Jake Levesque, a seasoned performer who gives back

Whether performing as a solo act or as part of Mosaic and Enchanté or nurturing aspiring performers, long-time London singer-composer, Jake Levesque, is a familiar fixture on the London artistic scene.

Jake, who turned 69 this February, recalls his Niagara Falls home as being a musical one.  His mother played piano and his Aunt Margaret, who lived with the family, played the organ at a nearby Catholic church. Jake’s family was very supportive of his early musical endeavours.

“I took piano lessons from age 9 to14, picked up guitar at 15, and joined a folk/pop quartet called BitterSuite at 18,” says Jake. “Later I played with a lounge quartet called The Music Shop, which evolved into a rock trio, East West.”

Like many musicians, Levesque’s adult musical career eventually came about rather serendipitously.

A failed attempt at Engineering in 1967-68 precipitated his musical career. “At the age of 18, I was failing miserably in a course in Engineering at McGill University and I decided to switch from engineering to music,” Jake recalls. “I left Montreal and returned home to pursue my muse.”

“I was beginning to develop a musical style of my own, so with visions of stardom dancing in my brain, I decided it was time to give my dreams a try.  I’ve been playing professionally ever since, sometimes full-time and sometimes part-time.”

In 1973, wanting to develop his musical skills and knowledge, Jake enrolled at the Faculty of Music at The University of Western Ontario, as it was then called. During his studies there, he played with musical groups such as The Three Man Quartet, Freeway, and Sweet Fever. In addition, he performed as a solo artist, playing occasionally at the Latin Quarter and the Elbow Room, and as an opening act at Change of Pace.

“After graduation, I continued playing and got into acting.  I acted in a few shows at Centre Stage Theatre under the direction of Ken Livingstone, and in several shows with London Community Players, among others,” Jake recalls.

From 1987 to 1993, Jake was part of The Sophistikats, the house band that played on weekends at the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.

In recent years, Jake has been a part of groups like Mosaic, Enchanté, Joint Effort, and JJ Fiasco.

A keyboardist and guitarist, Jake dabbles a bit on bass and drums, and he identifies the Beatles, Bobby McFerrin, Carlos Santana and Keith Jarrett as influences. He says he is equal parts self-taught and formal training.

“I have been blessed with a large number of wonderful teachers and fellow musicians, in both formal and informal settings, who have helped me with their guidance, collaboration, and inspiration,” says Jake.

Jake describes his musical style as “eclectic” – combining traces of classical music, folk, blues, jazz and electronic.

“Being as eclectic as I am may not get me signed to any record label, but it’s way more fun than being pigeon-holed into one genre or style,” jokes Levesque.

“I made a very amateurish demo tape of my music in 1981. Very few of those pieces have remained in my repertoire.  Then in 1999 and 2003, Mosaic recorded a couple of CDs of which we are very proud. I’ve recorded two of my own CD’s, Live One in 2005 and Me Three in 2010.”

Jake has uploaded some of these pieces, and a few others, to his BandCamp page at https://jakelevesque.bandcamp.com/releases. He plans to upload more soon.  Among these will be piano improvisations and instrumental compositions created with the help of computer software.

Jake has also been involved with several variety series, including June Cole’s Diversities, Richard Lehman’s Divergencies, and Sharon Laing’s London to the Max.  He was also musical director at Unity of London for about ten years.

He is currently part of a weekly house concert series (Acoustic Spotlight), two creativity circles (Magic Monday and Ruby Tuesday), and a jam-session/songwriting endeavour called Belong to Song, pioneered by Catherine McInnes.

When asked, Jake is reluctant to identify highlights from his long career as he feels all his activities have been personal highlights.

However, a few do stand out.

He jokes that his late Mother would certainly point to his role as Jesus in a 1979 production of Jesus Christ Superstar as a highlight.

