“Shelly Berger” CD Reviews

The back cover of Shelly Berger’s latest CD, “Look Up” shows his name modestly at the bottom of a list of thirteen colleagues that he employed on this, his first recording as a leader in over ten years. Berger keeps his hands full with bass, composition and production duties, and is assisted by an impressive list of veteran musicians including Hugh Marsh on violin, Ernie Tollar and Mike Murley on saxophones, and Ted Warren on drums. “Look Up” is many things, but one thing it’s not is clichéd. It’s without II-V-I progressions, walking bass lines, driving ride-cymbal patterns, or predictable arrangements. Shelly Berger’s compositions are lucid and complex with sophistication and originality that preclude any simple moniker or generic label.From the 9/8 intro of the first track, Mosque Morocco, to the pseudo-funk of Moses, to the dissonance of Diabetes, to the haunting Guardian Angel, Shelly Berger proves to be a composer of tremendous versatility and integrity. Melodic themes are repeated and developed, but not to the point where they resonate hours after the CD is finished. The strong, yet subtle global influence is accentuated by the percussion and occasional vocals of Waleed Abdulhamid, especially on A Prayer For Africa, the disc’s eighth track.Careful listening is definitely required throughout, and maybe a few follow-up sessions for good measure.
Eli Eisenberg

WholeNote Magazine

Berger is a solid bassist with a serious knack for arranging and composing beautiful and thoughtful pieces of music. All these talents get a strong workout on this 11-tune session of original music (he wrote all but one) on which Berger’s supported by 13 sidemen at various points. The mood rang from complex contemporary jazz explorations, often cast in unusual time signatures, to global sounds, like the opening “Mosque Morocco.” The playing’s precise and stimulating, with saxophonist Mike Murley, guitarist Geoff Young and especially violinist Hugh Marsh prominent. Berger is big on textures and percussive pulse, often folding in European, Latin and African mot and the colourful sonic layers are rich even when the music gets somewhat heated (“Tofino,” th 7/4 time “Letting Go”). He conjures melancholy dissonance for “Diabetes,” has fun with “Ha Gre Yeah,” creates a memorable work in “Guardian Angel” and closes effectively with the impressionistic “At The End Of The Day.” (The record will be officially released Wednesday at Hugh’s Room.)

Geoff Chapman

The Toronto Star

Not a CD that you can find in a dozen. The music on it you have conquer it. Because it is not easy music. In each song there are unexpected moments. So you must pay attention all the time when you listen. In fact the songs are not so playable for radio, because you have to play them more then once to know the songs better. But it is possible, that when you play a song, somebody thinks ” I want to hear more from this album”. That’s way I play something. In each number you can hear surprising moments of the bass from Shelly Berger. It is an album, that you will be satisfied, when you know the songs better. I play “Letting go” in my program.
Jan Nederveen

Radio Heerde

Absolutely superb.

Artsound 92.7 FM

Bonjour, thanks for your so great music I really enjoyed. I added it to my WJAZ broadcast play list on RADIO PLURIEL 91.5FM in France, plus worldwide INTERNET
Perrichon Jacques


What a pleasant surprise to discover this musician and his very interesting album. Compositions are nicely canvassed to form an homogeneous ensemble, the style is modern but never falls into some boring contemporary music. This is jazz after all… One tune will be featured in the month of October in one of my broadcasts.
Pascal Dorban

Radio ARA , Luxembourg

Fantastic album Great stuff for our Radio Station.
Alex Pijnen

BRTO Radio

What a great sound you have, I have played several of your tracks to date and plan to schedule more in future programs. Keep up the good work and please keep me up to date with your progress.
Regards, Michael Criddle – OzRadio
Michael Criddle

Triple H-FM

Hi Shelly, Your Cd ‘Look Up‘ would have to go down as my personal favourite for this years radio directx albums that i have chosen, several tracks from the Cd have been played on air on my program ‘Colours of jazz’ and have done the show proud, thanks for the great music. The one thing that I look for in the music i chose for the program is atmosphere, and there is plenty of it on this Cd, each track has been carefully and skilfully played using many different instruments for colours and texture, I look forward to much more in the future, keep the music coming, and my listeners have certainly enjoyed this one.
Larry Groves

3MBSFM 103.5

Toronto born bass player Shelly Berger has been working the Los Angeles jazz circuit for a number of years now, including stints with the likes of Diana Krall, Kenny Burrell and Anita O’Day, amongst many others, but this CD sees him stepping out again as a composer and band leader is some style after a decade long break.

Largely jazz fusion based, this offering also sees him bringing in a few world music influences as well as a healthy helping of synthesiser flourishes to fine effect on a mainly self composed set. There are a few familiar faces helping out including the always exemplary saxophone work of Mike Murley. Highlights are a-plenty but standing out in particular are the refined and reflective ‘Guardian Angel’ and the vocal enhanced ‘A Prayer For Africa’.

He has a way with some unusual time signatures and coaxes some excellent performances from the sympathetic collaborators, especially the outstanding violin contributions of Hugh Marsh on an always interesting, sometimes sparkling set.



There is great music on this CD: diverse styles reflected in the track titles within a comfortable matrix sound which defines the quality in the compositions and the arrangements.
Tony Wickham

Radio Maldwyn UK.

…thanks for the great album and lots respect for your work.
Robert Lochmann

Radio X (Frankfurt), DJ Jazzmadass

Clear Day
Emilie-Claire Barlow; ECB Band; Metropole Orkest; Jules Buckley eOne eCD-CD5841 (emilieclairebarlow.com)

Arguably, multiple-award-winning jazz vocalist, Emilie-Claire Barlow, is one of the finest singer/musicians that Canada has ever produced. Blessed with an impressive musical genome, Barlow has consistently challenged herself, all the while continuing to mature into the impressive and accomplished artist that she is today. With her 11th recording, Barlow has partnered her stunning voice
and arranging skills with the world-renowned Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley.

Barlow and Steve Webster act as Producers here, and the eclectic programme is comprised of material from the unlikely musical bedfellows of Pat Metheny, Coldplay, Brad Mehldau, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Canadian pianist/composer Gord Sheard and more. Described by Barlow herself as a “personal journey over the last four years,” this recording is a portrait of the artist as a mature women poised at the full apex of her skill, talent, inspiration and power. Also included in this recording are arrangements featuring Barlow’s excellent band, with Reg Schwager on guitar, Jon Maharaj on bass, Chris Donnelly on piano, Larnell Lewis on drums and Kelly Jefferson on reeds.

