The Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, has a huge fan on Vancouver Island.

Nanaimo’s Andrew Homzy, musician, arranger, jazz scholar and Grammy nominee, is so fond of Handy’s compositions that he has created a revue of some of his best-known tunes: A Tour of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of W.C. Handy.

The revue, following on the wildly successful production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill late last year, will be co-produced by impresario Pat Selman and the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society in November.

Handy, one of the most influential American songwriters, penned such classics as St. Louis Blues, Memphis Blues, Yellow Dog Blues and Beale Street Blues in the early 20th century.

One of many early blues musicians, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form, taking it from a regional style — Delta blues — with a limited audience to one of the dominant forces in American music.

Homzy has arranged each Handy tune for three vocalists and his 10-piece NOLA NightHawks band, which has performed regularly on the South Island since it was formed three years ago.

Homzy, who moved to Nanaimo in 2009, was a key figure on the Montreal jazz scene for more than 40 years, where his Jazz Orchestra, with Homzy on piano, played regularly at the Montreal Jazz Festival and whose performances were broadcast many times on Radio-Canada.

He was nominated for a Grammy for his research into the music of legendary jazz bass pioneer Charles Mingus, writing comprehensive notes on his work and co-producing Mingus’s six-CD set, Passions of a Man: The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961.

Homzy fondly recalls a bus trip he and a schoolmate took to New York City in 1963 to buy some sheet music after graduating from high school in Cleveland.

Visiting Handy Brothers Music, they met Wyre Handy, W.C.’s son, who kept pulling sheet music off the shelves as they named their favourite Handy tunes, and who refused to take any money for the arrangements they took back home to Cleveland.

“We learned a lot while we were in New York,” Homzy recalled. “But the two or three hours we spent with Mr. Handy were the best time of our trip.”


The revue will feature vocalists Robyn Fortunat, Layla Hansen and Dominique Pashley, along with trumpeters Greg Bush and David Herman, trombonists Darren Nilsson and Craig Burnett, clarinetist Claudio Fantinato, baritone saxophonist Rod Alsop, guitarist Jesse Marshall, bassist Rob Uffen, drummer Alicia Murray and musical director Homzy on piano.


 - The Victoria Connection -


While a new name to Victoria audiences, Andrew Homzy's remarkable career deeply intersected with two beloved musicians prominent in B.C.’s capital city.


After completing his Bachelor of Music degree in Cleveland, Andrew took his tuba and a suitcase of his scores and a few other belongings to pursue a Masters Degree at McGill University. Arriving at the Montréal airport, he was met by the tubaist of the Montréal Symphony who asked: “Can you work tonight?”. A few hours later, Andrew was playing with Borgy Borgerson, a banjo virtuoso and singer who had moved from B.C. to work in the bustling music scene fueled  by Expo ’67. A few months later, Andrew joined the big band of Vic Vogel, the patriarch of jazz in Montréal. And while continuing his studies in Classical Musicology, he helped found the jazz orchestra at McGill’s Faculty of Music. 


Andrew soon became first-call tubaist on the free lance scene and played the best and worst gigs you could imagine. From monthly tv shows like “Beau Dimanche” to wedding bands; from ballets, operas, radio, film and recordings to Hans Stumph’s Bavarian beer hall band, he did it all. In the meantime, he was composing and arranging as well and making plans to form his own groups. Interested in the whole of jazz, the first of these was a “Dixieland” group called “The Peel Street Stompers” - the second, recalling the name of Charles Mingus’ groups was “The Oxford Street Jazz Workshop” which included virtuoso drummer, Lou Williamson.


While Borgy and Lou didn’t know each other in Montréal, they moved independently to Victoria and both became prominent on the scene in the respective areas of traditional and modern jazz. Talent-attracts-talent and they both played together on many occasions - especially, in the wonderful Dixieland Express - to the amazement and delight of both audiences and that group of extremely severe critics, other musicians. Sadly, Lou died in 2009, but Borgy continues to be a force-of nature and recently met-up with Andrew - more than 40 years later.


Fast forward to the 21st Century: Andrew moved to Nanaimo and became a permanent resident in 2011. He formed a brass quintet, produced classical and jazz concerts, became deeply involved in the community as President of both the Protection Island Neighbourhood Association and the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music as well as speaking to the B.C. Legislature (with musical accompaniment from Hugh Fraser and Lorae Farrell) in support of funding for the Arts. Andrew also continued to compose, arrange and research both classical and jazz music, and in the summer of 2014 decided to build a band which could express his wide range of musical interests and re-connect to his regard for the roots of jazz - and the city of New Orleans.


Drawing from the best professional musicians available in Nanaimo, Andrew Homzy’s N.O.L.A. NightHawks is a 10-piece group:  two trumpets, two trombones, baritone sax, clarinet (an instrument which defines New Orleans music), piano, guitar, bass, and drums.. 


Biography

About Andrew Homzy

Andrew Homzy

Mine are the ears and eyes of a composer, too.