Veteran musician can’t slow down after America’s Cup

  • Musician and producer: John Woolridge, front centre, directing the 2017 America’s Cup opening ceremony (Photograph supplied)

    Musician and producer: John Woolridge, front centre, directing the 2017 America’s Cup opening ceremony (Photograph supplied)

  • John Woolridge playing the tuba with the Berkeley Marching Panthers in this year's Bermuda Day Parade, after recovering from a shattered ankle (Photograh supplied)

    John Woolridge playing the tuba with the Berkeley Marching Panthers in this year's Bermuda Day Parade, after recovering from a shattered ankle (Photograh supplied)

Musician and producer John Woolridge never thought he’d perform at the 2017 America’s Cup. But a call for help from America’s Cup organisers snowballed and he found himself not only performing in the opening ceremony, but also its music director. Lifestyle’s Jessie Moniz Hardy talked with him about his experience.

John Woolridge is a humble guy. He feels embarrassed just naming the instruments he plays: piano, bass guitar, guitar, flute, trumpet, saxophone, baritone horn and tuba.

“I don’t usually tell people I play all that,” the 60-year-old said. “I’m not big into self promotion.”

Instead, being a spiritual man, he trusts in God to open doors for him.

“The Bible says your gift will make room for you, and present you before princes,” said Mr Woolridge, owner of Just Platinum Recording, and creator of the song Proud to be Bermudian.

He feels the 2017 America’s Cup was an example of God at work.

When an audition call went out in early 2017, he didn’t respond.

He didn’t see how he would fit into the America’s Cup, because he didn’t perform much outside of the religious sphere.

Then one day he was on vacation in Chicago when he got a call from America’s Cup organisers.

They needed some help with a musical arrangement that included his song Proud to be Bermudian.

From there his role in the opening ceremony grew.

When the event opened on May 27, he played the piano alongside veteran musicians such as Gene Steede and Wendell “Shine” Hayward and emerging artists such as Jesse Seymour and Raven Baksh in the America’s Cup 4-Forty-1 Band.

“The team that was with me were amazing local singers, and they were able to display their international skills on an international platform,” he said. “Certainly there was a sense of pride we all felt in inviting the world to see Bermuda and hear our songs.”

He remembers looking out over the crowd of 5,000 and feeling excited, but not intimidated.

“Over the years, I have played for lots of huge crowds,” he said.

In the 1990s, he was at the New Testament Church of God General Assembly in Austin, Texas, when he was suddenly called up to play in front of 60,000 people.

“I was just sitting in the crowd, when I heard my name called,” he said. “The leader of the convention said: ‘We are going to do this song. Can you come up and play it for us?’.”

Some musicians might have been scared, but Mr Woolridge just got up and played. “Whatever I do, I try to do excellent and passionate work,” he said.

For Mr Woolridge, one of the highlights of the America’s Cup was networking with music industry professionals at the event.

“I met the producer for one of the overseas reggae artists who played at the America’s Cup,” Mr Woolridge said. “I can’t remember his name, or the reggae artist’s name now, but it was interesting sitting and talking with him.

“I found it most encouraging that these guys who were on the road were able to share what they were about to do and what they have done.”

When Mr Woolridge’s America’s Cup role was finished, he was a little sad, but ready for the next thing. “You are only as good as the next thing you do,” he said. “As grateful as I was, I was not resting on my laurels.”

A year later, he can’t say if any particular opportunity came out of his work with the America’s Cup, but this year has been a busy one for him.

In February, he performed at the Bermuda Festival with international act Tenors Un Limited, and this summer he did some production work for local children’s musical Ah Tempo.

He also became the voice of the Government’s new Just Good Business Campaign highlighting Bermuda’s efforts to fight money laundering.

That was another case of a gift dropped in his lap.

“Through my company, Just Platinum Recording, we get a wide variety of clients looking to do different things,” he said. “I met [advertising executive] Sami Lill of creative studio Uber Super Duper. He had just finished doing graphics and video footage for the campaign and wanted a voiceover.”

Mr Woolridge brought in an artist, but Mr Lill was more interested in Mr Woolridge’s own voice. “I did some demo work, and Sami said, why don’t you do the voiceover,” Mr Woolridge said.

He agreed. The campaign launched on buses, radio and social media on July 31. But of all the things Mr Woolridge has done since the America’s Cup, he was most proud of marching with the Berkeley Institute’s band Berkeley Marching Panthers in the Bermuda Day Parade.

He has taught music at the school, on and off for nine years. He has often played the tuba with the band, in the parade, but couldn’t last year because of an injury. In August 2016, he fell off a ladder during a church renovation project, and fractured his ankle in six places.

“I really shattered it,” he said. “It has been a long recovery since then, and I’ve been walking with a bit of a shuffle.”

Last year, he just couldn’t face the march. “The idea of carrying a huge tuba and marching for a couple of hours in the Bermuda Day Parade was a daunting task,” he said. “Also, every hour you march, takes nine hours of practice.”

Mr Woolridge feels he came late to music. At 13, his mother gave him a portable organ keyboard for coming top of his class at Saltus Grammar School, and he taught himself to play it.

Later, he took lessons with Saltus music teacher Bill Duncan, and in his late teens studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

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Published Aug 13, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 12, 2018 at 11:56 pm)

Veteran musician can’t slow down after America’s Cup

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