The CD opens with the spacious and magical Amundsen by noted bassist/composer Shelly Berger, which segues seamlessly into a dynamic and fresh arrangement of the near title-song, Burton Lane’s On a Clear Day. Other impressive tracks include a tender, stringladen take on Coldplay’s Fix You and a sensual, jazz-infused version of Paul Simon’s Feelin’ Groovy (replete with a masterful guitar solo from Schwager). Of special note is Barlow’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s I Don’t Know Where I Stand, sung here with the soaring, crystalline purity of her magnificent vocal instrument.

By Lesley Mitchell-Clarke

Published: 24 November 2015, JAZZ AND IMPROVISED

Featuring: Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, Sarah Hicks, conductor; Dave Bennett, clarinet,
guitar, piano, vocals
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 16-17, and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 18
Admission: $22-$99
Where: Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh
Details: 412-392-4900 or pittsburghsymphony.org

Some enthusiasms are merely passing fancies, even ones that are intense for a while. Others become life-long passions. Dave Bennett was 10 when he realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He’d just started playing clarinet and before long was making music on guitar and piano as well. Now 33, he’s enjoying a very successful musical career, with his newest CD “Blood Moon” just released. Bennett will headline the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops’ “From Swing to Rock,” with conductor Sarah Hicks, Feb. 16-18 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. He’ll also be accompanied by his combo — Jeff Kressler, piano, Shelly Berger, bass, and Peter Siers, drums.

In elementary school in Waterford, Mich., where he still resides, Bennett was very much into art. “Like any other kid I was drawn to Superman and Batman, drawing those sort of things,” he recalls. In fifth grade, when he became eligible to join the school band, his life changed.

“I was already aware of swing music because I liked to watch Abbott and Costello,” he says. “I remember my grandfather said to me that I’d have a lot of fun with the clarinet. No one really played music in my family, not my grandparents or parents although I had a
couple of cousins who played guitar. So he and my grandmother went to a local pawn shop and bought me a clarinet. Shortly after they got me a tape of Benny Goodman purely because they thought I would get a kick out of what the clarinet could sound like. When I heard that, my whole life changed.” Bennett never had much formal musical training. He did have an instructor who was a clarinetist who showed him the foundation of a good embouchure. And he was playing repertoire in band. But within a month of getting his
clarinet Bennett realized he could play by ear. The first melody he “discovered” was “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time.”

In sixth grade Bennett dug out an old Elvis LP and began to teach himself guitar. The next year he got into was Jerry Lee Lewis and began work on piano.

Bennett’s Pops program is mainly chronological, mirroring his own path pursuing his musical enthusiasms. He’ll begin on clarinet in the swing era with “In the Mood,” “Four O’clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” After playing Artie Shaw’s “Stardust” and Glenn Miller’s “Serenade in Blue,” Bennet will move to piano and conclude the first half music by Jerry Lee Lewis, including “A Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Chantilly Lace.”

After intermission Bennett will take up the guitar for music by Elvis and Johnny Cash, as well as some songs Bennett has written from his new album. The concert will conclude with two rousing hits: “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

By Mark Kanny

Contributing writer, Tribune-Review

Dave Bennett, Blood Moon

Clarinetist Dave Bennett performs on his new CD, Blood Moon, with a small combo. He has a mix of original compositions co-written with record producer Shelly Berger. Others are well-loved standards by a variety of composers. He is supported by pianist Dave Restivo, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Jim Vivian, drummer Pete Siers, and percussionist Davide Direnzo.

The original tunes are a mix of reflective melancholy (“Blood Moon” and “Heavy Heart”) to blazing riffs (“13 Fingers”).

Bennett is a favorite on the jazz party circuit. I’ve seen him a number of times at the Arbors Jazz parties. Currently he’s scheduled to appear this year at the Suncoast Jazz Classic, San Diego Jazz Festival, and the Sarasota Jazz Festival. He’s performed at Carnegie Hall and other prestigious locations.

To this reviewer, the CD is highly enjoyable and, in addition, it passed the “kitchen test.” That is, when the spouse comes from the kitchen and says, “I like it; who is the performer?”

For further information, please visit DaveBennett.com or www.mackavenue.com or write DL Media Greg Angiollo at greg@dlmediamusic.com.

By F. Norman Vickers

December 1, 2017

Dave Bennett: Blood Moon (Mack Avenue)

Clarinetist Dave Bennett’s Mack Avenue debut, 2013’s “DON”T BE THAT WAY”, showcased an artist capably tackling and updating music associated with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Pete Fountain. In essence, it positioned him as a next-gen swing king with a penchant for taking playful strolls. This follow-up, while retaining that image and ideal in select places, is something
of a toned-down story.

Five of the album’s 11 tracks are Bennett originals, written collaboratively with bassist Shelly Berger, and most present with muted lyricism. Half of the covers that make up the balance fall in line with those gentle numbers, furthering the aesthetic of the ruminating artist. The introductory triptych—“Blood Moon,” “A Long Goodbye” and “Falling Sky”—typifies Bennett’s newfound wistfulness, as do the appropriately sedate takes on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” that
immediately follow.

It’s not until the midpoint—a swing- and bop-friendly ride through “(Back Home Again In) Indiana”—that the Bennett of old comes out to play. From that point on he diversifies his portfolio. The Goodman-esque “13 Fingers” and the swampy “Down in Honky Tonk Town” provide a much-needed doubleshot of excitement while easily differentiating themselves; a polished take on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” buffs out the rough edges in Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-western sound; and a relatively direct “In My Life” honors the truth
and sincerity endemic to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Then the album arrives at its end by coming full circle with “Heavy Heart,” a mournful beauty emphasizing Bennett’s purity of tone and spirit. Blood Moon doesn’t blot out the light that previously emanated from Bennett, but it certainly invites darker shadows and deeper shades of thought into the frame with him.

By Dan Bilwalsky


Dave Bennett: Blood Moon

Multi-instrument phenomenon, Dave Bennett is a clarinet virtuoso who also plays electric guitar, piano, drums and sings. Entirely self-taught, he began playing along with Benny Goodman records at age 10, and by 12 he was invited by legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham to the bandstand of New York’s famous Sweet Basil jazz club. Leading his tribute to Benny Goodman, Bennett has been
a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with The New York Pops and has played the program with 50 other US and Canadian orchestras. An annual fixture at a dozen American music festivals, his “Rockin’ the ’50s” show always brings down the house, while his “Swing to Rock” Symphony Pops program premiered in 2016 with The Kingston Symphony Orchestra. Blood Moon is his follow up to the 2013 Mack Avenue release, Don’t Be That Way.

