Mix stride piano, vaudeville, gypsy jazz and folk music, and you’ve got Grant Simpson.
The Nanaimo-born singer who now calls the Yukon home will perform his unique blend of music during a house concert in Ladysmith Tues., Nov. 27 as part of the Home Routes circuit.
Born and raised in Nanaimo, Simpson has lived in Yukon for 25 years, and he spent he last three years living in a cabin with no running water, mushing sled dogs in the Yukon wilderness for fun when not on tour.
“Life in a cabin in the Yukon changed the way I look at a lot of things in life,” Simpson said by e-mail. “I moved the to cabin with my two kids and we downsized considerably in order to all fit into the cabin. It was a remarkable way to live, and we all fell in love with it … the lifestyle was wonderfully conducive to writing songs and living a creative life.”
Simpson says the only real downside was that the cabin was 30 miles out of town, so he couldn’t tour and leave his kids at the cabin to themselves, and they became very car-reliant. So, the family recently moved back into Whitehorse.
Simpson owns a vaudeville show called Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue in Whitehorse that he says is the longest-running vaudeville show in history, as it is in its 44th year.
As a young boy, Simpson was “deeply immersed” in the study of stride piano, a style that he says came out of Harlem around 1910.
“Although most people don’t know what ‘stride piano’ is, many people have heard it,” says Simpson. “The Charleston, which is the song that marks the roaring 20s, was written by the father of stride piano, James P. Johnson.”
Simpson says Fats Waller was Johnson’s protege, and one day when Simpson was about 15, he was reading a biography on Waller and kept seeing references to all the time Waller and Johnson spent in vaudeville, and he decided he would like to be in vaudeville.
A few years later, Simpson was “starting to get to be an adequate stride piano player,” and he received a phone call from two guys in the Yukon who told him he should come up there and play piano in their vaudeville show.
Simpson performed in the Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue for 16 years and then had the opportunity to buy half the company.
Recently, Simpson has been busy touring in support of his latest CD, Beneath the Yukon Moon, an album of original songs by Simpson and Kate Weekes.
“It is a blend of folk and swing, and the songs are stories of our experiences in the Yukon, China and across Canada,” said Simpson.
On this current tour, Simpson is joined by guitarist Don Ogilvie.
“Don is an outstanding specialist in gypsy jazz, and I am really excited about getting to play with him again,” said Simpson.
Simpson says his house concert will be a mix of stride piano, gypsy jazz and his original songs, “maybe even with a vaudeville song thrown in here and there to keep people on their toes.”
For more information about the concert, contact Jane Vincent at firstname.lastname@example.org.