Jake describes the critically acclaimed trio Mosaic – consisting of himself, Catherine McInnes and Laurraine Sigouin – as one of the most exciting bands he has ever had the pleasure of working with, and he feels honoured that the group appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2002.

“Mosaic remains a long-term project that we enjoy immensely. We don’t play publicly all that much, but we continue to rehearse together simply because we enjoy and appreciate each other’s company and musical talent so much,” says Levesque.

From an “artistic expression” point of view, Jake mentions Original Sins, a one-person show he created – with help from Sean Quigley – and performed at the London Fringe Festival in 2003 as a highlight. “It started out as a collection of original songs that various people found “offensive” and evolved into an attempt to explore the possibilities of finding light by confronting darkness,” Jake says.

Jake notes that “a personal highlight was discovering the joy of performing with my brilliantly talented and beloved wife, Julia Webb, in JJ Fiasco. She sings some of my songs better than I ever could.”

Unfortunately, for the past several years Jake has been dealing with the combined effects of throat cancer treatment and Parkinson’s Disease. 

“I’m currently cancer-free, but the treatment had its difficulties. But the real kicker, from an artistic point of view, has been the Parkinson’s. My dexterity on guitar and piano, even my singing and acting, are severely compromised,” says Jake.  “I continue to do what I can, and direct my energy less and less to performing, and more and more to teaching, helping, and encouraging.”

As a seasoned performer, Jake feels an obligation to give back to his craft.

“One of the things I am really engaged with right now is nurturing talent, particularly younger performers. It came to me quite accidentally as a result of my involvement in the Acoustic Spotlight, Ruby Tuesday and London to the Max shows where I helped people develop their musical skills and performing experience,” says Levesque.

Want to know more about Jake and what’s he up to these days?

“I send out an email every week or so with information about these and a few other arts events in the London area,” says Jake. “Anyone wishing to get on my list can send me an email at my address, jakelevesque@gmail.com.”

To be sure, London is fortunate to have a dedicated artist of Jake Levesque’s ability and talent. He truly is a Creative Londoner who gives back to his community.

Prepared by Rick Young for Aging Well Magazine, March, 2019

Chasing “fame and fortune” in the Music Industry

A recent Facebook posting about Buffalo Springfield’s founding in 1966 brought to mind a few things I’ve always felt about achieving so-called “fame and fortune” in the Music Industry.

As a long-time full-time, part-time and now casual professional musician since 1966, and a keen observer of the music scene, I offer up these comments for your consideration. Take from them what you will.

First, you must have Talent with a capital T. All the fancy websites, Facebook pages, flashy PR and promo merchandise in the world will only get you so far. If you don’t have the goods, you will likely have limited, short-term success.

Second, as they say, “It’s all about timing.” Being in the right place, with the right people, at the right time will probably go far in helping you achieve a modicum of “fame and fortune” and the respect and recognition of your peers and general public. BTW, these factors were very evident in the founding and, if only short-lived, success of Buffalo Springfield.

Third, a good deal of personal humility is probably a good thing, especially when you are first starting out. There are lots of “Legends in Their Own Minds” around blaming everyone else but themselves for their lack of success.

Fourth, perseverance is a quality which will probably help you achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for. Don’t throw in the towel too early. Most reputable, well known musicians were not overnight successes. They had to pay their dues, put in their time in lousy bars, etc. On the other hand, know when to call it a career when it’s time.

I knew that it was time to for me come off the road and pursue a teaching degree in the mid-1970s. Since then, I have had no regrets following a successful and highly satisfying 30 year career teaching high school History.

And finally, let’s face it, some good old-fashioned luck will probably play itself into the “fame and fortune” equation.

Just some musings from an aging 1960s hippie musician.

I welcome any Comments you may have.

Rick Young, March 3, 2019

Albright warns of Fascist creep in America.

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Former US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, pulls no punches in her cautionary book Fascism: A Warning (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 288 pp.).

