Canadian jazz legend takes Sinatra to stage

Concert raises funds for Rotary Foundation legacy scholarship

Miles Hill on bass

Miles Hill on bass

In a confluence of circumstance, what would be Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday falls on a Saturday and renowned local jazz performer Joe Coughlin is a fan. So the Victoria singer figuratively shrugged: Why not have a show?

The pieces continued to fall into place as he found a cause for the concert to support while performing a benefit for the Community Association of Oak Bay’s Sno’uyutth pole project. The Frank Sinatra concert will benefit the Rotary Club of Oak Bay Foundation’s Sno’uyutth Legacy Fund – a scholarship for Oak Bay High graduates.

Rotary Club of Oak Bay helped the CAOB with its fundraising initiative for the welcome pole by offering charitable tax receipts for donors.

With Sno’uyutth revealed Nov. 22 at the high school and funding complete, the Rotary foundation started the legacy scholarship.

“I’m certainly very aware the graduation rate of the general population in British Columbia is dismal and it’s really sad to see because the education system of all our post secondary institutions in the province are the best in the country,” Coughlin said. “When we look at the indigenous population, the numbers, they’re worse.”

A professional singer since he was 17, Coughlin, now 61, felt a Sinatra celebration concert to benefit the scholarship was a natural fit for everyone.

“When somebody says yes, it’s time to get excited. I think there’s a lot of people with good energy related to the show,” he said. “It’s a nice gift to have to be able to sing. After I sing I feel better physically, emotionally, all that stuff. It’s a good feeling.”

Born an incomplete quadriplegic and using crutches, Coughlin was lead vocalist in an Ontario heavy metal band in the 1970s before moving to Toronto to begin his 35-year jazz career. Over the decades, Coughlin won national jazz awards as Male Vocalist of the Year, and his latest and eighth recording, Saloon Standard, is a Tony Bennett tribute released in 2014.

“I’ve had a very varied career which is nice. I’ve been able to do other things to supplement a meagre artist’s income … I love performing but I don’t really want to work in a bar anymore,” he said. “When you get people into a bar … they’re not really paying attention. In a concert hall you’re there for a purpose and it’s to listen to the band.”

Coughlin made the necessary shift to a wheelchair years ago. It meant developing and tweaking his breathing as a singer, but ultimately it was “a good decision,” he said.

“I find that I used to always be worried about falling down on stage and that is no longer a worry.”

The brand new theatre at Oak Bay High offers not only amazing sound but also seating for more than 400 and a top-notch professional setting – he can wheel on into the space.

“It’s 100 per cent wheelchair accessible which is a really nice thing to deal with,” he said. “I’ve come on through the back doors of a lot of restaurants and seen the kitchens of a lot of hotels … that gets to be a bit of a drag after a while. To walk in the front door and use the dressing room … I hope I get to work there a lot actually.”

A fan of the late Sinatra, he won’t impersonate the singer but rather “illuminate the incredible contribution he’s made over a 60-year period.”

“He had this singing style … they used to compare him to a saxophone player because he could sing one phrase and then kind of carry over into the next phrase,” he said. “I don’t sound like Frank Sinatra at all. I don’t have his chops, but in my opinion he was one of the best singers around. “We’ve got 22 songs that I’ve collected and they’re all his big hits, mostly the swing era.”

The tunes harken back to the late 1950s and ‘60s.

“A lot of them come from Sinatra at the Sands … They had a long run at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and recorded a record of that, that’s in every serious jazz record collectors’ collection.”

He’ll be backed by the impressive 18-piece Vancouver Island All-Star Big Band.

“The band we’ve put together for this show, it’s going to blow people away,” Coughlin said.

The Frank Sinatra 100th Birthday Celebration concert to benefit for the Rotary Club of Oak Bay Foundation’s Sno’uyutth Legacy Fund is Saturday, Dec. 12 at Oak Bay High.

Tickets are $45 and available in advance at The Oak Bay Recreation Centre, 1975 Bee St. and both Scotia Banks, 2212 and 2290 Oak Bay Ave.

 

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