Tag Archives: 1980s

Ontario Bi-Centennial Show – 30th Anniversary

May 16 this year is a special day for me. It marks the 30th anniversary of the first performance of the Ontario Bi-Centennial Show that I wrote back in 1984.  The show was commissioned by the Ontario government, produced by Humber College, and cast with Humber students. I wrote the entire show (words and music), and Ron Collier’s arranging students scored my charts.  Don Calderwood and Paula Gallivan directed and choreographed it.

The show premiered on May 16, 1984 in Bothwell, Ontario, and played again the next day in Petrolia. Then on a schedule of four locations per week (from May to Labour Day), it toured the whole province. The cast of 12 and the 8-piece band travelled in a large school bus. Two tractor-trailers were needed to transport all the portable stage, lights, sound equipment, props and costumes for this huge undertaking. The cast and musicians performed to a high standard, and I was proud of the show and everyone involved in it. I heard that the government and the college were pleased with the outcome as well.

Performers and musicians - Ontario Bi-Centennial Show 1984

Performers and musicians – Ontario Bi-Centennial Show 1984

However, all along the way the question kept getting asked: “The bicentennial of what?”  The truth is – to us at the time, the answer was immaterial.  We were performers, not historians. Give us a budget, a theme, and a venue, and we set our focus on the performance.

The official answer was that it was the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists in Ontario. I later heard that the province’s history had been “massaged” a little to provide a convenient promotional opportunity in a pre-election year. No matter. It was a feel-good event.  And it was built up to be so big that the Queen was even invited to come to Canada (about a month after our show closed) to participate in a tree-planting ceremony at the Legislative Building.

But back to our show – of which I am still very proud.  Do any of you have any memories of it to share?  Please leave a comment below.

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The Imperial Room At The Royal York

From 1974 to 1986, I was music director of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.  I was mainly responsible for the Imperial Room, a 400-seat dining room featuring nightly dancing and a cabaret-style stage show. We were considered the last great cabaret in Canada (and the second last in North America, after San Francisco).

I fronted a nine-piece house band, to which we added players as needed. For example when Ella Fitzgerald performed, we needed eighteen musicians; Tony Bennett required an orchestra of twenty-four.

The house band consisted of:

Trumpets:  Erich Traugott,  Bobby Herriot
Trombone:  Jerry Johnson
Saxophones: Harvey Kogen,  Jim O’Driscoll
Piano: Bruce Harvey
Bass: George Kozub
Drums:  Bruce Philp
Band Leader: Howard Cable
 

Additions to the house band (as required):

Trumpets: Sam Noto,  Bram Smith Jr.,  Jeff Reynolds,  Al Stanwyck
Trombones: Alastair Kay,  Rob McConnell,  Ron Hughes
Saxes: Moe Koffman,  Bernie Piltch,  Vern Dorge,  Jerry Toth
Guitar: Andy Krehm, Bill Bridges
Percussion: Marty Morrell,  Peter Appleyard
 

During my 13 year tenure, many stars were featured – a new one each week. Our performers included Broadway stars, movie stars, legendary singers of the Big Band\Swing era, television personalities, R&B acts, and more.  Almost all of the big names of the 70s and 80s played during that period. Although the list is quite long, over the course of this blog, I will try to write at least something about each of them.

I often get asked the question, “Who was your favourite performer of all of these?” My reply without hesitation is: Ella Fitzgerald.  So it is only fitting that my first Royal York performer post will be a fond memory of the great lady of song.

Pure Ella (Verve Records)

Pure Ella (Verve Records)

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