Jeff Healey & The Jazz Wizards

Jeff Healey & The Jazz Wizards

BandJazz

One of Canada's most celebrated artists turns to his true love of traditional jazz. With UK trombone legend Chris Barber in the mix, the Wizards make old music fresh and alive and thoroughly contemporary. They deliver it with humour and a profound respect for the tradtion.

Biography

Jeff Healey: An unusual, passionate, committed musician

Okay, two simple facts first:

• Jeff Healey is arguably one of the most distinctive guitar players of our time.
• The man who sold millions of hard blues/rock recordings is equally at ease — and always enthusiastic — playing the infectious, joyful pop music of the ’20s and ’30s that’s usually described as “traditional” or classic jazz.

Which means the 40-year-old Toronto-based musician has two bands, two musical lives — but not a trace of schizophrenia! Now he has released a new CD, It‘s Tight Like That, on Canada’s internationally distributed label, Stony Plain.

A life in music: A quick summary

Healey’s story has been told before — but here’s the quick version:

Blind since early childhood, he picked up his first guitar when he was three, and began to play it flat across his lap, “accidentally” devising the revolutionary technique that became his signature style.

His parents — he was adopted at an early age — encouraged him in every way possible, and helped him discover the joy and the depth of early American music. He played his first gigs when he was six, and by his teens had played a variety of music in a number of different bands.

He had also begun to amass a formidable record collection — he now has well over 30,000 78-rpm records, in addition to thousands of CDs and tapes, and later created a CBC Radio show, which he named “My Kinda Jazz.” (The programme still continues today on Toronto’s 91.1 JazzFM station).

By 1985, he was playing — and singing — electric blues at Grossman’s, a happily seedy bar near Toronto’s Chinatown; within two years, he was joining B.B. King on stage at a festival in Vancouver, had become friends with Stevie Ray Vaughan, made a series of demo recordings, and cut a deal with the Arista label, headed by the legendary Clive Davis.

The first record, See the Light, was released in 1988, and a starring-role in the movie Road House (opposite Patrick Swayze) gave his career an international lift. And the first record also had one other element: A smash hit single — the John Hiatt/Fred Koller song “Angel Eyes,” (also covered by such hardcore country groups as New Grass Revival), and marked by excellent and expressive vocals.

Two years later, a second album — Hell to Pay — was released, and this one featured guest appearances by two other great guitarists, George Harrison and Mark Knopfler. Alas, a third album, seen as a “new beginning” by Healey’s American record company was the beginning of the end of the Jeff Healey Band’s run, at least as far as recording was concerned.

Developing a new musical direction

It was not, however, anywhere near the end of this determined artist’s recording career.

Working hard, he had learned a new instrument and became an accomplished trumpet player, modeling himself on his all-time musical hero, Louis Armstrong. Two superb traditional jazz albums followed: Among Friends was released in 2002 and Adventures in Jazzland came two years after. Both featured Jeff on guitar, trumpet, and valve trombone — and many of the musicians who came together to be renamed Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards. Both CDs were released independently and achieved modest distribution.

While forging a new musical direction, Healey took on other challenges, including the creation of a downtown Toronto club, Healey's, that has since presented hundreds of international and local artists, and which continues as one of the best live music venues in the city. And along the way he was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Letters degree by McMaster University.

The Jazz Wizards play at Healey's every Saturday afternoon (unless they’re on the road) and each Thursday Healey himself holds an informal jam with a variety of special guests. Usually (but by no means always) the musical menu is the sort of blues-based rock that initially gave Healey an international reputation.

And while Jeff Healey’s musical focus with the Jazz Wizards is to bring the music of the past into the present, he is still asked to assemble bands to recreate the powerhouse blues to which he remains sentimentally attached. He undertakes tours in Europe two or three times a year, but he limits his road work for personal reasons.

A family man with a year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter he prefers to stay close to home. “I’ve traveled widely before — been there and done that,” he says, determined to avoid the lengthy, exhausting tours that marked his life in his twenties and early thirties.

Musically, his two lives seem to work well — if only because he has never been happier, or more enthusiastic about the music he loves.

On stage, he remains a charismatic figure, at ease and always ready with a laugh, and his musical skills have matured in a way that he could not have imagined when he started his musical career.

A fascinating artist to watch — whether playing guitar or trumpet — he’s

Discography

-Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards "It's Tight Like That", released March 28, 2006, Stony Plain Records
-Jeff Healey "Among Friends" re-released September 2006, Stony Plain Records
-Jeff Healey "Adventures In Jazzland" re-released September 2006, Stony Plain Records

Set List

n/a