Patricia wheeler quartet brings jazz concert to meaford

Sunday afternoon, April 29, from 3pm to 5pm, the first in a series of concerts at Meaford’s Christ Church Anglican features a performance from Patricia Wheeler’s Jazz Quartet. With Patricia on sax and flute, the quartet features Mike Cado on guitar, Ben Riley on drums, and Ross MacIntyre on bass.

She grew up with good music always being played in the house. She says her father was “a very good amateur pianist and accordion player. My mom started her record collection back in the era of the 78’s and still has most of those discs, so I just grew up being surrounded by good music. My dad taught ballroom dancing for many years and my mom often helped him with that.

He was always sourcing out new recordings to teach with and so that kind of music was always being played.”

“ I was very fortunate to go to school in Meaford where band music started in Grade 7 at Meaford Elementary School. We did half a year with orchestral string instruments, like violin, and then the other half with band instruments. We did festivals, concerts.

“ The teacher was a man named Ron Knight, who was exceptional. For any of the students who really enjoyed it he would give us opportunities to just go to another room and practise. And then we would feed into Georgian Bay Secondary School and Charlie Strimas took over. He ran the music program for many, many years.”

“ We had two concert bands, two orchestras, two of what were called “Stage Bands” back then, plus kids who wanted to do their own thing in smaller combos. Charlie and the math teacher – Dave Clark, another fine musician who contributed immensely to the program – supported us in whatever we wanted to do.”

“ Fabulous musician, my gosh! I mean I could fill a book, but I think one indication of what a serious musician he is is that long after he retired from teaching he still studies his craft with some heavy hitters in the church music world. The enthusiasm and hunger are still there.”

“ It started with him calling my mom at a time when I was visiting her. Charlie asked me about this concert and I said of course I’d love to do it and then he put me in touch with Louis Bernard. Louis has just taken the reins in hand and organized the whole thing and has been a pleasure to deal with as well. He’s going to be organizing a whole series.”

Patricia’s quartet will be featuring jazz takes on a variety of tunes including songs by Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. There’s a Dizzy Gillespie tune in there as well but much of the program is pop based. It’s natural for Patricia to want to go beyond jazz standards in her repertoire.

She’s also played for twenty years with NOJO, the famous Paul Neufeld and Michael Occhipinti sixteen piece band that won a Juno for its debut recording in 1995. It’s a band that has created jazz reworkings of classic albums, Dark Side of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV and Rush’s Moving Pictures. In addition to that, in her career as a professional musician, she says, she has “probably played in pop bands more than anything because those are the gigs that pay.”

She realized with the release of her debut CD, “many, many years ago” in 2001 that the marketplace in jazz is difficult to penetrate. This was a recording of her own compositions, recorded with great musicians she dubbed The Absolute Faith Orchestra. There were concerts at Ontario Place and a Toronto Star review that called it “an astonishing record” but such creative works are expensive to produce, so a follow-up was anything but inevitable.

“ I was really lucky. When I was in high school, I was fifteen, and my parents used to follow around a band called The Star Dusters led by a gentleman named Mike O’Neill.” Her dad pointed out that Patricia had been playing the saxophone and Mr. O’Neill invited her to sit in with the band.

“ I was coming from a very small community and then suddenly I was just another number surrounded by people who knew a lot more than I did and who played a lot better than I did. That was a new experience for me, and a good one because a lot of the people I met at that age I’m still really good friends with and I still play with.”

Her PhD allowed her access to a rare musical treasure, archival material detailing Henry Mancini’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate film, “Frenzy”. The score was recorded but has never been released because it wasn’t what Hitchcock was looking for.

“ So that score has never really been heard except by the people who played on it and maybe a few other people. I was really privileged to be given the recording and Henry’s notes and the cue sheets and the score by Mrs. Mancini, so that was the focus of my PHD research.”

After that rare opportunity for a musician as student, Patricia has found equal rewards in being a musician as teacher. She realizes that one of the most difficult aspects of being a musician in today’s world is the state of the music business. She sees streaming as a particular threat to a musician’s income stream.

“ I have a lot of non-music students at Ryerson University and I try to educate them on the reality of the economics involved with streaming and why artists need to spend the best years of their lives doing what they’re meant to do, not working at dead-end part time jobs to pay their bills because they’re not making anything off their music. And a lot of them get that. I have a lot of economics students and they work it out quite nicely.”

“ A lot of the people coming out of the jazz programs in Canada, out of U of T and out of Humber , they’re so good at social media and marketing and using all the new digital equipment. They’re doing really well just doing their own projects and making a go of it. I’m really pleased, really proud of them.

“ I know there will be a lot of people who I knew as kids – extended family and friends – who will be coming to this concert and that’s exciting,” she says, “I’m really looking forward to that, people that I haven’t seen in maybe twenty or thirty years.”