This is Bennett’s sophomore CD on the Mack Avenue label. Bennett has teamed up with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist Shelly Berger to cowrite five original songs for the album. To fill out the program, Bennett used a half-dozen road-tested covers from his regular repertoire. The band is comprised of Bennett’s longtime drummer, Pete Siers, pianist Dave Restivo, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Jim Vivian and percussionist Davide DiRenzo.

The title track opens the album with Bennett’s warm clarinet sound playing the lyrical melody over a beautiful set of changes. The song is a perfect mix of jazz, pop and modern jazz, but still it contains the history of jazz in the solos and solid band listening skills. Restivo’s solo is to the point and full of passion. Bennett solos next, with his virtuosic playing and perfect control of time, he leads us
down a musical journey that is enjoyable and full of life. Siers brush work under Bennett’s solo is also of note, subtle, but he drives the music forward.

“13 Fingers” will make all the Benny Goodman fans smile. This rhythm changes song is an opportunity for the band to relax and burn, and that they do! Starting with Siers lighting up the ivories with twisting lines and rhythmic chords. Bennett puts gas on the fire with his jaw dropping command of the jazz language through the clarinet. Schwager’s warm guitar tone conveys his musical statement that is driving and outlines the chords perfectly. The written interlude is very nice and leads us back to melody and ending statement. Overall, a fun selection that brings all the elements that make jazz great together for our listening pleasure.

Blood Moon has many styles and rhythmic textures, the music is varied and the combination of original compositions and tried and true arrangements yield a great overall musical landscape. Bennett is an amazing player that brings a strong sense of melody to his vast command of his horn. This is a highly recommended set of music that will appeal to any jazz fan.

By Sylvannia Garutch

October 2017

Dave Bennett: Blood Moon

My introduction to this virtuoso jazz clarinetist was one of his live tribute-to-Benny Goodman concerts. Just phenomenal, and he was an engaging gentleman to speak with afterwards. He is clearly an artist who feels gratitude toward everyone who appreciates the music he plays.

This album features a savory mixture of ballads – four original, co-written by Bennett and the LP’s producer Shelly Berger; and three by songwriting greats John Lennon (“In My Life”), Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) and “Leonard Cohen (“Hallelujah”) – a swinging three-song middle section; and a stirring rendition of Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti-western theme “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The original ballads are lovely, lyrical and pensive; the covers of Lennon, Webb and Cohen are as well, serving as completely worthy tributes to their creators. Original “13 Fingers” is an ultra-snappy Goodman-esque swinger that is breathtakingly fun and could very well have set a record for the most notes played in a song of 3:17 duration. We are also taken on most pleasant romps through “Indiana” (a 100-year-old song in 2017) and to the Southland with “Down in Honky Tonk Town.”

Bennett receives excellent backing throughout – most notably from pianist Dave Restivo – and the rest of the sextet get to shine as well: Reg Schwager (guitar), Jim Vivian (bass), Pete Siers (drums) and Davide DiRenzo (percussion).

Exquisitely recorded, mixed and mastered; attractively presented and solidly packaged in a neat fold-out format. I really hope CDs don’t go away; I strongly feel this way each time I encounter another new one that is this good.

April 7, 2018

Dave Bennett: Don’t Be That Way

Clarinetist Dave Bennett’s Don’t Be That Way is a throwback album, but it’s not a carbon copy of what’s come before. Bennett certainly finds inspiration in the work of past masters, driving down the highways and byways that have been paved by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and others, but he’s willing to look at their music with a fresh set of eyes; he’s a centrist, but not a complete traditionalist. He’ll occasionally throw a curve ball on a wellknown tune, as demonstrated on the Brazilian-coated title track, but the ball always goes back over the plate in the end, locking in to some form of widely established and accepted practice.

Goodman, more than any other figure, is the influence that hovers over this date. Bennett delights in interpreting several key pieces from Goodman’s repertoire, from the immortal “Sing, Sing, Sing” to the bleak-and-beautiful “Goodbye” to the fun-filled “Slipped Disc,” and he even resembles the King Of Swing, with a serious bespectacled face and firmly parted hair. The similarities stop there though, as Bennett’s tone and timbre bear little resemblance to Goodman’s clarion call clarinet sound. Bennett has a more soothing-and-streamlined sound—not the same as, but in the realm of Ken Peplowski and Eddie Daniels —and it charms the ear throughout.

While it would be a lie to say that the album is filled with surprises, a few pop up along the way the inclusion of a Beatles classic (“Yesterday”) amidst the older fare is one and the clarinet supplanting the drums on the “Sing, Sing, Sing” solo break is another. Elsewhere, things are often predictable but pleasing. A rollicking “Woodchopper’s Ball” makes for a good time, as does the oft-covered, album-ending “When The Saints Go Marching In.” The only misstep here is “Saint James Infirmary.” Bennett’s vocals don’t measure up and the song feels a tad stiff, but that’s simply the Achilles heel on an otherwise healthy-and-strong body of material.

Bennett is the undisputed star of his own show, but his band mates deserve a bit of praise for their work; they’re attuned to his attitudes about this music and they do an excellent job in helping him shape these performances. Guitarist Reg Schwager, proves to be a great front line partner, moving in tandem with Bennett on some fast-and-tricky passages, and bassist Paul Keller and drummer Pete Siers are sensitive to all of the nuances that live within this music. Pianist Tad Weed, more than any side man here, establishes himself as a player to watch and a force to be reckoned with. The depth and breadth of his work is astounding and Bennett’s clarinet playing rests on his pianistic shoulders. The sixth man—arranger Shelly Berger—also deserves a nod, as his pen defines the overall shape of this music. Together, this crew makes wonderful music that recalls the past but lives in the present.

Track Listing
Slipped Disc; Begin The Beguine; Don’t Be That Way; Running Wild; St. James Infirmary;
Yesterday; Sing, Sing, Sing; Woodchopper’s Ball; My Inspiration; Goodbye; A Funeral In New
Orleans; When The Saints Go Marching In.
Dave Bennett: clarinet, vocals; Tad Weed: piano; Paul Keller: bass; Pete Siers: drums; Reg
Schwager: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Shelly Berger: arrangements.
Album Information
Title: Don’t Be That Way | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

November 10, 2013

Clarinetist DAVE BENNETT Blends Influences from Swing to Bebop on “Don’t Be That Way” – Available October 15 on Mack Avenue Records
 Clarinetist DAVE BENNETT Blends Influences from Swing to Bebop on Don’t Be That Way – Available October 15 on Mack Avenue Records
“Bennett, whose primary influence is Goodman, brings to the table an elegant sound, lickety-split technique and charismatic spark.”
– Detroit Free Press

Dave Bennett doesn’t fit the mold. For starters, you don’t find many jazz clarinet players who name Alice Cooper, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Chris Isaak among their influences. You won’t find many musicians under 30 who are equally conversant with the music of Benny Goodman (the “King of Swing”) and Roy Orbison (“The Soul of Rock and Roll”). In fact, you may not find even one other clarinet virtuoso who occasionally breaks from his Swing Era repertoire to sing rock-a-billy hits while accompanying himself at the piano – where he plays a mean barrelhouse boogie-woogie.

