realizes that she worked with, and hired many of Canada’s best singers to do sessions, and form groups. Her songs and arrangements are sung worldwide by choirs and ensembles, and she has coached and encouraged many singers along the way.
When she received this prize, on May 25th, 2019, surrounded by warmth, love, admiration – and above all recognition and appreciation for her contribution to vocal music in Canada – she deemed it one of the best days in her life!!!
Last night – May 25th, 2017, I crossed off a “bucket list” item that had been on my wish list for 48 years – I sang onstage with some of the original members of the Toronto production of Hair. In fact – I sang Aquarius, as a solo, all dressed up with a headband, and snazzy fringed vest I crafted myself.
It’s a rather long story of interwoven themes and connections, beginning around 1969. I was then married to one of Toronto’s finest musicians – Gord Fleming – B3 genius. We were the new parents of our first child – Gordon junior.
Before the birth of Gordie, I had sung with my hubby and a band in places like the Silver Dollar and the Zanzibar. After Gordie was born, I found myself feeling restless to get back to singing again. I heard about auditions for a new musical called Hair, which was to be staged at The Royal Alexandra theatre, and I decided to audition for it. I don’t remember much about the audition, and while I didn’t get chosen to be in Hair –I was selected to attend the workshops the Hair organization was conducting, to teach promising hopefuls to eventually be assimilated into the production as people dropped out.
Under the direction of George Taros, musical director of Hair, about 30 of us would do trust exercises, and various staging and movement studies for 3 intense hours at a time. The workshops began on Queen St. East – where the Electric Circus was – and then moved up to the newly opened Bathurst Theatre. I fell in love with the whole experience, and got fairly close to some of my cohorts – Judy Marshak, Karen Gold, Jan Kudelka were some I specifically remember.
The show began at the Royal Alex, and was wildly popular — it ran for a year. Our friend Wayne St. John, who had worked with Gordon at the Zanzibar, was chosen to be in the show. And Gord was asked to be a sub for the keyboard chair in the show, when he was needed. Eric Robertson and Doug Riley were the main keyboard players, as I recall. I went to see the show many times, when Gord was playing, and I yearned to be part of the show “someday soon”.
As fate would have it, I discovered I was pregnant, and when I told the Hair people this news, they asked me to leave the workshops, as there was a lot of physical climbing and motion that could affect my pregnancy, and could get them into trouble insurance-wise.
I was so devastated, that I felt my life was over, and that my big chance to be in Hair was dashed in pieces.
However, life moved on as it always does, and so did Hair, and in subsequent years I did manage to have a wonderful career as a session singer, and support my two children as a single mom (Gord and I divorced in 1976 after 10 years together).
Segue to the mid 90’s when I was wanting to assemble a vocal group of good sight-readers to sing jazzy harmonies, using charts by Singers’ Unlimited, and arrangements which I had lifted from Take 6. I asked my friend Phil Dwyer, who was a prof at York U if he knew any students who would fit the bill, and he introduced me to Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran who were in their late teens at the time. Even back then, their musicianship was astounding – both had perfect pitch, and read “flyshit” as we say in the biz. The group that got together, including Suba and Dylan, was eventually named Hampton Avenue, and we recorded three CDs as an octet – eventually winning “Vocal Group of the Year” Jazz Report Award.
Although Hampton Avenue as a larger group eventually dwindled as people dropped out, Suba, Dylan and our Bass singer Tom Lillington, remained close, and would sing as a quartet occasionally, calling ourselves The Hampton Avenue 4.
At this point, Suba and Dylan were finding their footing as professional musicians, and gained a wonderful reputation as respected singers, musicians, arrangers, loopers – travelling the world and performing. Retrocity (Suba and Dylan’s project) – which was a vocal band like Hampton Avenue, formed around the same time as Hampton did – in the mid 90’s – but their focus was 80’s pop music, while Hampton Avenue specialized in rich jazz swinging harmonies.
Retrocity went through many personnel changes over those years – but with Dylan and Suba as the main arrangers – thrived, and performed and recorded. I was a huge fan of theirs, and always tickled to hear new brilliant arrangements of my favourite 80’s tunes.
