I absolutely make no guarantees that this post will remain up for any length of time. Whether it’s my own discomfort with being completely transparent on the internet (a function of age, perhaps) or just the overall embarrassment over the cheesiness of the clip, I’m just not sure if I want this thing out there for too long. But I do want to share it with some friends and family, along with the rather unique story that accompanies it, so here goes.
Even those among my friends that know that I began my career as a performer don’t necessarily know that I started as a singer. I had a some success in theatre circles in Toronto and some regional theatres, performing in musicals and industrial shows. The corporate shows took me all over the world through those early years, and introduced me to my incredible missus—but that truly is another story.
This one revolves around the Canadian-prototype of the National Idol syndrome: few know that the Americans stole the idea from us. It was called DuMaurier Search for Stars (the cigarette sponsorship provides some carbon-dating on the episode) and I was a semi-finalist in 1982, I think it was. And now is as good a time as any to take you down Memory Lane. Don’t miss the terrific Marty Robbins and Touch of Scent ads at the beginning. They really give it context.
The video above depicts the first time I ever sang in front of an full orchestra. We shot it at the old CBC Studios on Mutual Street, where I would spend the next few years working on radio drama and comedy. But that day in the early eighties is remembered by players in town for much more than my cheesy performance. Here’s why.
I was singing two songs that day, and after rehearsing them both with the band, the sax player Bernie Pilch announced that he wasn’t feeling up to snuff and would sit out the first tune. While we recorded that fist song—another standard, As Time Goes By—he had a massive heart attack in the hallway at the CBC. He was taken away by ambulance but it was clear that they had not been able to revive him.
It was obvious to me that he had been a dear friend of all the players collected there that day; they had been playing live big band gigs at the CBC and elsewhere for many years. But the times were changing; this was the last days of big orchestras, the studios would soon be torn down and television would devolve from variety shows to reality shows, never to recover. In hindsight, Bernie Pilch’s passing that morning represented the beginning of the end.
I was a kid, and pretty nervous about the gig that day. I didn’t know what would happen next as people milled about the hallway, looking at their shoes, solemn and quiet. Finally, the pianist Garry Gross spoke up. He thought Bernie would want us to do the next tune, he said, and that was what we did. The ‘next tune’ was the version of I’ll Be Seeing You that is reproduced above. I usually smiled more when I sang it—but not that day. We did it one take, and I’ll never forget it.