PIANIST CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
By Susan Oppenheim
On May 12, Bill King will graciously celebrate his 50 years as a professional musician with a performance evening at the Royal (608 College St.).
This original program of music, dance, and spoken word is based on the sounds and sensations of the old American South. Singing from his latest release “Gloryland: Tales of The Old South,” the night will cover material from rags and boogie, to blues, folk, and roots Americana.
King has made enormous contributions to the Toronto jazz scene and its musicians. He is a composer, accompanist, soloist, arranger, mentor, teacher, and active promoter of talent and jazz related events. He is outspoken on his values and beliefs, and is comfortable headlining charity or political fundraisers and social justice evenings. He has won several Junos and Canadian Jazz recognition awards, and is internationally known as the artistic director of the Beaches International Jazz Festival—since its inception in 1988.
We spoke recently about his upcoming event at The Royal.
People might think of the Royal as a cinema venue. Why would you pick The Royal to plan your event?
“This concert came about through Jay Douglas and Everton Paul of the band Jamaica to Toronto. We go back decades. They had put together a big tribute night for Jay several months back at the Royal and loved the space. They have a fine technical staff on hand. Also the intimacy factor. It allows me to keep it simple with a big concert Steinway grand piano, three singers, narrator and a dancer throughout the ninety minutes. I’ve scripted and composed the night as a step back in time—as a mini theatrical piece.”
Why is Toronto home? How did you get from your roots in Indiana to here?
“I was here in 1963 on a scholarship to study with Oscar Peterson. I was a dirt poor student who walked the streets like the lonesome guy. I really got a feel and found big love for the city back then. When the Vietnam War came front and centre in my life Toronto was the only place I wanted to be.”
Shortly after being drafted, he rejected military service, permanently leaving the United States, and came to Canada with his sweetheart Kris Sandals King. They have never looked back.
Why are you a resident of the Annex? We feel very connected to you and Kris here.
“It’s a big part of our lives. We moved into the area late 1979 on Bathurst right next to the subway platform and have never left the area. We’ve lived as far up as Helena Avenue, on London Street, Melita [Crescent], and now Christie. JJ Muggs was our first hang-out, then Dooney’s for a good fifteen years, the By-The Way Cafe, and even the first Il Fornello. Our son Jesse went to Kensington [Public School], Winona [Public School] and Oakwood Collegiate.
What can you tell the Gleaner about the program you have planned?
“The night is based on my new recording ‘Gloryland (Tales of the Old South)’—a solo piece project. Although it’s a 50-year celebration I chose not to have a stage crowded with singers—instead I chose to write something unique for the occasion. So, I put a narrative to the music. I’m so happy Jackie Richardson, Jay Douglas, and Stacey Bulmer will sing a few of my compositions and bring life to the night, and Randolph Academy’s Gillian Leask has prepared a dance piece to one of the songs. I asked Liza Paul who co-wrote ‘Pomme’ to narrate. I’ve known Liza since she was an idea and love the gorgeous timbre to her voice. The music and words wrote themselves.
“The Old South has mystery, beauty, cruelty, family, church, racism—a landscape like few others,” says King. “For those of us who waltzed through the region as kids there was serenity and lyrical mysticism to the place.”