A review by
PORT HARDY—Well, the North Island Concert Society did it again. Credit jazz pianist and vocalist Michael Kaeshammer, who also did it again.
Kaeshammer kicked off the 17th NICS season Saturday with a rousing display of improvisational jazz, with some blues and pop thrown into the mix, in his first trip to the North Island since playing at Port Hardy Secondary School 14 years ago in the society’s formative years.
The concert society, which has been faced with dwindling revenues and rising expenses in recent years, came into the final week leading to its 2014-15 season facing an alarming shortage of season ticket sales. But longtime board member Brenda Fleeton said a flurry of sales in the preceding days have the society on much firmer ground now.
Kaeshammer (pronounced CASE-hammer) may well get some of the credit for the sudden surge of interest.
“I distinctly remember sitting up in the bleachers of the theatre at (Port Hardy) high school 14 years ago, looking down at these guys,” David “Dazy” Weymer said after Friday’s show. He then turned to drummer Damian Graham, who supported Kaeshammer’s frenetic piano work throughout the evening, and asked, “You were here, too, right?”
“Yeah, I remember playing in Port Hardy,” Graham said with a laugh. “I asked (Kaeshammer) why it took us so long to come back.”
That first appearance introduced a Michael Kaeshammer skilled on the keyboard, but still seeking his identity as a performer on stage. Still a relatively young man growing in his craft, he returned Saturday owning that stage — and, in short order, the audience who came to watch him perform on it.
A throwback performer of the boogie-woogie, or stride piano, technique popularized in ragtime and 1920s-era New Orleans jazz, Kaeshammer is capable of delivering a frenetic volume of notes and chords from both hands. Yet, like the best of improvisational jazz artists, he makes each composition his own through personal, stylistic touches.
Between songs, he regales the audience not with standard, detailed introductions, but with teasing hints and jokes which keep the listener guessing what might come next.
“We don’t do requests, unless we get asked to,” he joked.
Waving a letter he was presented before the show by one patron, asking if he played Fats Domino songs, Kaeshammer quipped, “We don’t know any Fats Domino.” Then, turning to Graham, he said, “Let’s try to do a medley of songs we don’t know,” and launched into a Domino medley of My Girl Josephine, Ain’t That a Shame and Blueberry Hill, which he turned into a sing-along the crowd (or those who knew the lyrics) were happy to join in on.
Standards like The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Sweet Georgia Brown might morph into the theme from The Pink Panther, or the Muppets Show Theme, or the theme from The Flintstones cartoon.
Honky Tonk Train Blues — written by Meade Lux Lewis in 1935 — suddenly morphs into Chattanooga Choo-Choo.
From originals like Kisses in Zanzibar — yes, Kaeshammer is also a writer and composer — to a percussion-laced remake of Allen Toussaint’s Shoo-Rah, Saturday’s show sucked in the audience and left them asking for more, the ultimate aim of any performer. And for the small-town music society seeking to continue bringing quality entertainment to the remote North Island.
For one more night, it was mission accomplished.