SEGUE: 2017 – April 25. Virgil Scott held his annual “Musicians’ New Year” get together at Timothy’s in Etobicoke. I’ve never missed one of those gatherings since they began a few years ago. It’s a chance to reunite with musicians we used to see all the time when we were all making a living and often working together – always such fun. It was a great band that evening, and Virgil was generous as usual – – bringing up singers to sing songs we know and love. I got up and sang an Etta James and Tina Turner song, and we all rocked it out.
As I left the stage, Kid Carson, who I’ve known for many decades, called me over, and as we talked, he told me about a Hair reunion that was going to be taking place at the Sing Vocal Arts Festival in a month. Was I interested in being a “ringer” with the people they managed to assemble for this? I think I answered “Does a bear s*&t in the woods?”. And we were off.
Now I should explain here that the Sing Vocal Arts Festival involves NO musical instruments – ONLY the voice, and all the things it is capable of doing. And this is where my friend Dylan Bell comes back into the picture. He and Suba are artistic directors of this fabulous festival, and Paul Ryan, an ex-member of Hair, and board member of SING, suggested that for the big concert – they should celebrate Canada and the 150th anniversary, and do all Canadian songs – including music from Hair (whose composer, Galt McDermott, was Canadian). It meant that Dylan, and Suba, would have to create a vocal band (Retrocity) to back up the Hair Tribe, some of whom had not sung or performed in 50 years.
It was a lovely surprise for both Dylan and me, that I was brought on board to sing this great concert with The Tribe!
I joined the tribe for their second rehearsal, and it was such fun to sing with people I’ve not met before, and old friends like Amber James and Frank Moore. A fabulous bunch of people. There were some in the group who were uncomfortable with the concept of voices backing us up, and a few dropped out for those and other reasons. We were now 11 – 2 of us – Roxanne Tellier and I – being the ringers to add strength to the vocal sound. I was thrilled to be asked to sing Aquarius, while Roxanne was assigned Easy To Be Hard.
We worked and rehearsed with MP3s of Dylan and Suba tracking and singing his brilliant vocal lifts of the band tracks, taken from the original recording of Hair.
Dylan always felt a love and affinity for the musical Hair – his parents spent the first night of their honeymoon attending the original show at the Royal Alex, and Dylan wore out the Hair LP as a youngster.
I must explain here, that the kind of arranging that Dylan and Suba are adept at – is very labour intensive – listening hard to each instrument in the track, and notating the things they play for the various voices at hand. You have to have a keen ear, a thorough knowledge of the human voice, and its capabilities, and an ability to write it all down so it’s singable. NOT easy, and very VERY time consuming. But Dylan threw himself into the job at hand, and got Retrocity together, and rehearsed with the parts he’d written. Everything was covered, from bass to vocal percussion to guitar parts – NOTHING was left out.
The Tribe had a few difficulties with this new format at first – but once we brought Dylan into our rehearsals, with his lovely enthusiasm, and his uncanny ability to get what notes he needed from us – we were ON TRACK. He was so supportive and open to some changes which some of the original members wanted for their own comfort. He gently nudged us into being performance ready, and feeling secure with his guidance and leadership.
Finally, it was concert day at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Center, Toronto. We went through some blocking, and rehearsed some harmonies, and enjoyed a good hang until Dylan showed up with his sweet smile, and gave us our final notes on performance.
Then we were on!
WOW! We entered the floodlit stage to a sea of glow-in-the-dark headbands, which had been given to the audience before the show. It was a full house!! Retrocity began their accompaniment to Aquarius, which had become so familiar by now, and I approached the mic and began to sing “When the moon is in the seventh house…..” to a huge applause from the audience, as they recognized a song which had meant so much to them when they were growing up. Fabulous applause at the end of the song and I was brimming with amazing warmth and fulfillment.
“Hair” followed with Kid Carson and Clint Ryan singing their hearts out. Roxanne Tellier did a lovely job on Easy to Be Hard. Harriet Cohen Teaar did a great job of “Air”. Good Morning Starshine and the finale “Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In” brought the house down. We were all filled with that magic ingredient of wonderment and magic that takes over your soul when something really special happens (and no, it wasn’t related to drugs or alcohol). As my son wrote, after attending the concert “I had tears in my eyes and all of my guts were trying to burst out of my shoulders for Sunshine. Probably the greatest finale to anything, ever.” Just WOW!