In the early days of jazz, the clarinet joined with trumpet and trombone to create the music’s signature sound, and it ruled the roost in the Swing Era, when jazz was America’s popular music and dance-party soundtrack. If anyone can return the clarinet to its heyday, it’s Dave Bennett, who fuses serious jazz improvisation with a host of modern pop influences.

On his Mack Avenue Records debut Don’t Be That Way, he shows that his skills and interests make him perfectly suited for the job. He stays within the mainstream repertoire, and even covers several of the most famous hit records of the 1930s (by Goodman and such contemporaneous clarinetists as Woody Herman and Artie Shaw). But Bennett updates these songs with up-to-date twists and surprising new arrangements. The result is an album that blazes his own path while still acknowledging his predecessors, and spotlights the jazz clarinet for a new generation.

“St. James Infirmary,” the ancient New Orleans blues tune, offers one example of Bennett’s tasteful revisionism. “I took some ideas from listening to pianist Bob James, and to some smooth jazz and funk, to come up with those voicings,” says the 29-year-old prodigy, referring to the contemporary harmonies that underlie both the clarinet’s theme statement and his own laconic, sweet-tobacco vocal. On the title track, Bennett and company apply a lightly bossa-inspired beat, stretching the melody here and there to create a contemporary rendition that’s more relaxed than the original 1938 recording but equally memorable.

The most striking evidence of Bennett’s approach comes on the classic “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Goodman’s 1937 recording was an extended-length barnburner, in which Gene Krupa essentially “invented” the drum solo with his simmering and then explosive trap-set improvisation. Bennett’s version stays close to the original in tempo and mood. But when it comes time for the solo with which Krupa galvanized the jazz world of the 1930s, it’s Bennett who steps to the fore, with an improvisation just as exotic, mysterious, and ultimately exuberant as the that long-ago drum break – and with an even greater degree of nuance, variety, and virtuosity.

By turning the song into a modernist showcase for his clarinet, Bennett turns the song on its ear, yet retains its design as an exhilarating showstopper. This is no longer your grandfather’s “Sing Sing Sing;” now it’s Bennett’s.

“Since my early teens,” says the Michigan-based clarinetist, “I’ve been influenced by many other genres besides jazz. My clarinet solo on that tune keeps the same outline, but it’s different every time we play it; it’s based on chord progressions I hear in movie soundtracks, and I even stole some licks from some Alice Cooper tunes and from some solos by Stevie Ray Vaughan and other blues guitarists, just to get that kind of intensity. I think I’m finally finding my own voice, and I wanted to make that solo as dramatic as possible, so people wouldn’t say I was just copying Benny.”

Bennett hastens to share credit for the reconceptualization of this music with the album’s arranger, Shelly Berger, whom he met through Tad Weed, the pianist in Bennett’s group. “I had told Tad that I was really frustrated with where I was musically, and he said, ‘I know this arranger in Toronto who seems to think the same way you do, in terms of blending pop with classic jazz.’ So I listened to some of his music and then sent an e-mail, out of the blue, to introduce myself; I just told him ‘I really like your stuff, and would you like to do this project with me?’

“When he said yes, I drove up to Toronto and we spent a few days brainstorming – and I was on Cloud 9. I thought, ‘This cat gets it.’ I would tell him the ideas I had for each song, and write out the chords, and ask him to come up with a creative way of pulling that together. My musical knowledge is limited; I can’t write out arrangements, and I couldn’t have put together the charts for this album. I think this project would not be what it is without Shelly. And I can learn so much from studying his arrangements that I hope it will increase my own knowledge as well.”

Bennett is not being modest when he calls his training “limited”: almost entirely self-taught, he received his only formal instruction in the school band. And in terms of playing jazz, he had no formal lessons whatsoever while he was developing into one of the most lionized and accomplished young artists on today’s scene. Born in 1984 in Pontiac, Michigan, the pre-teen Bennett didn’t see himself as a musician. As he recalls, “In fifth grade, when the option to join the school band came along, I didn’t think I would be any good at an instrument. But the idea of playing intrigued me. And then my grandfather said, in a sort of ‘Holy Spirit’ moment, ‘I think you’d enjoy playing the clarinet.’ He just came out with it, and then he and Grandma went down to the local pawn shop and bought me a plastic Conn clarinet to try out.”

Even though he was growing up in a time far removed from the Swing Era and the technology (AM radio, 78 RPM records) that produced it, Bennett already had an appreciation for the era’s music from the soundtracks of the old Abbott & Costello movies he watched at home. “And then about a month later, Grandpa bought me a cassette tape of Benny Goodman – and that’s what did it. I completely flipped out: it hit me square between the eyes, and I knew at that moment that this is what I wanted to do with my life.” He set out to model his clarinet playing after that of Goodman, as well as that of Pete Fountain, the New Orleans clarinetist who kept the trad-jazz sound vital throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

“Prior to music, my main interest was drawing and artwork, and I wasn’t listening to a lot of the music the other kids were into. When everyone heard I liked this music from my grandparents, they looked at me like I had three heads. But once I played it for them, they really liked it.”

By the time he turned 14, Bennett’s prowess had come to the attention of various Michigan-based trad-jazz bands, and he began to taste the life of a touring musician. At 17 he was chosen as one of two guest soloists (from a national field of 600) to perform with the Count Basie Orchestra; a couple years later he spent a brief time as part of the renowned Hot Club of Detroit. In 2005, at the ripe old age of 21, he created his own combo to perform his Tribute To Benny Goodman, which has performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. He has also appeared as guest soloist with more than 30 classical “pops” orchestras (including eight such concerts with the Detroit Symphony), and will make his debut with the famed New York Pops Orchestra in the fall of 2013, in a tribute celebrating Goodman’s original Carnegie Hall concert.

Address this juncture of his life and career, Bennett says now, “I was trying to ‘break free’ [from the restraints of past styles] and couldn’t quite get there. But Shelly [Berger] was able to make it very coherent, and in the studio he kept everything moving along.” So in one sense, Don’t Be That Way is more than the title for a collection of freshly imagined Swing Era classics. It could just as well be Bennett’s admonition to himself on his Mack Avenue debut – to step out as a fully independent artist, steeped in but not beholden to the way things were done in the past.


