Concert Review of CJO's Romance Concert

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed a selection of popular love songs on Sunday, February 10, 2013 at River Park Church. Calgary, Alberta. The programme featured the music of Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Michael Buble, Diana Krall and more. Special guests included Johanna Sillanpaa and members of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.


The E.P. Scarlett Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Jonathan Bell, kicked things off with a Duke Ellington classic, "Moon over Cuba." This lively number featured the clarinet, piano and trombone. This was followed by "Jitterbug Waltz" by Fats Waller, which featured the vibraphone, piano and drums.

The E.P. Scarlett Jazz Band, directed by Jonathan Bell, played  Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. Photo by R-M Arca.

Members of the Calgary Philharmonic Join the CJO for an Evening of Romance

"The music is all over the map," said Calgary Jazz Orchestra Director Johnny Summers at the start of the first set. This was the first CJO concert that included a string octet, comprised of members from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

The first song performed was the love theme from Superman, "Can You Read My Mind", composed by John Williams. A cymbal roll swelled dramatically until the rest of the ensemble came in. The strings played the head, while the piano, flutes and clarinets added flourishes here and there. Al Muirhead's trumpet solo was melodic and motivic.

Another highlight was "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green. Drummer Greg Baker sung this classic R & B hit. Dr. Jeremy Brown's saxophone solo looped and climbed, leading us higher and higher still, until Johnny Summers' trumpet solo came in, played in the high register. This gave way to Rich Harding's sax solo, which weaved around, leading us back to the final verse. This number garnered several whoops and cheers from the audience.

Before performing the final number in the first set, the CJO did a quick plug for the May concert, which will feature pop hits and favourites arranged by members of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. Johnny Summers encouraged patrons to email, Facebook or Tweet the CJO with song requests.

Vocalist Johanna Sillanpaa joined Johnny Summers to sing "Exactly Like You" to close the set. This light-hearted number is one of the tracks on Johnny Summer's new CD, Piano Sessions Volume 1. The strings augmented the playful lines the duo weaved. This number featured impressive solos by Johnny Summers on trumpet and Egor Ukoloff on piano.

Two more songs were performed in the first set, including Paul McCartney's "My Valentine". Johanna Sillanpaa was featured in Gus Kahn's "Dream a Little Dream of Me".

The CJO Performs Classic Love Songs and Logs in Some FaceTime to Maui

Johnny Summers shared with the audience what a learning experience it was to write for strings at the concert's second half. He reminisced with CPO Concertmaster  Donovan Seidle about their student days at the University of Calgary.

Then, he tried to introduce the first number. However, various members of the CJO heckled him, describing it as "Great...slow...awful." On the other hand, Johnny described Jimmy McHugh's "It Had to Be You" as "one of the most romantic songs of all time."

Members of the CPO joined the Calgary Jazz Orchestra to present a concert of classic love songs. Photo by R-M Arca.

The strings opened with a mysterious tremolos before the clarinets joined them. This number features solos by Kodi Hutchinson on bass and Shane Statz on sax. Despite Johnny's complaints over his cold, I'd have to say that it really injected more "oomph" to his lower vocal range.

One memorable moment from the second half was "You are So Beautiful", which featured Brian Walley on trombone. Several bars in, Johnny Summers stopped the performance to inquire where Brian's sweetheart was. When Brian replied, "In Maui," Johnny reached for an iPad and said, "Let's FaceTime her!"

CJO Director Johnny Summers contacts trombonist Brian Walley's fiancée via FaceTime. Photo by R-M Arca.

Yours truly held the iPad in the front row so that Brian's fiancée could be serenaded. Special thanks to the gentleman who sat beside me who assisted me in positioning the iPad to give Karen a good view of Brian and the stage.

The CJO's Chet Baker cover of "My Funny Valentine" was dedicated to a couple in the audience who recently got engaged. This year's arrangement opened with a solo piano introduction. The rest of the ensemble came in layers. This lovely arrangement featured Johnny on vocals and trumpet as well as Egor Ukoloff on piano:

The second half of CJO's concert featured three more romantic songs, including Victor Young's "Beautiful Love" and Michael Buble's "Everything" (an audience member's request). Johanna Sillanpaa returned to the stage to sing Whiting & Moret's "He's Funny that Way".

About the Calgary Jazz Orchestra

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra is a 17 piece big band founded by Johnny Summers in 2004. This performance included Rich Harding, Keith O'Rourke, Dr. Jeremy Brown, Shane Statz and Sarah Matheson on saxophone. Johnny Summers, Jay Michalak, Gord Wilhelm and Al Muirhead comprise the trumpet section. Brian Walley, Dean Yeats, Tim Embree and Dave Reid from the trombone section.

The string section was comprised of Donovan Seidle, Diane Lane, Jeremy Gabbery and Melanie Leonard on violin; Carl Boychuk and Megan Singer on viola; while Andrea Case and David Morrisey filled out the octet on cello. Arrangements for "Romance" were written by Greg Baker and Johnny Summers.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra and guests presented a delightful jazz concert on Sunday, February 10, 2013 at the River Park Church in Calgary, Alberta. The supportive audience began applauding even before the final song drew to a close and quickly stood up to give a standing ovation as soon as the last note was played. The addition of a string section welcome addition for audience members and CJO members, adding a refreshing spin on these classic love songs. All in all, a successful Calgary event.