by Odette Jobidon
Patricia and Norbert Peters
JACK VELKER was an outstanding performer, brilliant composer, studio musician and arranger. He was versatile and charismatic with great joie-de-vivre and humility. Guided by a chivalrous code of honour and compassion, Jack extended the same level of respect and kindness to everyone.
photo: A. Zheng
Tribute Gala Benefit
Fairview Vancouver Pub
His outstanding performances and genuine love for his audience touched people everywhere. Recently, a gentleman in the audience at the Pan Pacific hotel came to the piano, shook Jack’s hand and exclaimed, "My, you are a serious mother of a pianist!" Jack thanked him and, upon introducing himself, discovered he was shaking hands with Quincy Jones.
Blessed with an amazing memory, Jack, an avid reader of history and philosophy, loved to share and channel his knowledge. While not a religious man, he was highly spiritual, with a kind and forgiving nature. Like many artists, Jack would have been deemed financially poor by North American standards. Nevertheless, he was and always will remain one of the richest men who ever lived for he was a fulfilled, creative, passionate and loving being. Living every moment to its fullest, Jack made our world a much better place and inspired us to higher ideals.
As one of the most versatile performers on the Vancouver scene, Jack maintained a rigorous performance schedule, playing 250 to 300 engagements a year. One night, you’d find him playing the Grand at the Pan Pacific or at the Gotham and the next night, he’d be at the Yale, wailing on the Hammond b-3 or playing the accordion with Mojo Zydeco. You might also have seen him playing for patients at a hospital or at a retirement home.
For the past 20 years, alongside co-host sax player Ross Barrett, Jack took great pleasure performing at the Sunday Soul Service with their highly spirited, eclectic five to 12-piece band. This weekly offering, which first saw the light at Santos on Commercial Drive, continues every Sunday at the Cottage Bistro. Throughout his career, Jack performed with hundreds of acts, including the 49th Parallel, which toured quasi-non-stop for a year and a half in a converted Brewster glass-topped bus. Within days of Jack’s leaving the 49th Parallel, Neil Merryweather called from Hollywood. He sent Jack a substantial cheque, a ticket and the promise of fame and greater riches. Without further ado, Jack gave away his amplifiers and stage clothes and returned to LA where he recorded with Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, Barry Goldberg, Mick Fleetwood and Lynn Carey (soon to be a mama lion). After squandering his musician’s wages on 19 months of motel living and endless free performances for record company presidents, Jack managed to escape, never to see Hollywood again.
Jack appeared on the Vancouver scene in 1971 where he joined Joe Mock (Pied Pumkin) and his band Mock Duck as organ player. He also worked as resident keyboard player for Mushroom Studios (a.k.a. can-base). There, he played with Bo Diddley and Chief Dan George as well as what he qualified as a wide array of questionable talents.
The lack of art in his work-a-day world became intolerable. He gave up full-time studio work, preferring to play in odd places to even odder audiences. He played at birthdays, wakes, bikers’ parties, way-out theatrical presentations, on the street and on boats, at office parties, in dope dens and gambling houses. In 1977, he spent the year in England, Spain and Morocco. In 1979, back in Vancouver, he opened for Ray Charles at the Cave and for Paul Revere and the Raiders as well as performing regularly at the Classical Joint and joining the local band Waves.
In the early ‘80s, Jack and I (Odette Jobidon) as artistic director, developed a concept for the creation of a large, professional, multicultural orchestra to perform some of Jack’s exotic scores. In an attempt to keep a fair balance due to our intimate life/work relationship, we invited Ross Barrett to join in as co-composer. The Ethno-Fusion Orchestra Project, involving an international cast of 20 professional musicians, kept us busy for years.
From 1985 to 1993, in collaboration with prominent artistic designer Michael Malcolm and with the help of dedicated teams of volunteers, we created 20 lavish galas called Painters & Players Productions, which featured up to 150 performers, including opera singers, acrobats, ballet dancers, painters in action and human sculptures. BCTV acclaimed these shows "the best entertainment value in the city." Jack continued to perform and tour with a great variety of bands, including an incarnation of the Platters, two cross-Canada tours with tributes to Roy Orbison and Elvis and a Western Canada tour with Virgil Brown from the US. He also toured Germany and France.
In addition to his busy performance schedule, Jack also spent an average of five hours a day for much of the past 30 years creating a phenomenal, untapped source of diverse works. His compositions run the gamut of symphonic concertos, ballet and film scores, epics, modern space music, healing and new age soundscapes as well as social and sociological satires.
At the time of his passing, Jack had completed 14 pieces towards an upcoming Middle Eastern musical by playwright Joyce Kline. He also wrote the full score for Modern Burlesque Dances, produced last April in Vancouver.
by Jhan Dudley
IN THE summer of 2007, Jack and I talked about doing some acoustic blues performances, hewn from the classic styles of players like Jellyroll Morton, Lonnie Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy. In August of that year, we recorded a few tracks, just to try out some ideas and see how we might go about it. We were really just trying to get an idea of what this sort of thing might sound like when done within the framework of our own individual playing styles. We recorded 10 or 12 tunes that night, including a number of takes of a couple of songs. None of it was ever intended for release so we just set up one microphone at the piano and recorded both the vocals and piano into it. Likewise the guitar.
Thus, the sonic quality of the tunes on this CD is not what you’d call professionally recorded. Ultimately though, I think this rawness actually tends to enhance the recordings. What would otherwise be a distraction seems to contribute a kind of authenticity to the sound, putting it in the same rough-and-tumble vein as many of the early recordings from the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Regardless of all that, Jack’s music is soulful and alive and undeniably real. Moreover, it truly exhibits the touching humanity of the man himself, a man who was every bit as remarkable in simple conversation as he was behind the keyboard.
Anyone familiar with his amazingly prolific output, both as a composer and a performer, would know that Jack’s music stretched out to embrace an incredible variety of styles. And yet there was always a common thread running through all of his work. To my mind, that thread is exemplified in this CD, with a purity and simplicity that is truly revealing. As for me, of all the music that he ever recorded, this is what I shall cherish the most, as it is, indeed, in sound and spirit quintessential Jack Velker.
Jhan Dudley is the co-owner of Siegel Entertainment Ltd. (www.siegelent.com)