August 13 2013

Lenny Solomon – The Blues Violin
CD: 9 Songs; 37:07 Minutes

When it comes to instruments associated with the blues, which ones immediately spring to mind? Most likely “guitar,” followed by “harmonica,” “organ”, “piano” and various types of horns. “Violin,” if it’s not completely off of most people’s lists, is probably near the bottom. However, such a stringed sensation has played a foundational part in the genre, popularized by such bands as the Mississippi Sheiks in the 1930s. It is this zeitgeist, the spirit of that age, which Canada’s Lenny Solomon clearly captures in The Blues Violin, an album of all instrumentals. Purists beware: According to his website, critic Mark Rheaume of CBC Music Resources states, “The album
is called THE BLUES VIOLIN, but it could just as easily been titled THE JAZZ VIOLIN, or yes, THE ROCK VIOLIN, reflecting Solomon’s roots in the pop band, Myles and Lenny, in the 1970s.”

Even with that said, Solomon’s debut CD is full of catchy, avant-garde instrumentals that run the gamut from pure blues to jazz and blues rock. According to Lenny’s promotional materials, “…a number of influences and blues styles are present, including New Orleans Second Line (“Second Line Blues”), Chicago (“Jojo”), [and] Mississippi Delta (“Slow Slide into Blues”). Performing along with Solomon on violin are Marc Ganetakos on guitar, bassist Shelly Berger, keyboard player Mark Lalama, drummer/percussionist Steve Heathcote, Vern Dorge on tenor sax, David Dunlop on trumpet, and Doug Gibson on trombone. All nine originals were composed by Solomon, Berger, and Ganetakos except for “Winter Tears”, in which Danny Marks takes Ganetakos’ place. The three mentioned below will
appeal the most to die-hard blues fans:

Track 02: “Winter Tears” – Just as we in the Northern Hemisphere are recovering from another punishing bout of snow and ice, this perfect-forslow-dancing tune reminds us of our pain. The melody crackles like flames in a fireplace – as does Solomon’s violin, its notes leaping warm and high. The horn section makes sure that this musical heat is dispersed evenly throughout the song.

Track 03: “Slow Slide into Blues” – Guitar aficionados rejoice: this is the track for which you’ve been searching, and it’s only the third one. Mark Ganetakos plays a brilliant traditional intro, and Solomon proudly displays the Mississippi Delta influence along with him. This will be a surefire hit at live shows. Even people who think violin only belongs at Mozart concerts will go, “Now THAT’S the blues!” Listen closely for Shelly Berger’s wicked bass riff in the middle.

Track 09: “Jojo” – This is an up-tempo take on Chicago blues, requiring nimble fingers and feet to snap and stomp along. Mark Lalama gets his chance to shine the brightest on piano keyboards here, as does drummer Steve Heathcote. Everyone’s going all out here, and that’s very fitting for the album’s finale.

Overall, this album might take more than one listen for some listeners to love it, but once they do, they’ll certainly come back for more helpings of The Blues Violin!

Lenny Solomon – The Blues Violin
Independent #301 (thebluesviolin.com)

After the international success of his show Bowfire, Lenny Solomon is returning to his roots with his new release The Blues Violin. This JUNO Award-winning Toronto musician has built a solid reputation as a jazz violinist, though he has a lengthy classical and pop background. The music on this album journeys through different blues styles but that is not all – Lenny Solomon adds jazz, funk and rock elements with the craftsmanship of a mature artist. The rhythm section (Marc Ganetakos, guitar; Shelly Berger, bass; Mark Lalama, keyboards; Steve Heathcote, drums and percussion) provides a wonderful landscape for the savvy violin solos and shines in
solos of their own. Greg Kolchinsky, who recorded and mixed this album, did a fine job bringing out the variety of electric violin sounds.

The recording opens and closes with lively jazz numbers – Jumpy gives a nod to the Jump Jive sound and features fluent violin solos and buoyant horns while Jojo, in addition to the impressive violin improvisations, offers the spotlight to the rhythm section. In between are mellow compositions such as Winter Tears and Slow Side into Blues (this one evocative of Stephane Grappelli’s style) and more animated ones – Half Full Blue, with its majestic opening and a rock beat, and Spooky Blues, with clear violin lines over funk guitar. Edgar’s Blues stands out for its wah-wah violin effects – the violin sound is stimulated with electronics and controlled by the
movement of the player’s foot, creating an expressive tone that mimics the human voice.

Highly recommended for escaping the winter blues.

by Ivana Popovic

Published: 27 February 2015, POT POURRI

The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar • Toronto

It all starts with O Susannah. The slow, liquid, outpouring of the violin’s voice keening over the hills while the wagons roll out of the Appalachian spring towards the great western plains. Many of the tunes on this album are traditional, based on the reel, the jig, the rag, the air: the tightly arranged opening and closing bars made of phrases tightly metered and repetitive, the stanzas so regular that the melodies, often led by Solomon’s violin, make you feel the presence of lyrics that may not even be there. Then the solos break: Pat Collins’ walking bass, Geoff Young’s cool guitar, Phil Dwyer’s elegant, swinging piano, the spare click of sticks on rim and cymbal splashes of Barry Romberg’s drum kit ripple out, driving sounds of the jazz of today, and then back in comes the emotive cry of the violin solo, pure in tone, certain in execution of virtuoso riffs, and sometimes swinging, almost. The tunes are enclosed and carried off in the same tight traditional arranged structures they came in on. A strange marriage of December and May, yesteryear and today.

Tunes by Stephen Foster, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Joe Venuti and some originals by Geoff Young and Lenny Solomon, notably the title tune, Transparacy, some co-written and arranged by Shelly berger who substituted on bass during the Cd release at the Rex bar in Toronto, Canada, on October 20/2004. The strange thing is the performances during the live event had that swing that
was missing on the CD. Was it the missing cello that lightened the melodic load? It surely wasn’t that Tom Szczesniak who plays well, plays piano better than Phil Dwyer. So the answer must be the freedom born of live performance with a live audience and a spirit of celebration that makes jazz jazz.

by Stanley Fefferman

October 20, 2004


Terry McElligott, JAZZ FM 91
“Long before I received this recording, I was told by Producer/Arranger Anthony Panacci that the upcoming HER PERFUME was going to feature a number of Canada’s top jazz players. In the end, that’s precisely what happened. He didn’t add that the record would be a gem. He didn’t have to. Family, colleagues and friends each added their fingerprint. You can hear it. In fact, listening to this album, you can sense it and feel it… Mary, Anthony, their daughter Natalie and everyone else whose work appears on this collection surely poured all of their love into it, and to them I say, ‘Take a Bow’.”
– Terry McElligott, On-air Host JAZZ FM 91

Spill Magazine – “Mary’s vocals are so inviting and endearing… an effective, successful way to
celebrate a momentous artistic achievement“

on “Her Perfume” CD Release @ Jazz Bistro, Toronto, April 21st, 2015
On a beautiful spring Tuesday night, the Jazz Bistro was packed with friends, family and jazz fans alike to witness charming vocalist Mary Panacci’s CD release. From the looks of the repertoire and the title of her CD, Her Perfume, it was a night celebrating love, romance, and timeless music from various parts of the world. Under the careful direction of Mary’s husband and pianist Anthony Panacci, they led an all-star band (Ted Quinlan on guitar, Mike Downes on bass, Kevin Dempsey on drums and Kelly Jefferson on saxophones) and its special guests through well-executed arrangements (courtesy of Shelly Berger) and soaring performances that tug on one’s heart strings and treats the music as a collective family affair.