Drawing on her personal experiences as a child in war-torn Europe, her time in government and conversations with her students at Georgetown University where she serves as professor of International Relations in the university’s School of Foreign Service, Albright  traces the history of Fascist states and leaders between the end of World War I and now.

In her introductory chapter Albright acknowledges that recent international developments suggest that democracy, once heralded as the undisputed future of humankind after World War II in 1945 and the Fall of Communism in 1989, is “under assault and in retreat” around the world.

She suggests that the recent emergence of strong men and populist leaders around the world is evidence that Fascism is making a comeback of sorts.

Having said that, Albright attempts to explain the meaning of “real Fascism,” positing that there really is no universally agreed-upon definition of the term.  Drawing upon discussions with her students, Albright concludes that “Fascism should perhaps be viewed less as a political ideology than as a means for seizing and holding power.”

Madeleine Albright served as secretary of state under President Clinton from 1997 until 2001.

She also states: “To my mind, a Fascist is someone who identifies strongly with and claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use whatever means are necessary – including violence – to achieve his or her goals. In that conception, a Fascist will likely be a tyrant, but a tyrant need not be a Fascist.”

But more importantly, she wonders aloud “Why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?”

Her answer?

“One reason, frankly, is Donald Trump. If we think of Fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab,” she says.

Describing herself as “an optimist who worries a lot,” the author expresses her concern over Trump’s election and the actions of the self-proclaimed “stable genius” during his first year and a half in office.

At this point she leaves Trump behind, promising to get back to him towards the end of the book, and launches into her survey of past and present strong men and their regimes.

Italy’s Mussolini ( the father of modern Fascism), Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Bosnia’s Slobodan Milosevic, North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, and others, are all analyzed in terms of what contributions each made to modern Fascism.

That line leads directly to Donald Trump, the man who now occupies the US White House.

While stopping short of calling Trump a Fascist (as many have), Albright warns that the United States is headed in that direction.

“Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was ‘bully,’ and on the day of the Normandy invasion, Franklin Roosevelt prayed to the Almighty for a ‘peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.’ By contrast, President Trump’s eyes light up when strongmen steamroll opposition, brush aside legal constraints, ignore criticism, and do whatever it takes to get their way.”

Now that Trump has declared a “National Emergency” to build the Border Wall between the United Sates and Mexico he promised during the 2016 campaign, how much closer is America to becoming a Fascist state?

Only time will tell.

Albright’s book is a welcome addition to the growing canon on Fascism. It should be compulsory reading for all thinking Americans.

Rick Young, February 16, 2019

Never again…until the next time.

I just went through that unpleasant periodical ritual that most of us experience at least several times during our adult lives: Searching for a new car to replace one that is coming to the end of its road-worthiness.

In my case, my 2004 Honda Accord V6 still runs and looks great. And it can still pass just about anything on the road 14 years after I bought it new.

But, lately the service and repair bills have been increasing in frequency and in cost. I guess it’s what inevitably happens when products are built for planned obsolescence in our consumer capitalist society.

So, it was with the usual trepidation, I started doing my research for a viable and affordable replacement.

The first thing I noticed was that to replace my car with a comparable new Honda Accord would be tantamount to buying a new house and with a monthly payment to match any mortgage. Something I am not prepared to do as a 67-year-old retiree.

Indeed, I’m not even sure a car dealer would finance me for the full length of the so-called incentive packages they offer these days – up to 84 months (or 7 years)!

The second thing a potential new car buyer needs to know is that the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) just applies to the basic model, and it doesn’t include taxes, freight charges, licensing and all of those other extra charges dealers pile on the cost of a new vehicle.

Add all of these charges, plus the charges for financing if you go that route, in and you’re looking at thousands of dollars more than the MSRP.

And, finally, third, there is the whole negotiating process or “dance” you must endure with the dealership once you have decided on a potential new vehicle purchase.