That wasn’t the end of the concert. The rest of the concert – including a set by Suba and Dylan (known worldwide as Freeplay), featuring the brilliant looping technology of Dylan – and a set by Retrocity was phenomenal. ALL arrangements by Dylan, and some by Suba – and there was nothing missing – guitar licks from Glass Tiger, Kim Mitchell, Jane Sibbery, and many more songs by Canadian writers. Lorraine Segato sang her hits with Parachute Club backed by Retrocity, and Elaine Overholt, who was being awarded for her epic contribution to vocal arts, sang Cory Hart’s “Never Surrender”. Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah was the finale – and included the entire cast, including the Hair Tribe.
As I reviewed the entire show in my mind – it was ALL thanks to Dylan and Suba, and some incredibly hard work, and love pouring into it. Yes – the singers all sang beautifully, but the silent foundation to the whole shebang was Dylan Bell.
Everyone should know this!!!
And I ticked off a major item on my Bucket List.
Here’s a link to a video of the entire Hair tribe show, with Retrocity and Dylan’s amazing handiwork as a singer/arranger/conductor/mentor/and all around loveable guy:
The Hair Tribe is: Debbie Fleming (Aquarius, and duets); Roxanne Tellier (Easy to Be Hard); *Harriet (Cohen) Teear (Air); *Amber (James) Wendelbourg (Good Morning Starshine); *Shelly Somers (Good Morning Starshine); *Frank Moore (Flesh Failures); *Clint Ryan (Hair); *Kid Carson (Hair); *Paul Ryan (Hair); *Jim Peters; *John Stainton*
*Original Toronto cast members of Hair
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ORI DAGAN’s TRIBUTE TO ELVIS PRESLEY
On January 7, 2015, I was honoured to be asked by Ori Dagan, to sing an Elvis Presley song at his tribute to Elvis at the Lula. I was always a HUGE Elvis fan – Elvis was the first real love and inspiration in my life. I sang Peace in Valley, and LOVED revisiting that wonderful song.
VIRGIL SCOTT’S MUSICIANS’ NEW YEAR CELEBRATION
The venerable Hollywood on Queensway closed down last year, and so Virgil Scott had to find a new venue. The Cadillac Lounge in west Toronto was chosen for this year’s New Years reunion. Though the capacity is smaller, and the stage, not as large – it was still a wonderful evening, reuniting with friends from our past busy lives of gigs and sessions.
OTHER SPRING GIGS AND ACTIVITIES
Lisa Particelli’s Girls’ Night Out 10th Anniversary – January 14th, 2015 at Chalkers:
Lisa Particelli has been holding these live jam evenings for singers (where men are welcome to) for 10 years. During those years, a vibrant community has formed – musicians and singers, who want to test out a new song, or just get up and perform for an appreciative audience. Teachers bring their students there, so they can get the feel of working with a live band. And the live band is always made up of top grade musicians. The regulars are Peter Hill on piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass, and Louis Botos on drums. Other musicians join in the fun, and sit in with the singers, who sign up to sing, on a sheet provided by Lisa. It’s very well organized, and singers from the very heights of professionalism to the nail-biting nubies – are always treated with great respect. Many showed up to celebrate this special evening at Chalkers with Lisa and the band.
February 19th and December 17th Lula Lounge: Singing in the One-Stop Jazz Safaris with Jaymz Bee – a fundraiser for Jazz.fm. I sang with over 20 other extremely talented singers, and the band backed me beautifully sans rehearsal. As I sang A House Is Not A Home, I decided to go ahead with my dream to record a Bacharach CD. In the December version – I sang Walk On By.
