BY TAMARA VON ESTORFF
Oakville’s Harbour Banquet and Conference Centre hosted the 2018 West End Jazz Series Gala Night last weekend.
Hundreds of Oakville residents filled the building to listen to some of the city’s best jazz performers. Attendees purchased ticket bundles that included special dinner reservations and drinks to enjoy while they watched the show.
In attendance was the Swing Shift Big Band, celebrating its 23rd anniversary. The band included five vocalists and 20 musicians. Each vocalist got up on stage to perform class jazz tunes written by their favourite artists, including Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.
The leader, Jim John, has been directing the band since they formed in 1996.
“My mom listened to music all the time,” says John. “When I was in the crib I listened to Big Band music, or whatever kind of music that was in the ‘50s.” he said. “I started playing the drums in Grade 5, got into a three-piece rock band in Grade 6 and then in Grade 9 I enrolled in a music class and started playing the saxophone.”
John says he loves performing at local events because of the way it makes people feel.
“It’s the Great American Songbook for the most part that we do, and they’re classic songs,” he says. “So just watching people’s faces, watching them tap their toes when we do dances, and watching them dance all night long. That’s what it’s all about, people enjoying the music.”
Despite being in the music industry for more than 20 years, John says he still experiences little bits of performance anxiety.
“I’m always nervous before every gig,” says John. “Because I’m the band leader, I’m usually very busy running around doing last minute things,” he said. “I just try to keep really busy in order to distract myself from getting nervous.”
Larisa Renee, 51, has been a vocalist in the band for many years. She grew up in a family that had a strong passion for music. She took piano lessons and played the flute as a child. When she was an adult, she attended Humber College and was devoted to pursuing music as her career.
Renee says she loves performing because it makes her feel empowered.
“It really brings out the best in myself,” she says. “When I’m on stage, I’m the truest and I’m living life to the fullest,” she said. “When you’re performing you get this charge and you’re feeling 10 feet tall because you’re just like, yes, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.”
Renee says that the best way to deal with performance anxiety is by practising constantly.
“Practise, and make sure you know your stuff,” she says. “The more you do anything, the more confidence you get,” she said. “There’s no way around doing the work, which is of course play if you love it.”
As for the band’s long-term goals, John says they hope to reach 30 years together.
“I’ve had this band for 22 years, and we’re going into our 23rd year,” he said. “If I can hit 30 years, I’ll be thrilled,” he said. “Not many people can say they’ve run and managed a band for 30 years, so that’s what I’ve got my sight set on.”
For more information on the band and its upcoming show dates, visit their website.