The closest thing comparable to buying a new vehicle is the purchase of a house. In both cases, it’s Caveat emptor or Let the buyer beware.

Now, with all due respect to Car and Real Estate Sales Reps (or Specialists, or whatever the current job label is), I know you have a demanding (some would say shitty) job that requires you to prey upon the emotional insecurities of your customers. But haggling with you over thousands of dollars on the purchase of a home or new car is not a pleasant experience for most buyers.

For some buyers, it can be downright stressful and intimidating.

In a word, the whole appraisal of your trade-in, make us an offer, let me check it with my manager and so on process, well, sucks.

In my case, I settled on a 2018 demonstrator HRV at a local Honda dealer. It was the perfect vehicle for my needs at this time and I figured we could grow old(er) together.

During my first meeting with the sales rep, we reached what I thought was a reasonable price for my trade-in, figured in all available rebates and discounts, and came up with a “Final” price, open for further negotiation.

I told the rep, who was an extremely helpful young man very interested in working with me to make the purchase happen, I needed some time to think it over.

Four days later, I made my second trip to the dealer armed with my “Final” offer based on a cash purchase.

Well, after submitting my offer and asking for a simple Yea or Nay, the sales rep said he would have to clear it with his Manager. He suggested I take the sub-compact SUV for another drive while he did that.

Upon my return, the sales rep was waiting for me with two sheets of paper in his hand – one a revised appraisal on my 2004 Accord, and the second a revised “Final” cost on the HRV.

Well, lo and behold, my trade-in was now worth almost $2000 less than it was four days earlier and the new bottom line was almost $2500 more than what we had agreed upon.

I informed him that was not good enough and walked away from the “deal.” I could tell that he was exasperated, but in the end: “The customer is always right.” So I didn’t waste too much time worrying about it.

Minutes after walking out of the dealership, I felt like a 500 pound gorilla had been removed from my shoulders. I had not purchased emotionally or impulsively and I still had a car that was road-worthy and probably good for a couple of more years thanks to Mike and the good folks at Village Auto Care in Wortley Village.

Will I revisit the whole ritual at some point in the near future? I guess I’ll have to monitor what those repair bills look like in the next twelve months.

I would like to hear about your experiences buying a new car. Were they similar to mine? Dramatically different? Whatever.

Rick Young, January 27, 2019.


Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

As a former high school History teacher, I am only too familiar with the horrific details of the Holocaust — the concerted attempt by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population by any means necessary during the Second World War.

Thus, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the best-selling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The book is an account of the struggles of real-life Holocaust survivor, Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of the book’s title – to stay alive in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps using his wit and cunning, while at the same time pursuing an improbable, but bitter-sweet, romantic relationship with a fellow Slovakian Jewish inmate named Gita Furman.

It is a story of human suffering and man’s inhumanity to man, but also one of hope, love and endurance.

Critics have not been kind to the book.

Many, like the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre, claim that “the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements.”

The Guardian’s critic Jane Housham referred to the book as a “glossing over of the concentration camps’ unremitting misery with sugary romance.”

Fair enough, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz is clearly labelled “A Novel” on its front cover. To approach it in the same manner as a non-fiction historical account is unfair and sure to be disappointing.

We’re all familiar with movies that include the preface: “Based on a true story.” Well, that’s what this book is — a story based on the first-person reminiscences of 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Lake Sokolov. Like all first-person accounts, it may have its intrinsic problems.

Having said that, does its historical inaccuracies detract from the novel’s effectiveness in telling a good story while at the same time introducing many readers to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time?

I think not.

Indeed, historical fiction is a controversial genre as evidenced by a recent New York Times piece about ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the History in Historical Fiction. To read this article, click here.

In short, it is best to approach the book as an historical novel based on the experiences of a real-life Holocaust survivor. Viewed in this way, I can say with confidence that this novel should become a welcome addition to the Holocaust canon.

If it encourages readers to pick up a non-fiction account of the Holocaust, that’s even better.

