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Vern Dorge looking forward to returning home for jazz festival

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Vern Dorge plays Lethbridge, Sunday as part of jazz festival celebrations. Photo submittedSaxophonist Vern Dorge left Lethbridge right after graduating high school at LCI in 1974  to pursue his musical dreams, and ended up playing with everyone from Anne Murray, Aretha Franklin and Gordon Lightfoot  to a revamped Blood, Sweat and Tears in the early ’80s.
 Now he is back home for a special performance at the Slice,  Sunday, June 19.

It will be part of several Lethbridge jazz events being held this week in conjunction with the Medicine Hat Jazz Festival.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said adding he will be fronting his own trio here including Paul Holden, Brad Brouwer and James Oldenburg. He is also looking forward to  seeing old friends he used to play with like Herb Hicks, Billy Joe McCarroll and Dale Ketcheson.

 “We all used to be part of the jazz scene here  at a little place called  the Town Chef underneath the Paramount. It was a great experience,” Dorge recalled adding hard work and a willingness to play any style of music  helped make him a high profile  face on the Toronto  jazz scene.
“When I’m not being a sideman, making other  people sound good, I put together my own band in Toronto,” said Dorge , who also plays clarinet, flute and classical guitar.
A gig with jazz singer Nancy Wilson lead to a two and a half year gig with Blood , Sweat and Tears.
“I actually met  (original frontman) David Clayton -Thomas at a bar while I was playing with Nancy Wilson. I didn’t recognize him, but the next thing I knew he was backstage talking to Nancy. And then he phoned me up, I guess  it was a personal recommendation,” Dorge said, adding he ended up touring with them and appeared on their album ‘Nuclear Blues.’

He will be back to play with David Clayton Tihomas in August during the Calgary blues fest.
He also enjoyed playing with  Aretha Franklin a few times.

“Whenever she plays Toronto, she hires local musicians. I was in the background mostly, but I got to say hi to her. She lives in Michigan, but her favourite restaurant is in Kitchener, because it serves pig’s knuckles. She’s  kind of frail. She’ll sing for an hour and she’ll be exhausted and  basically have  to be carried off the stage,” he observed. He also played a couple concerts with Gordon Lightfoot  as one of his albums has horn parts.

“ I played on one of his albums which has horn parts. He wanted to play a couple of them live. And what Gordon wants, Gordon gets, so we played Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton,” Dorge continued. He has had many career highlights including meeting Roberta Flack and playing several shows at Massey Hall in Toronto. He  also got the chance to play with  Ray Charles on  the Super Dave Osborne show and spent three years touring with Anne Murray.


“I have a lot of highlights,.One was playing a memorial service for the victims of 9-11 in Brooklyn with John McDermott. It was difficult but a real highlight. That was a serious highlight, seeing the connection  between music and people. There was a woman in the front row who lost both her husband and her son. They were both firefighters.”
He is looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends in Lethbridge and in the process, helping kick off an new Lethbridge Jazz society which will  be working on starting Lethbridge’s own jazz festival.
“I ’m happy to lend them my support. We’re hoping this will be a great way to start a great musical event,” he said.

“That’s I what love about being a musician. I’ve traveled all over the world. The music community is so close. I can  go to Australia and meet people who have played  with people I have played with,” he said adding he has heard a lot of great things about Lethbridge’s artistic community.
“Our country has  so much talent, it will be great to meet a few new people,” he said.
“I wear many hats— jazz, R and B, latin,Broadway. I’ll be playing a little bit of everything — jazz, blues, funk, soul. And I’ve got one original. Nothing too difficult to listen to. I’m looking forward to showing people what I can do, especially my parents. They don’t get to Toronto too often. They’ve heard some of what I can do, but nothing like this show,” he said.

“That’s what gets me going — a good groove,” said Dorge, who is not taking a fee for his performance,  other than a plane ticket and ensuring his musicians get paid.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 June 2010 14:53 )  
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