Singer joins jazz duo for musical evening

Matt Gardner
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Local jazz aficionados will be getting two acclaimed acts for the price of one this Wednesday.

Singer Jackie Richardson -- a powerhouse vocalist who has performed on stage and screen and recorded with artists including Celine Dion and Ray Charles -- will join the Juno-nominated Joe Sealy/Paul Novotny Duo at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for an evening of music and entertainment.

“She’s the narrator,” pianist and composer Joe Sealy said. “She’s going to be setting up each song with a story, which is a story behind each piece of music … and she’ll either sing the song or turn it over to us to do instrumentally.”

The trio is set to take the stage at 7:30 p.m.

While the tour to this point has also included Brian Barlow on drums and Alison Young on saxophone, Wednesday’s performance marks their first as a three-piece.

Speaking from his hotel in North Battleford fresh from shows in the Northwest Territories, Sealy noted that the show would mark his first time playing in Prince Albert -- though he previously played Regina in his days as a member of the band Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Sealy’s own musical career spans decades, during which time he has won a Juno for his album Africville Suite -- named after a small Halifax community that was home to many black Nova Scotians.

He has also received multiple nominations with bassist Novotny for the duo’s collective output.

“We’re both very, very entrenched in harmony and melody,” Sealy said. “We’re a very melodic duo.

“We’ve released several CDs under our banner, and of course my Africville Suite CD -- really it was very cross-genre, but it’s gospel, it’s blues, it’s jazz, it’s got a samba in it.”

Sealy credited his father, a lover of jazz saxophone whose record collection included the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, as helping spark his love of music.

A native of Montreal, Sealy listed the Oscar Peterson Trio (along with pianists such as Horace Silver) among his formative influences, having caught the group at the Montreal Forum as a boy.

At age seven, his parents bought him his first piano.

“They figured that I might gravitate toward it and then I would be popular in college,” Sealy recalled. “That was their theory behind buying me a piano.”

Over time, Sealy’s love for the instrument deepened. By age 21, he realized he wanted to become a professional musician and attended Berkeley College of Music in Boston.

Jackie has a lot of heart. When she sings, you know you’ve been sung at. Joe Sealy

Years later, Sealy played with Novotny for the first time based on a recommendation after the bass player in his band at the time left.

While Sealy and Novotny performed together sporadically after that, their status as a duo solidified when they found a gig in 1990 playing at the Four Seasons Hotel, performing six nights per week for approximately one and a half years.

“That really cemented it,” Sealy said. “At that point we said, ‘Well, we should do something about doing an album,’ and we did our very first album, which was called Double Entendre.”

A succession of critically lauded, primarily instrumental albums followed -- including titles such as Dual Vision and Blue Jade -- on the duo’s own label, Triplet Records.

Their 2009 release, Songs, was something of a musical departure, with a degree of experimentation and high-profile guest artists such as Richardson, Dan Hill and Jully Black.

“We had string quartets and a couple of pieces that were orchestral as well, so it was a big project,” Sealy said.

“But we decided to go back to basics on our next album. It’s very expensive and it’s hardly worth the financial responsibility of putting out something so large.”

Whether individually or in partnership, songwriting is a highly exacting process for Sealy and Novotny, who typically compare their new material to classic tunes from the great American songbook.

“We’re pretty critical about the stuff that we put out,” Sealy said.

“If we don’t think we’d buy it, we don’t do it.”

Taking their material on the road again with Richardson, the duo has found a warm reception among audiences, with Sealy reporting standing ovations at every show.

Despite a stripped-down lineup, Prince Albert audiences, he said, “can expect the best performances that we can give them -- music that has been tried and tested and enjoyed by people across Canada and down into the states on several engagements and into Norway and Denmark.”

“It’s music that obviously has credibility and has a lot of heart -- and Jackie has a lot of heart,” he added. “When she sings, you know you’ve been sung at.”

Tickets cost $37.80 and are available at the box office or online.

Organizations: Berkeley College of Music, Prince Albert, E.A. Rawlinson Centre Montreal Forum Four Seasons Hotel

Geographic location: North Battleford, Northwest Territories, Halifax Nova Scotians Montreal Boston Canada Norway Denmark

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