I give The Tattooist of Auschwitz 4 Stars out 4 and highly recommend it.

Rick Young, January 23, 2019

Addendum: When I began teaching high school History in the late 1970s, I took it upon myself to interview several local Holocaust survivors for use with my students when we covered the topic. To be sure, it was one of the most humbling and moving experiences in my life.

Unfortunately, in my moves to four different schools during my 30-year career, the taped interviews got lost in the shuffle.



Reflections on the Gillette “The Best Men Can Be” Ad

By now, you have probably seen the Gillette television ad, “The Best Men Can Be.”

If not, watch it before you read this Blog.

I have hesitated to comment on the controversial so-called Gillette “Toxic Masculinity” commercial for a couple of reasons — not least among them, the prospect of being labelled a “toxic male.”

But it’s time to weigh in, so let’s get started…

First, the use of the term “Toxic Masculinity” is, for me, a “red flag” or “buzz word” in that it demonizes all males with one wide brush stroke.

Masculinity, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is: “…an aspirational and normative style of being and living as a natural-born man that a critical mass of the members of that population applaud.”

Toxic is: “used to describe a person who is tainted by a subconscious malevolence or psychosis that affects the lives of those who come into contact with them.”

Put them together and you end up with: “A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.”

Now, I support the underpinnings and goals of the modern #MeToo movement as much as the next person. But, to have the term “toxic masculinity” thrown in my face if I tell an off-colour joke, watch an afternoon of football on TV, or use the phrase “Be a man” off -the-cuff is a bit much.

To use the term in a corporate ad to boost sales of a sagging product smacks of capitalist opportunism.

Second, as much as I don’t like them, I have grown accustomed to ads that portray men as stereotypical “lovable, clueless oafs or the alpha male who gets the girl.”

Now, I know that the cosmetics industry has traditionally inundated women with ads suggesting that they are inadequate and in need of betterment, usually regarding their physical appearance. Just think of the endless ads for moisturizers and creams to fix wrinkles, hair colouring to hide the gray, concealer for under-eye bags and endless diets to shed that fat.

Personally, I find these types of ads offensive and an affront to my female friends and relatives.

Frankly, I find Gillette’s attempt to tell me that something’s broken and I need to work to fix it just as offensive.

Yes, I am very aware that there are some bad hombres out there. But is it my job to show them the error of their ways and set them on a different path?

As a former high school teacher and football coach, I always felt that I was a role model to my male students and players, whether I wanted the job or not.

Without preaching, I was quick to point out and correct what I thought was inappropriate behaviour on the part of my male students and players towards their female counterparts, but to refer to any of them as toxic?

Nope.

And I don’t need Gillette or any other corporations telling me what to do in their pursuit of higher profits.

And, third, at the risk of being called a “Snowflake,” I am miffed at being called “part of the problem” and told I need to “get my head checked” if I dare question the contents and motives behind the Gillette ad.

Gillette representatives, themselves, say, “the controversy was not the intended goal of the ad, which is part of a larger campaign that takes a look at redefining Gillette’s longtime tagline The Best a Man Can Get.”

In short, if the ad ends up hurting the company’s sales, you can bet it will be pulled regardless of its positive underlying message.

I welcome your Comments.

Rick Young, January 16, 2019

Ken Thorne is still rockin’ after all these years

Long-time London musician Ken Thorne’s musical journey began in his native England playing the Recorder in elementary school before taking up the Violin and then the Viola in his secondary school’s orchestra. 

“I don’t even remember the names of the strings on those instruments.  But it was great fun being part of an organized orchestral sound,” he recalls.

The young Thorne joined his family’s Church choir where his musical efforts paid off financially.

“It was a bit mercenary actually as one got paid for singing at weddings and funerals,” he says. “It taught me a lot about vocals.”

A local youth club held Saturday night teenage dances where Ken and his friends could listen to the latest records of the day.