MEMORIAL CELEBRATION FOR LARRY TRUDEL
June 2nd at the Jazz Bistro, a throng of people came together to celebrate a man who had headed one of Toronto’s largest jingle houses in the heyday of the recording studios. Larry Trudel was a mentor to so many of us, always kind, always with a twinkle in his eye and a smile – a total pleasure to work for. “Smile and think residuals” was one of his famous lines, as he sat behind the recording console, while we were singing the ditties written by his musicians – Tom Szczesniak, Doug Riley, Rick Wilkins.
The show that evening was full of talent – a highlight for me was Elaine Overholt sitting at the piano singing Those Were The Days, with her original hilarious lyrics referring to the good old days when we were all working. So many got up to sing a song in Larry’s honour, or to make a eulogy of memories. Tom Szczesniak led the band, most ably, and to once again hear Cal Dodd, Jackie Richardson, Colina Phillips, Sharon Lee Williams sing their songs – was a wonderful testament to a great man, well-loved by all.
PLEIN AIR ARTISTS’ GARDEN
On July 8th, I was invited to perform a solo show in the beautiful Wednesday evening concert series hosted by Susan Brown. I hired Russ Boswell to play bass, while I accompanied myself on guitar and uke. It was a lovely night, and the concert was well attended.
Under The the Bus: Grossmans with Sandi Marie and Guy Breau – I performed a 15 minute set with my guitar and the band.
Ross Ingles and Friends: Very happy to be asked to perform a song, and sing in the choir for this lovely annual event, May 24th.
Hampton Avenue 4 at the Beaches Jazz Festival: July 18th, performed a 30 minute set on the SING stage.
120 Diner, September 19th: Sang a couple of sets in memory of my mom and dad’s anniversary – it would have been 75 years, had they lived to tell the tale.
Honouring Our Own – a tribute to John Finley: I was invited to sing a song during this special tribute to John at 744. Privileged to be the only drop of estrogen in a crowd of eminent Toronto Musicians and singers.
Hampton Avenue 4 + 1 – sang at the 120 Diner, November 29th: We were so happy to have our old Hampton Avenue colleague, Larry (LJ) Folk, join us to sing a couple of songs during our gig. It’s always so special to be able to add that 5th part in jazz harmony – we all love the “crunches” of those rich chords, and we pulled out a couple of our old arrangements – What ARe You Doing The Rest of Your Life, Jingle Bell Rock and a couple of others.
THE TORONTO MENDELLSOHN CHOIR FAREWELL
As the 2014-15 season with the choir began, I realized that this was my 40th year singing with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The choir has been in my blood, and my heart and soul since I joined in 1973, and I have had some truly great moments – singing everything from the glorious classics, t0 Stravinski and Michael Tippet in the modern realm of music.
Learning new parts has always been a challenge, but at the beginning, I worked very diligently to learn my parts well, and through my hard work and dedication, I worked my way up to becoming an excellent sight reader. I have sung alto, first soprano and second soprano during those 40 years.
But all great things must come to an end, and I decided that I would make the decision to leave when I felt it was right to do so, rather than being asked to leave because of my age. All the signs were there that this was the time to do it. The nice round 40 number of years in the choir; the fact that my favourite works, including Bach’s B minor Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Mahler’s 2nd, The Verdi Requiem, The Messiah were all being performing in this season.
In April, I handed in my notice of resignation from the choir, and because being in the choir had contributed to my developing the skills that led to my very successful career in the studios – I decided to present an endowment to the choir.
With this endowment, Noel Edison, Cynthia Hawkins and I created The Debbie Fleming Prize for Choral Composition – an annual award, which will be presented to the entrant chosen by a panel of judges, who has written the best composition. During the annual Conductor’s Symposium, the winning entry will be sung by the choir.
I felt this was a perfect incentive for unpublished talented Canadian writers of choral music (no age limit) to put their creative juices to work, and perhaps write the next great choral work for the world to savour, and was thrilled to make this gift to the choir, which has given me so much through the years.
I was thrilled to be invited to sing the Ralph Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony with the Toronto Symphony and the choir in October, as an alumna.
I was also privileged to be invited to sing the Messiah in December with the choir, under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis, who was recording a new re-arrangement of his for the Chandos label. This arrangement of Handel’s Messiah included some interesting new touches – like using a marimba and augmented percussion in the orchestration.