Things started off strong, opening with “A Beautiful Friendship.” The spirited arrangement effectively merges Mary’s sunny, spirited vocals with the lively swing of the backup band, and Quinlan took a very cool and melodic solo to give the music a good start. Mary’s voice was angelic and romantic in “Double Rainbow” while she and her band took us to sunny Brazil, singing about one of the world’s beauties. This tune even had a fine Stan Getz-influenced sax solo contributed by the great Kelly Jefferson. From the get-go, Mary’s voice was full of life and charm, making the music very welcoming to the listener.

In celebration of the CD release, Mary invited three special guests to share the stage with her, adding their special touch to the CD Release celebration. First, there was the violinist Drew Jurecka who brought a classy, European gypsy-tinge to songs like “I Wish You Love” and “La Vie En Rose.” Smooth jazz crooner John Alcorn joins the fun with Mary for a romantic take on the standard “How About You,” sounding like a perfectly matched couple roaming around the streets of New York. Last but not least, Mary invites her daughter and fine jazz singer Natalie Panacci to swing through the standard “Almost Like Being in Love,” and take us to the Brazilian beaches in the classic “The Girl From Ipanema.” Natalie’s vocals showcase a huge jazz sensibility, and she is creative with her scat singing and melodic duets with her mother.

Aside from the familiar tunes she did in the evening, Mary made room for selecting repertoire that was fresh, adaptable, and not often heard in the jazz context. “Love Dance” serves as a beautiful love ballad; it is well arranged and performed by Mary with her vocal delivery, and the band backed her up with sensitivity and support. The Italian/French song “Love is Stronger Far Then We” showcased the splendor of Italy through Jurecka’s violin playing, and the pleasant surprise of Anthony bringing out his accordion to add an old-school Italian touch to the piece. The title track “Her Perfume” is a driving blues number that opens in 5/4 and then
swings in 4/4, allowing Mary to show off her sassy soulful side to go along with a romantic evening.

The Panaccis have put together a winning formula that celebrates love and beauty from various aspects of the world. Mary’s vocals are so inviting and endearing that she made the audience want to be a part of her family, and her backup band for the night knew how to both let go and hold back at the appropriate times to make the music more effective. The concert was an effective, successful way to celebrate a momentous artistic achievement from beginning to end.
– Conrad Gayle (Twitter @CON_RADICAL)

New Canadian Magazine – “Jazz chanteuse Mary Panacci shines on her new solo album…”
“Mary Panacci honed her vocal chops in such big bands as the Jazz Mechanics and the Starlight Orchestra and the vocal group The Sparklettes. As a songwriter, she has scored some prestigious awards too. These skills are now showcased on her fine new recording, Her Perfume, with the assistance of a large group of top T.O. players (including Rob Piltch, Mike Murley, Roberto Occhipinti, John Johnson, and Lenny Solomon) and arrangements by (husband and producer) Anthony Panacci, Shelly Berger and Luis Mario Ochoa. Fellow vocalist John Alcorn guests on the sweet “How About You”, while the title track addresses a dead giveaway
by cheating lovers! It is the solo original here, alongside tasty Songbook selections.

Panacci recently launched Her Perfume at Toronto jazz hub Jazz Bistro and she plays Homesmith Bar in Toronto on May 16. Expect some summer jazz festival appearances to follow (an Aug. 3 concert at the Newmarket Jazz Festival is confirmed).”
– Kerry Doole, New Canadian Magazine |


Matt Dusk: My Funny Valentine: The Chet Baker Songbook

Vocal tributes to Chet Baker have, of late, become a mini-industry. While the vast majority of interpreters have gotten it wrong, confusing Baker’s personal pathos with his music, crooner Matt Dusk succeeds by resisting the temptation to don a misrepresentative mask of tragedy. Instead, he opts to simply be himself. My Funny Valentine could just as easily be a tribute to Sinatra, with whom
several selections, including “Angel Eyes” and “All the Way,” are more closely associated.

Across 12 tracks, Dusk alternates between swingin’ loose and light, à la Sinatra’s early Capitol days, and making more grandiose musical statements, as the Chairman was wont to do during his later Reprise years. The arrangements, variously crafted by Shelly Berger, Rick Wilkins and Ryan Ahlwardt, add additional distance, recalling the vibrant Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts that were essential to Sinatra’s midcareer rebound.

Still, Baker’s presence is occasionally felt, the haunted beauty of his horn playing evident on three tracks skillfully embellished by Arturo Sandoval, including a deliciously sultry “Let’s Get Lost,” and on a fragile “Someone to Watch Over Me” gently propelled by Guido
Basso. Conversely, Ahlwardt’s attempt to echo Baker’s vocal etherealness while backing Dusk on the closing “I Fall in Love Too
Easily” proves misguided, sounding instead like an over-stylized Art

BY Christofer Loudon



The Big Band Gospel Project unveils its Toronto premiere this February, in the heart of downtown. Featuring the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and the Toronto Mass Choir, the Big Band Gospel Project combines the two distinct styles of gospel and big band into an musical experience that cannot be found anywhere else! After the celebrated sold-out run of Big Band Tap Revue this past November, The Toronto Jazz Orchestra returns with another amazing collaboration. Under the leadership of Toronto Jazz Orchestra Artistic Director Josh Grossman and Toronto Mass Choir Director Karen Burke, the Big Band Gospel Project explores the sounds of gospel and big band music with the 18-piece band and the 40+ person choir. Both ensembles will perform separately and together, with arrangements created specifically for the Project by acclaimed composer/producer Shelly Berger.

