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First Piano-Jazz Festival is a soaring success

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Bermuda's first International Church Piano-Jazz Festival was inaugurated last Sunday. It proved to be a stupendous cultural event, organised by a St Paul AME Church committee headed by Dale Butler and Edwina Smith. They combined the resources of Mr Butler's Atlantic Publishing House, Darlene Hartley's My Thyme Productions along with an augmented Giant Steps Band and four outstanding pianists, headed by none other than 90-year-old Mrs Elizabeth Gumbs.

Extra seating was put in place for the sold-out programme under the distinguished patronage of Mrs Doris Corbin, MBE and Cecil Smith, MBE, both master teachers, church organists and choir directors. Mrs Corbin, incidentally, is well into her 102nd year.

It was an extraordinary combination of musical dexterity with Mrs Gumbs displaying a teenaged agility that set a pace for such up-and-coming challengers as Marvin Pitcher, Sheldon Fox II and even the multi-talented Conrad Roach.

Roach hails from Trinidad, and has been playing Bermuda since 1997. He is a trumpeter, keyboardist and music director, who is currently Head of Humanities at the Bermuda Institute of Seventh-day Adventists.

Youngest among the musicians Sunday was Sheldon Fox II. He graduated from Southern University with a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education; played in the Tournament of Roses before returning home to teach music at Sandys Middle School.

An undisputed veteran taking charge on Sunday was Marvin Pitcher. He matriculated through Berkeley Institute, Northern Caribbean University and Oakwood University where he graduated with his Bachelor's Degree in Music and Business. Marvin has played in England, the Netherlands, Jamaica, Canada and all over the United States, including at the White House.

So much for the instrumentalists, including the Giant Steps Band, under Max Maybury, now more ready than ever for their highly touted trip to Havana, Cuba, representing Bermuda in an international festival in December.

Perhaps the most sensational surprise on Sunday was presentation of two new groups. Taking a public bow for the first time were ‘The Sweet Cherries of North Rock' led by Darlene Hartley with Roxann Eve, Kalrita Conyers and Marlene Seon. Marlene was a top-drawing talent ‘back in the day,' and is Darlene's mother.

Not to be outdone by the Sweet Cherries were ‘The Six Ripe Loquats of Pond Hill'. They comprised Gerald Simons, who will never be forgotten for his dramatic renditions during the presentation earlier this year of Climbin Jacob's Ladder; also Maxwell Assing, Dale Butler, Denny Richardson, Glen Iris and Member of Parliament, Wayne Furbert.

Both groups wrote their own opening songs that helped make Sunday's programme so exceptional.

Each pianist mentioned earlier was asked to perform three songs, one of which was to be with the Giant Steps Band. Mrs Gumbs, well-known for enlivening the worship services at the First Church of God, Hamilton, chose ‘Blessed Quietness' with the band;' and, as solo, ‘Have a Little Talk with Jesus,' and ‘Come on Everybody Lets Praise the Lord'.

Marvin Pitcher's selections were ‘My God is Real', ‘Just a Closer Walk with God', accompanied by the band; and ‘Speak to My Heart'. Young Fox played ‘What a Friend We have in Jesus', with the band; ‘As the Deer' and ‘How Great is Our God'.

Each seemed to make the baby grand piano in the church ‘talk back' and when it came to the turn of Conrad Roach he made the piano seem as if it would ‘fly away' escaping along with the appreciative congregation, through his solos of ‘Beans in Heaven', ‘Spirit of David', and with the band, ‘Amen in F'.

The delightful two hours in the church were followed by appreciation in the church hall, where Sunday School picnic drinks were served along with homemade gingerbread. The success of this inaugural programme has already prompted the Committee to plan a Part Two, set for October 20, at 4pm at St Paul featuring The Giant Steps Band, Sweet Cherries and Ripe Loquats, Jonathon Tankard, Brian Herbert, Mrs Elizabeth Gumbs and from Alabama, Dr Wayne Bucknor, Associate Professor of Music at Oakwood University. Those serving on the St Paul's Organising Committee are Mr Dale Butler, chairperson; Mrs Edwena Smith, vice-chairperson; Miss Lynell Furbert; Mr Charles Michael Trott; Mrs Carlene Tucker; Mrs Marion Tucker and Mrs Lois Weeks.

Darlene and her Sweet Cherries and Mrs Gumbs, aged 90
Ace pianists: Conrad Roach, Marvin Pitcher and Sheldon Fox II
Max May with his Giants Steps Band and its new drummer Ronnie Lopes
Dale Butler and his fashionable Loquats
Distinguishes were Mrs Doris Corbin, 102 (above) and Cecil Smith (not seen).

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Published September 14, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm)

First Piano-Jazz Festival is a soaring success

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