|A Story of Nostalgia
and Musical Excellence
|Few musicians in North America can match the "long-play record" of Canada's Mart Kenney. What follows is a brief look at some of his story.
The early years of Mart's career were indeed times of innovation in popular entertainment. It was a unique musical era with a variety of elements coming together. The music of the swinging, big band was an integral part of that era and its sounds filled the airways and dominated the dance halls.
Mart Kenney's popularity can be traced back over seven decades -- to forming his first dance band in Vancouver at an age before he could vote; to his subsequent engagements at Waterton Park; the Spanish Grill, old Hotel Vancouver; the Palliser and Chestermere Lake at Calgary; the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina; the summer stands at Lake Louise and Banff Springs Hotels and his 1937 conquest of Eastern Canada at Toronto's Royal York Hotel and later at Burlington's Brant Inn, all intermingled with hundreds of one-night appearances in cities and towns from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
No other Canadian orchestra enjoyed greater exposure than did Mart Kenney's Western Gentlemen, for in addition to their dance engagements, the distinctive mellow sounds of their music were carried into every Canadian home through "the magic of radio". Direct pickups from hotels where they were playing were the Sunday evening network feature ... "Sweet and Low", a phrase that soon became identifiable with the name of Mart Kenney.
During World War II, the Mart Kenney orchestra toured the length and breadth of Canada, playing for the members of Canada's Armed Forces in military camps and for defence production workers over 200 Victory performances. The Coca Cola Victory Parade of Sportlght Bands in Canada featured only one band, Mart Kenney. In 1940 he composed "We're Proud of Canada" and 50 years later updated the lyrics to encourage unity and express his sincere love for his country.
While many big names faded with the demise of the swing bands in the late '40s, Mart Kenney's music continued to flourish. From his home base at Mart Kenney's Ranch in Woodbridge, Ontario, the open-air Starlit Corral nightclub and The Stampede Room became the favourite meeting place for Toronto area dancers until 1969. There were many private engagements and swings through the province to the delight of his many admirers through these busy years.
When Mart decided to return to his west coast home, Vancouver, his idea was to retire from music and take up new, perhaps less taxing ventures. Fortunately, the fans were not ready to have him leave the bandstand and as the calls kept coming in, Mart responded. His enduring popularity, has brought many opportunities to perform, both on the west coast and in the east. A return to the Hotel Vancouver, Panorama Room in 1985 was a step back in time as it was here that Mart Kenney and the "Western Gentlemen" performed regularily in the early years. The Mart Kenney Big Band was featured at Expo '86 for Air Canada's 50th Anniversary celebrations and continued through that busy summer, with performances at the Toronto Board of Trade, Jasper Park Lodge, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Pacific National Exhibition.
Band leader and musician, Mart Kenney's contribution to the music venue in Canada spans from coast to coast and he draws large audiences wherever he performs. In 1993 he was honoured by the Toronto Musicians' Association with the "Musician of Distinction" Award and has been inducted into British Columbia's Entertainment Hall of Fame. In 1995 he appeared with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and engagements continue across the country. Such venues as The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, The Boris Brott Summer Music Festival, The Kee at Bala and Big Band Showcases sponsored by Diamond Entertainment's Big Band Magazine have become regular events.
As noted in the Winnipeg Free Press ... "He is not only a great musician, he is a great Canadian who's contribution to our culture and society is truly remarkable". His involvement in community affairs has brought many honours over the years including the Queen's Silver Jubilee medal and in recognition of his contribution to music and his country, he received The Order of Canda in 1980.
March 12th, 2000 was designated as MART KENNEY DAY in Vancouver by Mayor Owen and at his 90th birthday party at the Commodore Ballroom Bobby Hales, President of the Vancouver Musician's Association remarks provide a fitting summary of a true Canadian legend ......
"..you have always given the utmost respect as well as pleasure to the musicians who have had the privilege of playing in your band. Mart, you are a leader amongst leaders, the consummate professional and a true gentleman. Once again we all wish you continued health and success and we are looking forward to the release of your brand new CD. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MART".
Mart performed on the alto sax and clarinet to a capacity crowd at the event ... still capturing the affection of those who remember simpler times and those who are making these melodies and this style their own for the very first time.
The new millenium provided Mart Kenney with the opportunity to share his music with Canadians. Whether a west coast venue such as the festivals at Chilliwack and Mission in the summer of 2000 or traditional performances in London and Toronto, Ontario that November, Mart never disappointed the audience. It was on his return from Regina from his New Year's Eve gig that ushered in this new millenium that he came up with a new tune for the new CD ... "Cool, Really Cool: ... the influence of the young generation not lost on this veteran of life.
At 92 Mart's engagements were limited to guest appearances with Big Bands across Canada such as Eddie Graf and the Spotlight Band in Toronto, Dal Richards Orchestra in Vancouver and most recently with The New Ballroom Orchestra at the Okanagan University College fund raiser, The Mad Hatter's Ball in Penticton, BC.
At 93, Mart kept closer to home but still participated in his community when he could, particularly with the Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission, BC, as "ambassador at large". His interview with Marc Montgomery for the Radio Canada International broadcast, "Spotlight" was his most recent appearance, March 19, 2003.
We are saddened with the passing of Mart Kenney, on the evening of February 8, 2006 at Mission, British Columbia.
A musical tribute was held at the Vancouver Hot Jazz Society, on March 14, 2006 with the co operation of the Hot Jazz Society and the Vancouver Musician's Association, AF of M, Local 145. The music featured the 2 remaining members of Marts "A" Band in Vancouver, Gerry Adamus and Jack Fulton along with many of Vancouver's finest musicians