Alex Coleman and The Cookers cooked up some magical jazz to a full house audience at the Vegreville Railway Station on April 7. Perogies and Jam in collaboration with the Wendy Brook Festival were pleased to host this up and coming band from Toronto and the audience was pleased to see one of their own return to his home town for this special event. While in town, they also conducted a workshop at the Vegreville Composite High School to about 30 enthusiastic music students.
In the beginning of the evening, the dinner audience had the pleasure of listening to four local talented young people perform including Barbara Rybchuk (piano, saxophone), Christina Nawrot (piano), April Siggelkow (vocals), and Tobin Fell (piano). Music teacher Colleen Albert provided piano back-up for the vocals.
The Cookers played a well-balanced blend of blues, soul and jazz to a delighted and engaged audience. This five piece band consists of trumpeter Tim Hamel, saxophonist Ryan Oliver, pianist Richard Whiteman, bassist Alex Coleman and drummer Joel Haynes. All of them are excellent musicians in their own right and teach and perform on a regular basis in Toronto. They played two sets including 7 of their own compositions including Obligatory Blues by Alex Coleman, four numbers (Mudbug Shuffle, For You, The Sheriff, and The Ramble) by Ryan Oliver, and Vegreville Forever by Tim Hamel. The much appreciative audience rose to their feet at the end of the evening for a standing ovation, to which The Cookers enthusiastically responded with a tune called H.F.P. written by Tim Hamel. They also performed music by jazz greats Bobby Timmons (Moanin’), Bernie Miller (Bernie’s Tune), and Horace Silver (The Preacher). For downloads and information on The Cookers, you can go to their website at http://thecookers.ca
The evening was an opportunity to experience the engaging complexity of harmony which gives jazz its distinctive genre or musical language. The many variations of harmony (musical colour) added to the depth and character of the primary theme with the musicians each having the freedom to improvise within the typical 12 bar structure of the piece.
Alex Coleman grew up in Vegreville and got his early start in music at the age of 6 with piano lessons in their home, and at age 13 started playing the bass. After attending music school initially in Red Deer, he attended the Nanaimo Music School under the tutelage of his uncle Pat Coleman, well known jazz guitarist. It was in Nanaimo that Alex first met Ryan Oliver in 1999, who in 2000 moved to Toronto. Ryan started playing with Tim Hamel and then added Richard Whiteman and Alex to their core group over the next few years. Joel joined the group about a year ago and for the last four years, they have been meeting and performing weekly in a Toronto jazz club. When asked what advice he would give to aspiring young musicians, Alex recommended “having a dedication and reverence for jazz masters and follow your passion in music.” Alex’s favourite jazz artists are Horace Silver (pianist), Art Blakely (drummer) and Charles Mingus (bassist).
The Cookers came to Vegreville as part of their western Canadian tour partially funded by the Canada Council of the Arts and included performances in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Salmon Arm, Vancouver, Kamloops, Nanaimo and Victoria.
(Photos Courtesy of Rob Hughes and Don Harfield)