Jazz has its roots in spirituals and Gospel music, so in many ways it makes perfect sense to have a big band and a gospel choir on the same stage. Gospel music can still be heard in so much of jazz; it’s an honour to be working with one of Canada’s top gospel choirs on this project,” says Josh Grossman, Artistic Director of the Toronto Jazz Orchestra. “Karen’s work with TMC – and the fact that the choir regularly performs original compositions by Karen and her colleagues in Canada – is a testament to the vitality of Gospel music today.”
Adds Toronto Mass Choir Director Karen Burke,
Gospel music and jazz music both had their ‘golden age’ during the same period – approximately 1940-1955 – when both were readily found in the mainstream. Cultural barriers, however, prevented these genres ever being found on the same stage with very few exceptions. The coming together of Big band and Gospel choir, not only sharing the same stage but actually performing arrangements specifically designed for their pairing, is very rare. Only in Canada you say? Probably. The Toronto Mass Choir is so excited to reprise this unique collaboration with the TJO for our home based audience.

This unique collaboration has only performed publicly once before, and this marks its Toronto debut. The Big Band Gospel Project runs one night only February 6, 2016 at the historic Bloor Street United Church.
The Big Band Gospel Project
February 6, 2016, 7:30 pm
Bloor Street United Church
300 Bloor Street West
$25 advance general admission ($30 at the door)
$20 advance students/seniors ($25 at the door)
Featuring: The Toronto Jazz Orchestra, The Toronto Mass Choir

BY Phylicia Rawlins

January 11, 2016

Eleanor McCain with National Arts Centre Orchestra
March 12,2017

Triple ECMA Award Nominee announces double album and accompanying hardcover coffee table book, out May 12; reveals complete track listing of 32 iconic Canadian Songs

(Halifax, NS) – Eleanor McCain is making history and celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday with her ambitious musical project True North: The Canadian Songbook. Today, McCain releases the iconic Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”, recorded with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and arranged by Shelly Berger, as the first track from her 32 song double album which drops May 12, 2017 in time
for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration.

Eleanor McCain with Symphony New Brunswick
March 10,2015

Having no less a luminary than multiple GRAMMY-Award winning superstar producer David Foster (Céline Dion, Josh Groban) publicly declare “she’s going places” during a star-studded concert in which she shared the stage with Lionel Richie, Natalie Cole and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Eleanor McCain has dazzled audiences for more than a decade with a voice the Halifax Chronicle-Herald declared “lovely…full and expressive.”

Hailing from Florenceville, New Brunswick, this triple ECMA-nominated classical crossover specialist has recorded five albums, accompanied symphonies across Canada and is touring with noted JUNO nominated jazz singer Matt Dusk, producer of her latest album Runaway.

An album of 12 classic and contemporary love songs re-envisioned by Eleanor, producer Matt Dusk and arranger Shelly Berger, Runaway is a lushly orchestrated project of romantic sensitivity that joins many of Ms. McCain’s critically acclaimed previous recordings –classical crossover favourite Intimate; ECMA nominated children’s recording Bundle Of Joy; ECMA-nominated Green Hills Of Home, an album of Celtic balladry and her ECMA-nominated double CD of Christmas music entitled Holiday – in showcasing her artistic depth as a touching, versatile interpreter.

Currently based in Toronto, Eleanor McCain is also an active philanthropist, donating a percentage of her online album sales to Hospice Toronto, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Eleanor McCain collaborators have also included award winners Chantal Kreviazuk, John McDermott, Natalie MacMaster, Liona Boyd, the Elmer Iseler Singers, Carlos Nunez and producer Brigham Phillips.

Eleanor will be performing with Symphony New Brunswick at Mount Allison, convocation hall on Thursday May 7th as part of their alumni weekend.

True North: The Canadian Songbook
July 1, 2015 – Toronto, ON
Pan-Canadian project to feature orchestras from across the country

With a nod to Canada’s birthday today, Canadian songstress Eleanor McCain announces True North: The Canadian Songbook (working
title), a musical project honouring Canada’s sesquicentennial. The project will cover beloved Canadian songs by some of the country’s
most iconic songwriters reimagined through new orchestral arrangements. Along with Eleanor’s vocals, the album will feature orchestras from Newfoundland to British Columbia (and many points in between), as well as arrangers and soloists from across the
country. True North: The Canadian Songbook will showcase Canada from many diverse perspectives as the country celebrates its
150th birthday.

A three-time East Coast Music Award nominee, Eleanor McCain is known for her classical crossover style that includes a mix of pop, Celtic, classical, seasonal, and jazz genres on her albums and performances. Her most recent recording, Runaway, is an album of contemporary and classic love songs arranged for orchestra, produced by Juno-award nominated jazz singer Matt Dusk, co-produced
by Shelly Berger and engineered by Juno award winning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey. On True North: The Canadian Songbook, McCain teams up with Emmy Award- winning composer, producer and musician Don Breithaupt who will produce the project, while Neil Edwards (CEO, Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra) will act as project consultant. Eleanor welcomes back John Bailey on engineering
alongside orchestral music engineering specialist Jeremy Tusz. Conducting the numerous orchestra sessions will be Martin MacDonald (Associate Conductor for Symphony Nova Scotia).

“My career and passion have always been about creating an emotional connection to music. A New Brunswick girl at heart, I am deeply proud of being Canadian and cannot think of a more fitting way to express this than celebrating the country’s world-class talent with True North: The Canadian Songbook,” said Eleanor McCain. “We are reimagining the Canadian Songbook through new orchestral arrangements of songs by iconic Canadian songwriters. I am thrilled to be working with some of the country’s finest collaborators to create something meaningful and lasting to honour our country on her 150th Birthday!”

Don Breithaupt has been recognized with an Emmy Award, three SOCAN Awards and two International Songwriting Competition Awards (ISC) for his composing and songwriting. His band Monkey House is critically acclaimed and he composes songs with his brother Jeff for The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook, which has regular performances in New York. A fixture in the Canadian rock and pop scene over the decades, he has toured with Kim Mitchell, Rik Emmett and Sass Jordan. Breithaupt brings a wealth of
experience and connections to the material that will feature prominently in True North: The Canadian Songbook.

“With True North: The Canadian Songbook, Eleanor will offer a survey course in the last forty years of Canadian pop and rock music,” said Don Breithaupt. “With a mix of regions, styles and decades, there will be something for everyone — interpreted in Eleanor’s unique and authentic way. True North: The Canadian Songbook will be a musical touchstone for what Canada means to people on this historic birthday.”

McCain is delighted to announce the involvement of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and the Victoria Symphony (VS) in True North: The Canadian Songbook. Conversations with additional orchestras and collaborators are underway and will be announced in the months ahead.

On July 17, Eleanor McCain will be performing with Canadian crooner Matt Dusk at the Indian River Festival Show in Prince Edward Island.

