I always called him ‘Maestro’. It means ‘master’ and of all the musicians I have ever known he most suited that title.
He was a piano wunderkind, having been head & shoulders above the competitors of his youth. He was so good, in fact, that in his early twenties he could be seen occasionally on stage playing with acts as renown as the Henry Mancini Orchestra – as good a band as any in the world at the time. He could sight-read Hank’s charts but may not have been able to grow a mustache yet.
George was like quicksilver. Ultra-speedy, tough to pin down. One sometimes couldn’t decide if he were a flashy impresario or a genius Jazz-man — the only one in town with a Mercedes. But his background was much more interesting than just topnotch Jazz performance, playing Hammond B3 like he was dominating an angry bull at a rodeo. He could make that damn thing sing, growl, slide, whoop, and whisper. He’d cleverly shut off the power at the climax of his solo and let the tone generators gliss down in pitch, and then fire it up again just in time to make it bark a laughing buh-bye. His R&B comping was beyond compare – he could make a rhythm section percolate and producers simply surrender. First take a keeper, of course. Who needs producers when Maestro is in the house? Take your clipboard and go home, laddie.
His advanced harmonic understanding and impeccable ear allowed him to, of course, be an important voice in Jazz, but he also wrote arrangements for orchestras, often acting as the main figure in Pop songs adapted for symphonies. He has done entire albums, TV shows, or books of arrangements for artists like Tom Cochrane, Jann Arden, Jim Keelaghan, and of course Spirit of the West, where I first met him some 25 years ago.
He had statuettes and awards coming out his arse. He scored countless TV series and motion pictures, some of them big Hollywood flicks. But he always ended up back in Canada, usually but not always Edmonton, close to family and his musical roots.
Who needs producers when Maestro is in the house? Take your clipboard and go home, laddie…
Like so many deeply gifted artistic savants George struggled at times with balancing his colossal talents against his social impatience. The whirlwind that was our Maestro could provide a First Class luxury journey to the Land of Oz or flatten your fucking house, depending on unknown random factors. I soon discovered that strength and a clear destination was the best way to align with this musical Miracle Weapon. As the years went on he mellowed more and more, eventually losing that infamous edge and becoming, dare I even say it, avuncular.
As will be unsurprising to anyone who knew him, Maestro George, knowing his illness was terminal, decided it would be he who would write and arrange what I’ll call “The Popping of the Clogs”. I pen this only shortly after his passing, but I’ll bet he offered at least one delightfully inappropriate comment before he tapped his baton and gave his doctor the downbeat.
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