Joel Quarrington and Dave Young ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Joel Quarrington and Dave Young ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Joel Quarrington and the Two Bass Hit
with Joel Quarrington, Dave Young, Bernie Senensky, and James Parker
Ottawa Chamberfest
National Gallery of Canada
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 – 1 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Double bassists stick together, even if one plays in a symphony orchestra and the other in a jazz quartet. Joel Quarrington has known Dave Young since Quarrington was 17, and that easy familiarity infused their performances in their 'Two Bass Hit' concert at Chamberfest Wednesday afternoon.

The show attracted packed audience to the National Gallery auditorium – many of whom were clearly Quarrington fans. When CBC radio producer Robert Harris introduced the show, he said Quarrington “used to be” the principal bassist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Voices all around the auditorium immediately corrected him: “he still is!”

The concert was a celebration of the double bass in both the classical and jazz genres – as Quarrington said to the audience, “I guess you're here because you love the bass.”

It was definitely a labour of love for Quarrington. He spoke lovingly and informatively of each of the pieces he performed, and in particular the opening number, “Elegy” by Giovanni Battista, whom he described as the 19th century Paganini of the double bass. Quarrington said it was his favourite piece to play; together with James Parker (of the Gryphon Trio) on piano, he gave it a powerfully restrained and melancholy performance on bowed bass, beautifully suiting the piece. His performance on the bass reminded me of a cello, deeper but still very rounded and mellow.

Quarrington and Parker performed two more classical pieces. The first was written by Franz Schubert for violin, and rearranged by Quarrington for double bass. It was an exercise in variations of musical shapes, and played smoothly and with zest. The second was Korngold's garden scene from his “Much Ado About Nothing” suite, and the two musicians reveled in its pastoral feel, giving it a sweet and wistful rendition. All three pieces were greeted with strong applause from the audience.

Then it was the turn of Dave Young and pianist Bernie Senensky, who have performed together many times in Toronto's jazz scene. Both have decades of experience – Young's includes touring for many years with Oscar Peterson – and the four jazz standards they performed together were a delight to hear.

Visually, there was an immediate change: while Quarrington played all his pieces with bowed (arco) bass, Young primarily plays pizzicato, plucking the notes with his fingers. He opened “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver! with a melodic pizzicato solo, with Senensky eventually joining in with occasional chords underneath. And then they started swinging, keeping the percussive feel but celebrating the melody as well.

They followed that with Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood”. For that piece, Young did begin with bowed bass – a bit deeper and more textured than Quarrington's, but very much expressing the pensive feeling of the piece. Both Senensky and Young immersed themselves in the song without crowding it – just the required notes to transport the audience along with them. Both then used it as a jumping-off spot for improvisations, Senensky with glistening strings of notes, Young with vibrating lines created through both pizzicato and bowed bass, before closing with a long bowed note – to strong applause.

Their third piece together began with a joyous rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose”, and then morphed into Charlie Parker's bebop classic, “Scrapple from the Apple” – double-time fast and sparkling and lots of fun.

For the remainder of the show, Quarrington and Young performed together with Senensky. The started with a short Bach double violin concerto, played slowly and majestically, with their individual bass voices counterpoised in the polyphonic music, and ending gracefully.

Then they played three standards, all arranged by Young – as he said, “to engage ourselves and make them fun”. On “Speak Low” by Kurt Weill, they opened with the two bowed basses jointly playing the resonant melody, with Senensky adding bright notes under. They switched around, with Senensky taking over the melody, and then handing it back to the basses playing pizzicato and then back to bowed, before ending with a flourish on piano.

Ellington's “Satin Doll” was a cheerful number on bowed bass and rippling piano, while “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was a romantic and magical number, with the slightly deeper sound of Young's bass happily co-existing with the more rounded sound of Quarrington's.

The 90-minute concert closed with a jazz composition by Chick Corea, "Armando’s Rumba", in an arrangement by Young. It featured a dancing Latin beat on double bowed bass and percussive piano. As it finished, the audience responded with very strong applause and then a standing ovation.

Near the end, Young noted that that this two-bass collaboration was “not something we do every day or every month – it's a challenge”. But he and Quarrington clearly rose to the challenge, fluidly switching between two differing styles of music and showing their love of both – and in particular, the capabilities of the double bass.

Set List

  1. Giovanni Battista: Elegy
  2. Schubert: Sonatina No. 1 in D major Op. 137 (arr. Joel Quarrington)
  3. Korngold: Suite from Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 11, III. Garden Scene (arr. Joel Quarrington)
  4. Lionel Bart: As Long as He Needs Me
  5. Duke Ellington: In a Sentimental Mood
  6. Fats Waller: Honeysuckle Rose
  7. Charlie Parker: Scrapple from the Apple
  8. Bach: Largo from Double Violin Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043 (arr. Joel Quarrington)
  9. Kurt Weill: Speak Low (arr. Dave Young)
  10. Duke Ellington: Satin Doll (arr. Dave Young)
  11. Manning Sherwin: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (arr. Dave Young)
  12. Chick Corea: Armando’s Rumba (arr. Dave Young)

– Alayne McGregor

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