New blues show coming to Cowichan celebrates legend W.C. Handy

If you, like a lot of Valley folks, love the blues, there’s a special musical event coming up just for you.

If you, like a lot of Valley folks, love the blues, there’s a special musical event coming up just for you.

A Tour of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of W.C. Handy, created and arranged by Andrew Homzy and performed by the NOLA NightHawks of Nanaimo, runs Nov. 3-6 at the Chemainus Gardens Pavilion, 3042 River Rd., in Chemainus.

Called the Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy is one of Homzy’s idols and the Nanaimo-based musician, arranger and Grammy-nominee has included many favourite selections in this show.

A co-production by impresario Pat Selman and the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society, it follows their wildly successful production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill late last year.

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, and is credited with taking Delta blues mainstream.

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, was a key figure on the Montreal jazz scene for more than 40 years, with his Jazz Orchestra, and a favourite on Radio-Canada.

He was nominated for a Grammy for his research into the music of Charles Mingus, but Handy is also one of his icons.

According to Selman, “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.

Tickets are $20 in advance from Rainforest Arts, and 49th Parallel Grocers in Chemainus. They’re $25 at the door. Info: phone 250-324-1900 or visit