The recording will be released in 2016.
REUNITING WITH TWO OLD FRIENDS
In April, I learned that Petula Clark, who I toured with as a backup singer in the 80’s, was going to appear at Koerner Hall as a judge for the annual Glenn Gould award presentations. I went to this special presentation, which included many eminent Canadians as judges. The prize this year was awarded to Phillip Glass.
Petula sang a set of songs for the audience, and she still sounds like a young girl – strong, pitch-perfect and confident – now in her 80’s. It was lovely to reunite with her after the show. I feel so blessed that I experienced those wonderful years of singing behind this special, ueber talented woman.
Another lifelong friend and mentor came back into my life in October, by total surprise. I was invited by Cathy Young to do a little singing in honour of Ritchie York’s new book about the Canadian music business. I walked in, and was greeted by none other than Ronnie Hawkins – the man who I met when I was 16 – who always supported and encouraged my talent. He introduced me to the man who would become my husband, and has been a constant thread in my life’s fabric since those heady days of rock and roll in the 60’s.
But nowadays, contact is rare, and it was wonderful to reunite with him – now a feisty octogenarian – still singin’ and grinnin’, and still recording and hangin’ out with the good old boys.
STARTING TO RECORD THE BACHARACH PROJECT
After a couple of pre-production meetings with Mark Kieswetter, the songs were chosen, and the arrangements were discussed.
For the first sessions, beginning at Number Nine Audio Group, in late September, we used Mark, Ross MacIntyre on bass (upright and electric), Peter Mueller on guitar, and Charley Coolie on drums. The songs we recorded at these sessions were more R&B flavoured, with a hint of jazz, and a little Latin. We recorded Alfie, A House is Not a Home, Walk on By, Windows of the World/What The World Needs Now, You’ll Never Get to Heaven (a nice Latin cha cha) and Mark Kieswetter’s killer arrangement of Anyone Who Had a Heart.
Throughout the fall, we sweetened with backup vocals and horns (Chase Sanborn on trumpet, John MacMurchy on saxophones and Russ Little on Trombone), then mixed the tunes before Christmas. Bernie Cisternas was a dream of a recording engineer, and we became a wonderful team in the process.
The more jazz-oriented songs would be recorded in 2016
THE AULT SISTERS
Always a constant in my life – these talented girls have matured into wonderful performers and musicians, and their new CD “Timeless” (comprised of all my arrangements) is receiving wonderful support world wide.
2014 was rung in with dear friends Irene, George and Kathy, as we enjoyed the great music presented by George Olliver, John Finley, Cathy Young and schwingin’ band led by Grant Slater.
VIRGIL SCOTT’S MUSICIANS’ NEW YEAR CELEBRATION
On January 21, at the Hollywood on Queensway, musicians from all parts of the GTA came out of the woodwork, to attend this annual event. It’s the only time we get to see one another, it seems – and you never know who you’ll run into!
TRIP TO ENGLAND – March 30 – April7
I was very fortunate to have been invited to visit two friends in England. Martin Elliott, who I met in 1984, playing bass with Petula Clark’s band at the Royal Alex in Toronto. Martin lives in Whitstable, and we have been constant friends since then.
Martin and his partner Sue were very kind and charming hosts, and Martin took me all sorts of historic places during my 3 day stay in Whitstable. A highlight for me was High Tea at the Walpole Hotel, just outside of Whitstable.
The charming town of Whitstable, England’s “Oyster Capital” sports a typical British phone booth in the middle of town.
After my three days with Martin and Sue, Martin very kindly took me into London proper, where we enjoyed lunch, and some walking around. I’m glad he was escorting me, as I would have had a rough time finding the proper train to take me to Bath, to visit my friend Glenna, with whom I went to university.
Bath, where Glenna lives, is an amazingly beautiful ancient city, of Roman origins (when the baths were originally built). During my visit, Glenna drove me to the surrounding countryside, lush with multicolours of green, and flourishing vegetation; old churches; old towns; an old pub where I enjoyed some authentic fish and chips; the Roman baths; The Bath Cathedral, where we attended a church service on the Sunday morning. It was a whirlwind tour, full of fabulous memories and photos.
