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Jazz festival: Blues with a feeling from two Vancouver veterans

Two veteran Vancouver vocalists are showcasing their art at this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

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Dalannah Gail Bowen Billie’s Blues

When: July 4, 7:30 p.m.

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Where: Frankie’s Jazz Club, 755 Beatty St.

Tickets and info: $20 at opentable.com

Dee Daniels

When: July 3, 8 p.m.

Where: Live Stream from Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright St., Granville Island

Tickets and info: From $11 at coastaljazz.ca


It is often said that to really sing the blues, you need to have lived them.

Dalannah Gail Bowen and Dee Daniels are two Vancouver-based veterans who have lived through the kinds of challenges that shape a soul. Both artists will appear at the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival showcasing the vocal chops that have made them two of the most in-demand singers on the Canadian jazz/R&B/blues scene.

Called the matriarch of the Vancouver blues scene, Bowen, 75, is a singer, songwriter, actress, storyteller and social activist who has been active in the local music scene for over 50 years. In 2017, the Afro-Canadian Cherokee musician was awarded the key to the city, and Dec. 11 was declared Dalannah Gail Bowen Day. Her latest CD, Looking Back, is a triumph for the artist whose story came close to ending in the early 2000s.

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After a long and varied career fronting rock bands such as Winnipeg’s Feminine Touch, which opened for such varied groups as the Guess Who and the Monkees, to the Thunderbird Blues Band which was a Commodore Ballroom mainstay, she found herself in Oakland, Calif., homeless and living with addiction. After a stroke left her in a coma, she had “a cosmic kick in the butt” and emerged ready to bring all she had to her artistic pursuits.

“The wonderful thing about singing at this age, and after my life so far, is that I’m moving into singing more jazz and going strong,” said Bowen. “From my perspective, there is a deepening, a gift that only comes with living a length of time and deepening your relationship with yourself, with the Earth and with those around you. What it does, is allow you to integrate your truth into what you do, and that includes your music.”

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Looking Back is Bowen’s letter to listeners sharing her life experiences and her personal truth in songs such as Somebody’s Watching You and the title track. It’s a varied, rocking album that puts her pipes up front in the mix with backing from some of the best local blues players, including Jim Byrnes. For the jazz festival performance, Bowen is presenting a celebration of the legacy of jazz legend Billie Holiday. Her backing band includes pianist Michael Creber, bassist Miles Hill and saxophonist Dave Say.

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“Donna Spencer of the Firehall Arts Centre and the Heart of the City festival commissioned me to write a theatre piece on Billie called Billie’s Blues,” she said. “I’m halfway through, so I’ll sing some songs from her classic repertoire, some original music from the theatre piece, as well as other jazz favourites of mine. I’ve been in love with the music of Ahmad Jamal and I really want to write some lyrics to his tune Poinciana.”

With all her time in the local scene, Bowen is a treasure trove of Vancouver music history, too. She has seen the city grow and change and lose so much of what made it so appealing when she first arrived here from Edmonton. For those who never knew the days when live music venues were all across the Lower Mainland running seven nights a week, it doesn’t sound real. But Bowen insists it was very much so, and a whole lot of fun.

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“Imagine, if you can, that when I first started gigging around town, the band had a three-month-long residency at one venue,” she said. “It was in a club called Maxine’s on Bidwell and Davie which had previously been a bordello. Nothing exists like that now.”

Vancouver-based jazz and R&B singer Dee Daniels’ The Promise is a career-defining release.
Vancouver-based jazz and R&B singer Dee Daniels’ The Promise is a career-defining release. Photo by Coastal Jazz

In 2020, Dee Daniels was awarded the Legacy Award by the National Congress of Black Women in Canada.

That same year also saw the celebrated jazz and gospel singer’s album The Promise win the Western Canadian Music Awards’ spiritual artist of the year and a host of other honours. It was something of a full circle for the musician who gave up teaching high school art in Seattle in 1971 to pursue music full time, eventually honing her craft during a five year-long stay in Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Daniels has shared stages and recorded with such titans as Kenny Barron and Christian McBride and toured the world from Asia to Africa, Australia to South America and more. With 14 recordings to her name, she has regularly appeared with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at Holiday Pops concerts and more. Her powerful four-octave range is a thing to hear.

“I started getting paid playing music in my stepfather’s Baptist church at age 11, in Oakland,” said Daniels. “The local radio station we tuned into in the Bay area afforded me the luxury of being exposed to all kinds of genres, which really shaped my music. My path to the whole jazz thing started after I’d been singing rock in Seattle and decided I didn’t want do that anymore.”

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Like Bowen’s Looking Back, Daniels’ The Promise is a career-defining release. Her version of Let Freedom Ring (The Ballad of John Lewis) is gorgeous.

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“The Promise music is the culmination of my entire life’s musical experience; gospel, R&B, rock, pop, jazz and blues,” she said. “If I had to sum it up stylistically, I would just call it groove music. That is the one thing that has been constant for me.”

It’s inspirational music with a message, and that message is a celebration of life.

“These songs were gifted to me via meditation when I was going through breast cancer treatments,” she said. “The whole thing for me was to get them out to the public in hopes that they would provide inspiration during hard times — whatever that happened to be — and provide some solace.”

These two talented singers have certainly lived through hard times to reach the point where they could offer up some of the most potent recordings of their long careers. Catching them live will be a treat.

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