Velvet-voiced baritone Russell Drago and his world class jazz combo have performed in all of Toronto’s iconic jazz clubs, at numerous festivals and the renowned Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. Although born and bred right here in Windsor, Russell has never played his hometown—until now. We sat down with Russell to find out more, before the curtain goes up at Windsor’s historic Olde Walkerville Theatre in October.
You’re based in Toronto and have been performing for many years—why Windsor and why now?
For as long as I can remember, Windsor has always had a rich and vibrant live music scene. But let’s face it, taking your show on the road presents all kinds of complications and logistical challenges. All the stars have to be aligned. I still have family and friends here; they’ve been so supportive, travelling far and wide to see my shows. I’ve always dreamed of coming home to perform, and I’m just thrilled that this dream is about to materialize.
How did you decide on The Olde Walkerville Theatre?
The Olde Walkerville Theatre wasn’t the first venue I visited, but I knew the minute I walked in that it was the place. I remembered it had been The Tivoli—I’m sure I saw a few films there back in the day. It’s “old school”, which is perfect for my show. Coming home to sing at the Olde Walkerville Theatre is a full-circle moment for me.
What can we expect when the curtain goes up?
My sound was once described in the media as “velvety smooth”; that description has followed me around. People who’ve talked to me after my shows have told me there’s a warmth and directness that resonates with them; they feel I’m singing “just to them”. I work hard to prepare for a show. I sing all 25 songs on my setlist from memory.
This is a great segue to talk about my band–some of the most versatile jazz musicians anywhere.
Kevin Barrett is both my Musical Director and guitar god. A multi-genre performer and studio musician, his heart belongs to jazz. Louis Simão, my keyboard player, was named 2017 Solo Artist of the Year by the Canadian Folk Music Awards. His jazz sensibility and diverse skills are in demand—as a music educator and as a Canada Council for the Arts juror.
My bassist Clark Johnston performed with the famed Peter Appleyard and has released three CD’s of original compositions.
Rakesh Tewari, my drummer, has shared the stage with Alicia Keys, K’Naan, Rufus Wainwright, KD Lang, Holly Cole and Nelly Furtado, and many others.
We can never predict how we’ll connect with our audience—but believe me, when it happens, we know it and so do they. I have no doubt that Windsor will surprise and delight us.
We’ve heard that you have a brand new “live” CD, produced by the legendary Aaron Holmberg.
In March, I performed at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston—where Aaron is Technical Director. He was house engineer at The Tragically Hip’s iconic Bathouse Studios for years and ran the boards for The Hip, Bruce Cockburn, The Trews, Sam Roberts and Jill Barber.
I hired Aaron to do studio mix of the archival recording the Isabel does for each show. It’s a gamble–you only have one shot when performing live—there are no second takes. But I thought, “If I’m not happy, this goes in the sock drawer.” It turned out to be magical–beautiful hall, beautiful audience. My band was right and tight. I felt so good when I walked offstage.
A few weeks later, Aaron sent me a rough studio mix. Any artist will tell you we’re our own harshest critics when hearing or watching our own performances.
However, your audience may not hear or care about the same things you do.
I couldn’t have sung any better. Sure, there were a few mis-steps, but the recording lived up to the feeling I’d experienced that night.
We’re working hard to ensure that my new CD, Russell Drago Live @ The Isabel will be available on October 17.
Tickets are $35 each at The Olde Walkerville Theatre box office 1564 Wyandotte Street East, 519 253 2929 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org/RussellDrago.
Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. A meet and greet with Russell and his band immediately follows the show.