GUEST APPEARANCE WITH THE NIAGARA RHYTHM SECTION
I always look forward to being invited to join the mighty Niagara Rhythm Section to guest with the band for a night. The band members, led by Steve Goldberger, are wonderful musicians, and fabulous people to hang with. The Old Winery just on the edge of NOTL is the venue where the party takes place. When I go for my guest appearance, it’s usually around my birthday in May, and that’s when all the tulips and blossoms are at their most beautiful in NOTL. This year, my dear friend Cathy Subasic accompanied me to the gig, so she could share the long drive home with me.
PLEIN AIR – ARTISTS’ GARDEN SERIES
On July 16th, Debbie teamed up with Victor Bateman, and performed with her guitar and uke on the beautiful outdoor stage in the well tended city garden of Susan Brown. This year’s concert followed a heavy afternoon rain, and the sun came out just before the concert began. The garden chairs were wiped down, and the audience was full — SRO!
This year’s theme was Songs by Canadians, and Debbie performed songs by Shirley Eikhard, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and many more – including her own songs.
CABARET NIGHT AT THE JAZZ BISTRO
On September 14th, Debbie and her trio – consisting of young phenom, Ewen Farncombe on the beautiful grand piano, and veteran bassist, Russ Boswell (with Debbie on vox) – performed a concert – with songs and stories, jazz standards, and showtunes. Debbie pulled out her ukulele on a couple of tunes (maybe a first for the Bistro), and enjoyed her debut performance there very much.
In March, Debbie was invited to sing a few songs with Whiskey Jack – a long running Canadian country/rock/bluegrass group, the members of whom Deb has known for many years. Debbie was really excited about singing with this great group of musicians, and was looking forward to playing guitar and uke with the team as well. There were a couple of gigs at the Cadillac Lounge, and a very prestigious guest spot with the group, when they perfomed a tribute to Stompin’ Tom at the Stratford Music Festival in the fall. It was all a great thrill for Deb, and the band members were wonderful. It was a short-lived experiment – but great while it lasted.
ORILLIA’S CELLAR SINGERS JOINT CONCERT WITH HAMPTON AVENUE 4
Mitchell Pady, conductor of Orillia’s Cellar Singers, and colleague of both Debbie and Tom Lillington in the choral scene, decided to put together a concert, celebrating the music of Hampton Avenue, and imparted some of the songs to the Cellar Singers (a mostly traditional choir). The exercise proved to be challenging for the Cellar Singers – jazz harmonies aren’t easy for the best of singers, if they’re not accustomed to it. But with Mitchell’s excellent coaching, and a wonderful productive fine-tuning of the group by the Hampton 4 – the concert was spectacular!
The Road Home was the title of the concert, which was held, also, to honour Orillia boy, and Hamptonite, Dylan Bell.
TORONTO MENDELSSOHN CHOIR
It was a great year of the best in the TMC repertoire – with highlights starting with my favourite Bach’s B Minor Mass (and singing a whole new DIFFICULT part); Porgy and Bess, under the baton of Bramwell Tovey; Beethoven’s 9th and the Proms at the Gambrel Barn in Elora; Haydn’s Creation; Mozart’s Requiem; Handel’s Messiah and in 2015 – Fauré Requiem; Tallis 48 part Spem in Alium; Verdi Requiem; and ending with The Mahler Ressurection Symphony (Number 2). I looked at the repertoire for 2014-15 season, and weighed a number of considerations, which led me to decide that this year, after giving my voice to this wonderful choir for 40 years, would be my last.
The friends I’ve made, the concerts I’ve sung, the musical education I’ve gleaned in those wonderful 40 years, will always mean the world to me.
TIMELESS, THE AULT SISTERS
I’m a proud mama bear – these wonderful singers, Amanda, Alicia and Alanna have released their latest CD, 90% my arrangements. I love arranging for these lovely voices – the girls are disciplined, and always into meeting new musical challenges. I’ve watched them grow astoundingly, in the 5 years I’ve worked with them, and this CD is a fabulous recording of some great songs, sung by three sisters with “that family sound”.