Here is Jeff Healey’s first release for Stony Plain Records. Happily, his two earlier traditional jazz recordings will be re-issued shortly and given the wider coverage the Edmonton label offers.
Healey’s records within the genre of "hard blues" and "fusion" sold in the millions from 1985 through 2000. Blind since birth, the 40 year old musician picked up a guitar as a youngster and learned to play the instrument on his lap. In spite of admonishments from musicians who suggested he would never progress any further until he held the instrument properly, Healey persisted and proved the experts were not always right.
The young guitarist eventually inherited his great-grandfather’s collection of 78 RPM records from the 20s and 30s. The records numbered about 10,000 then and Healey has since increased the collection to over 30,000 shellac records plus thousands of LPs and CDs. This writer encountered Jeff Healey at a jazz collector’s event more than twenty years ago. In spite of his blindness, the youngster was able to feel the surface of a 78rpm disc and determine not only the name of the manufacturer but accurately estimate the date of issue. All 78s had a numbering system embossed or impressed near the label. The matrix, issue and "take" numbers often appeared. Of course, Healey would have to ask a friend to read the label to him in order to determine the tune title and artist.
His love of the jazz and dance music of the 1920s and 30s lead to his becoming one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts in the field and a respected broadcaster. His popular "My Kinda Jazz" has run since 1988 on CBC and more recently on JazzFM 91.1 and may be heard on the internet. The two-hour program is as enlightening as entertaining.
Like the late Cliff "Kid" Bastien, the Jeff Healey band got its start at Toronto’s legendary Grossman’s Tavern. The band now appears regularly at Healey’s, a nightspot owned by the leader. One never knows who may appear with the Jazz Wizards on a given evening.
This CD, It’s Tight Like That
features special guest Chris Barber, the world renowned trad trombonist from Britain. Barber appears on ten of the twelve tracks. On "Little Girl" and "Sheik Of Araby," pianist Reide Kaiser replaces Brian Graville while Ross Woolridge fills the clarinet chair. The two tunes were taped at the 2005 Montreal International Jazz Festival while the balance came from a live performance at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.
Jeff Healey’s trumpet prowess continues to grow and his work on "Bugle Call Rag" testifies. His gutsy vintage style vocal on "Sing You Sinners" is lively and authentic. The band swings ceaselessly. Chris Barber steps to the microphone to deliver "Basin Street Blues" including a witty trombone solo in his trademark style. The six-minute piece is a show-stealer and it’s great to hear the veteran player in such good form.
If we were forced to pick a favorite on this recording project, it would have to be the sizzling reading of the 1931 hit "Little Girl." The young violinist, Drew Jurecka, swings like there was no tomorrow as does the rest of the band. "Someday Sweetheart" offers some fine piano by Brian Graville and another good solo by the special guest from Britain. Guitarist, Jesse Barksdale slips in a nice passage while the youthful Jurecka continues to impress. Clarinetist, Christopher Plock, delivers the scatting vocal on "Darktown Strutters Ball," a tune penned by the Canadian born Shelton Brooks in 1917.
Chris Barber fans will love the longest track on the album. It’s the trombonist’s own blues titled "Goin’ Up The River." Both guitarists, Healey and Barksdale, back up the Barber vocal with the leader taking a very nice solo. Chris Barber a trombone solo in his own inventive style.
Jeff Healey new project is satisfying and swinging. We have no fear when we recommend this album to all fans of classic jazz. Five shining stars!