Professor William "The Piano Man" Westcott is featured in the Department of Music’s Faculty Concert Series tomorrow with Rags, Blues and Stomps, a rousing revival of the music of the Jazz Age.
Westcott will bring to life classic works from the early decades of the 20th century, composed and first performed by legendary figures Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, Will Ezell, Jimmy Yancey, "Jelly Roll" Morton, "Bix" Beiderbecke, Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery.
Left: Bill Wescott in action
A piano player from the age of eight, Westcott studied blues piano with Montgomery, a major blues recording artist of the 1930s and of the later blues revival, alongside his formal university training in music. This experience confirmed him in his life-long interest in African-American music, especially early blues and jazz piano.
Westcott recorded some of his favourite works of the period for Early Rags, Early Blues, a CD released in 1997 on the York Fine Arts label. The recording won accolades in Toronto’s French-language paper, L’Express:
"… Westcott a trouvé l’équilibre idéal entre la rigueur et l’invention, nous rappelant qu’en matière de jazz (ou de ragtime), les meilleurs professeurs sont ceux qui enseignent avec les mains." (L’Express – Dec. 23, 1997 & reprinted Jan. 12, 1998)
["Westcott has found the ideal balance between rigour and invention, reminding us that in the matter of jazz (or ragtime), the best professors are those who teach with their hands."]
His most recent CD, Live at Gate 403, recorded live at the eponymous Roncesvalles Avenue club and released last December, earned a rave review in the Toronto Star.
"He’s a professor at York, an authority on early jazz and blues styles and expert on black music, yet his talent hasn’t earned him mainstream recognition often carelessly assigned to those of modest abilities. He’s performed in all sorts of bands as well as classical ensembles, on radio and television while orchestras worldwide have performed his compositions and arrangements. On this dozen-tune collection recorded live at the Roncesvalles Ave. club, the pianist browses a plethora of approaches to seriously ancient rags, blues, boogies, stomps and mid-20th century songs, each piece lovingly crafted. His choices are an education, with Pine Top Smith’s ‘Jump Steady Blues’, an innovative Manhattan medley ‘Shreveport Farewell’ and a hilarious vocal "duet" on ‘Cow Cow Blues’ especially entertaining." [3.5 stars out of 4 in the Toronto Star] – Geoff Chapman
While working occasionally as a soloist and accompanist in classical performance, Westcott has performed as a band member in rock, Dixieland, country and western, ragtime, jazz and blues ensembles for more than 40 years. He has appeared as pianist and singer in Canadian and American music festivals as well as Canadian radio and television broadcasts. His original compositions and arrangements have been performed by orchestras in Canada, the United States and Eastern Europe.
Westcott and his piano will take the spotlight tomorrow, Nov. 15, at 7:30pm, in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, 112 Accolade East Building. General admission is $15 and $5 for students. Tickets are available online at www.yorku.ca/perform/boxoffice, by phone at ext. 55888, or at the door. Westcott’s CDs will be available for purchase following the concert.