– by Nick Krewen
Eleanor McCain really, really loves cheese. She savours its taste, craves it with a fine glass of champagne or chardonnay, sprinkles it on Italian cuisine and, like the good citizens of Nashville, will embrace it as a vegetable on a salad if necessary. But there’s one place where the proud Maritimer from Florenceville, New Brunswick absolutely draws the line when it comes to the inclusion of all things fromage: her music. “I have always been drawn to cheesy love songs. My vision for the album, however, was to present these love songs through lush orchestral arrangements”, declares McCain, a classical crossover singer who is thrilled to report that her fifth and
latest album, Runaway, is dairy-free. Armed with 12 inspired, tasteful and beautifully symphonic Shelly Berger arrangements of Matt Dusk-produced love songs that will be familiar to some and discoveries for others, Eleanor McCain engages her angelic voice to convey the finer points of romance.

From the lushly elegant reinterpretation of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” to the succulently mesmerizing rendition of the sage Joni Mitchell classic “Both Sides Now,” triple East Coast Music Awards nominee McCain has ensured the absence of Camembert, Roquefort or any other of the 650 specialty varieties of cheese available in 60 countries due to the sublime intimacy she’s embedded in her performance. However, Runaway is anything but lactose-intolerant: McCain and her stellar team milk as much sentiment out of every note sung and every note played as is humanly possible. “It’s not just about the music, it’s about the emotion of the music: how music connects us with people, memories and experiences,” McCain contends. “Some of it is indulgent and therapeutic, some of it is relatable and healing, but it’s the one universal experience that affects everyone to some degree, whether it’s fulfilled or unrequited. I still believe in love.” Recorded in Toronto and Moscow and engineered by JUNO Award winner John “Beetle” Bailey, Runaway dips into the catalogues of Roberta Flack (the Ewan MacColl gem “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face;”) Billy Joel (“Just The Way You Are;”) the late Dan Fogelberg (“Longer;”) the Johnny Christopher/Mark James classic “Always On My Mind” first recorded by Brenda Lee and popularized by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys; Steven Bishop (“On and On”) and Gerry And The Pacemakers
(“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”) among others.

There’s also a contemporary nod to both John Legend (“Save Room”) and Bob Dylan (“To Make You Feel My Love”) that highlights McCain’s flair for balladry, but also stretches her boundaries, something that album producer, and JUNO-nominated jazz singer, Matt Dusk strived for on the album. “Eleanor has a very pretty voice,” says Dusk, who duets with the singer on “To Make You Feel My Love.” “What I aimed for was for her to lose some of the classical side of things and become more of a communicator. I wanted to make a record with her vision, and put songs on the record that would accommodate her growth over years of singing them. “There are
songs like ‘Both Sides Now’ that she can sing for the rest of her life, and every year it’ll sound different.” McCain, who knew Dusk as a friend for 10 years before they decided to collaborate in the recording studio together, says he provided a fresh approach for her on the new album. “I wanted to inject some new blood, but not totally reinvent the wheel,” says McCain, whose previous collections have ranged from the seasonal (2013’s ECMA-nominated Holiday) and classical crossover (Intimate) to celebratory mother-and-child themed (2009’s ECMA-nominated Bundle Of Joy) and Maritime/Celtic roots (2011’s ECMA-nominated Green Hills Of Home.) “Matt did a
phenomenal job and challenged me vocally with special arrangements for really elegant, lush covers. It’s exactly what I wanted.”

For arranger Shelly Berger, who has worked with an impressive cadre of recording talent ranging from jazz greats Jack DeJohnette and Herb Ellis to pop stars Chaka Khan and Chantal Kreviazuk, it was an opportunity to work with the DOAC Orchestra and custom-design each arrangement for McCain’s cozy voice. “I spent a lot of time listening to Eleanor’s previous records to get an idea of her singing ability, and then we used different orchestrations and tempos to attach a unique interpretation that would comfortably fit her voice.” Both McCain and Dusk were extremely pleased with Berger’s efforts. “Shelly’s done an amazing job with the arrangements,” McClain gushes. “They’re lush, but they kind of paint a musical landscape. They’re familiar, but they transport you somewhere else. They’re not so literal.” Adds Dusk: “Shelly and I have been working together for 10 years, and he had just finished my previous record, My
Funny Valentine, before moving onto Runaway. “The thing that’s difficult in this business is finding people that care. Shelly will slave over an arrangement until it’s perfect and that’s what I love about him.

Although she’s moving into recording veteran territory with her fifth album Runaway, Eleanor McCain’s love affair with music began when she was still a child and seeing her first performance of the Broadway musical Annie. “I still remember it vividly,” McCain recalls. “Even though I started singing when I was two or three years old, living in a small New Brunswick village of 800 people didn’t offer me a lot of access to radio or TV. “Since I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of concerts given the limitations of my small village, I’m not sure whether it was hearing the music and seeing the performance, or seeing young girls on stage I could relate to, but I was hooked!
“We stayed at my mother’s sister’s house in Greenwich Village, and after I saw the show, I was playing with my cousin and sister in the backyard and singing the songs from the musical for the rest of the day.” Inspired by her mother’s piano-playing musicality, McCain took voice lessons in Fredricton and eventually enrolled in Mount Allison University for music, learning classical singing techniques.

While it gave her much needed discipline and taught her the craft, McCain says the lack of flexibility in interpreting classical music prompted her exploration of pop and related genres. “I don’t have a huge Wagnerian voice,” she admits. “And my intent is that whatever music I put out there for my listeners evokes some kind of emotion for them and within them.” Crediting her earthy family upbringing in “idyllic” Florenceville in instilling her with passion, a strong work ethic and “what’s important in the world – caring for others, empathy,” McCain is also an active philanthropist, donating a percentage of her online album sales to Hospice Toronto, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. “My connection with hospice palliative care came from my experience of caring for my father when he was dying of cancer,” she explains. “I saw a great need for people dealing with a terminal illness as well as their caregivers, and wanted to contribute. It’s extremely important to me.” It’s the same amount of caring and devotion that McCain gives to the music of Runaway: striving for a degree of intimacy and injecting all the nuances that romantic love demands, while leaving enough interpretative leeway to resonate with her listeners and allow them to unearth their own interpretations. “These are classic love songs from the ‘60s through today,” notes McCain, “I really wanted to sing about being in love, falling in love, everything that love implies, while giving them a new feel with that symphonic, orchestral treatment. “I wanted them to be deeply personal, poignant and draw on many different aspects of love, and I couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out.” That’s Gouda enough for us.

True North: The Canadian Songbook

Various Reviews