“Just before we came to Canada in November 1962, kids in woodworking class started building their own guitars as everyone was really into the guitar groups like The Shadows. I don’t think any of them were ever playable,” Ken laughs.

The music bug really bit him in Grade 11 at London’s Wheable Secondary School where he befriended guitarist George Attrill who could play tunes, like “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures. They decided Ken would get a guitar and play rhythm while George would play lead.

“Dad got me a Kent guitar and a small amplifier from Eaton’s. I paid a schoolmate a pack of cigarettes to teach me the E chord, so I could play the song “Bo Diddley” by Ronnie Hawkins.  I thought it was great that you could play a song made up of one chord,” Ken recalls.

In 1963, the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles and Rolling Stones hit the airwaves. For teenage Ken Thorne, it was a defining moment.

“One just had to learn to play those tunes you heard everyday and lots of guys got into guitar-playing and forming little cliques. Some even had the aim of playing music. George and I recruited a singer and drummer and learned enough songs to bluff our way through a Teen Town gig in the basement of All Saints Church on Hamilton Road.  We were called The Tek-niques and it soon became a regular occurrence.”

Following The Tek-niques came A Small Experience with Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, George Attrill, lead guitar and vocals, Rob Pugh, bass guitar and vocals, and well-known London drummer Graham Lear, who would go on to play with the likes of George Olliver, Santana and Paul Anka.

“We played British and American rock cover tunes while most of the other bands in London were into the Soul R & B thing,” says Ken.

They played University Frat Houses, Wonderland Gardens and the teen dance circuit in halls and arenas.

Eventually Ken was told by his parents that he had to get a “real” job, and the band dissolved shortly afterwards. 

“I ended up working at London Life Insurance Company and then left that and returned to University and Teacher’s College, eventually taking a position in Elgin County to teach Science and Math to grades 7 and 8.”

A call from Rob Pugh in 1973 led to the formation of a new band called Daybreak that worked the Southwestern Ontario arena and dance hall circuit and local bars for 23 years before folding in 1996.

Ken’s present band, Tom Cat Prowl, was formed in 1996. The lineup consists of Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chet Risser, lead guitar, Robert Keener, bass guitar and vocals and Gene Vandevyvere on drums and vocals. 

“We mainly play danceable Rock’n Roll music,” says Ken. “All of our songs are recognizable and great for audience participation and sing-alongs.”

Ken also does solo “Acoustic Rock’n Roll” performances which give him an opportunity to play different tunes from the group format.

In addition, he belongs to a mentoring group called Ruby Tuesdays (organized by Jake Levesque, another long-time London musician), which meets once a week to give interested musicians opportunities to develop their performing skills in front of others.

Calling himself a self-taught Rock’n Roll guy, Ken likes well structured organic songs that tell a good story and have an identifiable hook with a good melody and harmonies.

In 2015 Ken released a solo CD of 10 personally written and arranged tracks titled “Red Light Go.” It can be downloaded from CD Baby and other streaming sites.

When not performing, Ken keeps busy with his online business, Thorne’s Insect Shoppe Ltd., importing and exporting specimens of dead, dried insects to collectors, institutions and artistic workers all around the world. Visit https://thornesinsects.com/ for more information.

Asked if he ever considered making music his full-time job, Ken replied: “I’ve always considered myself a part-time professional musician. I just did not run off on the road and get stuck in that rut with all its pitfalls.  I have many interests and things to do, so I strive for a nice balance in life. This way I meet so many wonderful people, have fun and keep it going.”

Readers can go to the Tom Cat Prowl website — www.tomcatprowl.com — to check out the band’s upcoming gigs and they can contact Ken at mrtomcat@gto.net  to be put on a mailing list for news of his solo performances.

This story originally appeared in the monthly online publication, Aging Well. To subscribe to Aging Well, contact Pat Moauro at patmor123@gmail.com