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Nanaimo musicians performing jazz renditions of Gordon Lightfoot songs

‘Impressions of Lightfoot’ part of Nanaimo Jazz Festival series at the Port Theatre
Drummer James McRae and his band are playing jazz renditions of Gordon Lightfoot songs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy Ralph Barrat)

A Nanaimo musician has put a jazz twist on the songs of Gordon Lightfoot and he’s presenting that body of work before a home audience for the first time.

In 2017, James McRae released his album Impressions of Lightfoot, and while he’s played material from that record around the Island, Vancouver and Gabriola Island, on Nov. 1 he’s finally bringing that repertoire to Nanaimo with a show at the Port Theatre.

“Initially I started with one song: Early Morning Rain,” McRae said. “I didn’t really think too much about it, but then I thought, ‘Hey, this is really fun. Maybe I could do it with some other Gordon Lightfoot songs.’”

The Port Theatres show is part of an ongoing series of in-person and live-streamed concerts put on by the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival. The evening opens with a performance by bassist Tasha Adams and her quintet.

McRae will be joined by singer Jennifer Scott and bassist Rene Worst from Vancouver, who appear on Impressions of Lightfoot, as well as local keyboardist Nico Rhodes, who helped McRae rearrange Early Morning Rain.

“Jennifer is essential to doing the gig because she knows the Lightfoot songs so well,” McRae said. “She’s been singing them with her siblings since she was a young girl and so she’s very drawn to the project because of the deep connection.”

The group will be playing songs from the album, as well as other Lightfoot arrangements that didn’t make the cut. The performance will be accompanied by a slideshow of impressionist paintings that relate to the songs.

McRae said Lightfoot songs have been “etched in my musical psyche from an early age,” as he regularly heard the Canadian folk singer’s music on the radio growing up.

“It was really the melody and the words – for me personally, the melody – that was really what captivated me with his songs and which let me imagine a song like Early Morning Rain in a jazz context…” McRae said. “I could hear that organ and I could really relate to that.”

The other remaining shows in the Jazz Festival series include performances by Andrew Homzy and the Nola Nighthawks and the Laila Biali Trio on Oct. 25. The series concludes on Nov. 10 with Ralph Barrat and the Sharp Seven and Dean Boland and the Skye Douglas Project. Details can be found here.

WHAT’S ON … James McRae presents Impressions of Lightfoot at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. In theatre tickets $30, live-stream tickets $15, available from the Port Theatre.

RELATED: Nanaimo musician gives Gordon Lightfoot songs a jazz treatment

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