Singers bring meaning to term musical ability
By Paul Gowan
What do these classic words from acid rocker
Alice Cooper have to do with the stage at Performance Works on Granville
Island? Well, they're linked to Rolf Kempf, a local songwriter who
composed the hit song of the same name for Cooper's 1973 album, Billion
Dollar Babies. The song also achieved lasting recognition on Cooper's
Greatest Hits album.
On Dec. 10th, a select audience soaked up the
lunchtime atmosphere at Performance Works and listened in appreciation
to an acoustic feast, including performances by Kempf, plus local
contemporary folk and blues performer, Jeff Standfield, and emerging
local jazz diva, Jayne Dinsmore, with her three-piece band, Jayne's Gang
Aside from Alice Cooper, there is a thread that
links these three performers and provided this event's raison d'etre.
Each has a significant physical disability. The Vancouver Adaptive Music
Society, a Vancouver-based, non-profit association working to open doors
for musicians with physical disabilities, presented the lunchtime
New Westminster-based Kempf, a performer,
songwriter and producer for the better part of 40 years, suffered a
polio attack at the age of three and uses a cane for support. Kempf's
Hello, Hooray was also featured on Judy Collins' 1968 album, Who Knows
Where The Time Goes. He has written songs for other artists, such as
French Canadian legend Ginette Reno, and has performed solo.
Kempf has written commercial jingles in Toronto,
worked on films, and performed various music-related computer jobs. The
56-year-old musician first arrived in Vancouver in 1991, set off on
"a long round trip down to Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle,
"then came back." He's been here since.
When asked how he explains his longevity in
music, he says, " I have to make music to stay sane - I have to.
There's nothing else I can do. It has that power. And I got hooked
really early, performing for people. Besides pulling tricks, it was a
good way to express myself, and still is. I suppose the fact that I'm
kind of flexible, style-wise - not rigid, like some people are [helps].
I sort of go with the flow and I adapt.
"I'm doing electro-based funk, along with
the folk and the rock and blues-based thing. I sort of put it all
together, and it still works for people, young and old."
Just recently, he composed a tune entitled
Watermelon Girl, named after the Vancouver-based, nudist, female
stand-up comedian by the same name. The 10-minute ditty was used for an
episode of a British TV show called Passengers, which examines youth
sub-culture. "A recent sort of claim-to-fame," he says.
Me And My Dog, a song he wrote with
Montreal-based independent contemporary blues artist Alan Gerber, just
missed the final cut at the Grammy nominations after cracking the top
100 candidates for Song of the Year. The tune turns up on Gerber's
latest CD, Live! (For A Limited Time Only), which was also nominated in
Kempf was happy with their success. "But
he's an 'indie' (independent artist) and it's tough," says Kempf,
referring to Gerber." [At the Grammies] there's block voting and
stuff like that. He's an indie, so he doesn't have a whole lot of sales.
It's just good quality."
Prior to discovering VAMS, Kempf's bio never
mentioned his disability because he says it was never an issue for him.
Then he saw an ad for Myles of Beans Coffee House in Burnaby - a venue
that regularly features the work of disabled musicians. The event was
called Disability Jam.
He was curious, so he checked it out. He
identifies with disabled musicians, even though he considers himself
"borderline disabled." At the café, he met Standfield, with
whom he hit if off and ended up jamming. "We did a few of my
tunes," he says."
Recently, Kempf mastered a CD for Standfield
called Inner Workings, Live, which featured Standfield performing live
at a showcase called Just Singin' Round, at the Vancouver Rowing Club.
The event places several performers on stage at once, each of whom takes
a turn performing.
VAMS supports both established and aspiring
musicians through teaching, studio time, use of musical instruments when
needed, help with artistic development and management as well as
technical support and guidance. Its aim is to inspire disabled musicians
to pursue their dreams.
Singer/songwriter Standfield has performed his
personal blend of contemporary acoustic folk and blues for about 15
years. He writes about "personal challenges and insights, which
transcend disability and reflect human experiences." He says VAMS
operates "behind the scenes," supporting the artists with
their careers, showcasing opportunities and making vital connections to
others in the music industry.
At Performance Works, Standfield performed two
of his own tunes, It's So Easy and River to Your Soul, plus an uplifting
rendition of Van Morrison's Precious Time.
"I started later," he says of his
chosen career. He began playing guitar at age 10, but didn't perform
until his late 20's. "I used to play a lot, and then decided I
wanted to go public and made that transition.
"I went up on a little stage and was
nervous as anything. [It was] in North Vancouver, a place called
Spirals, at the bottom of Lonsdale. It's changed names about three times
[since then], and no longer looks like it has live music," he says.
"A lot of artists I know got their start there at that time … I
still run into people today that remember it, so I have fond
When he was a year old, Standfield contracted a
rare virus that resulted in damage to his spine and caused partial
paralysis. From that point on, he has needed help walking - he uses a
wheelchair about half the time; the other half, he uses crutches.
In addition to music, he has been a world-class
swimmer, winning medals for Canada at three Paralympic Games as a
team-mate of people such as Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. He is a driving
force behind the "open stage" music scene at Myles of Beans
Coffee House in Burnaby, showcasing musicians from the disabled
community while helping others gain experience.
The open stage began in 2000 and Standfield says
they've been there "pretty well every month" since. It's a
performance evening and a social event. "There are people that come
out and listen to it that have no interest in performing. They just like
to be a part of the scene."
Although she has sung most of her life, Jayne
Dinsmore only started exploring jazz and blues after she met soundscape
composer and Grrrls with Guitars member sylvi macCormac (sic) through
VAMS about five years ago. macCormac recorded Dinsmore's voice,
introduced her to a couple of other musicians and encouraged her to
Dinsmore began to enjoy her newfound genre and
since then has taken flight, bringing the jazz classics to life with her
rare, clear voice and the help of her eponymously inspired backup band,
Jayne's Gang. Dinsmore also plays a gig twice a month at Myles of Beans in
Dinsmore has rheumatoid arthritis left over from
childhood and uses an electric wheelchair. The recording she made so
impressed VAMS staff they invited her to sing at a concert at
Vancouver's Wedgewood Hotel in 2001, and she has progressed since then,
recording a demo CD.
VAMS founder Sam Sullivan, a city councillor and
quadriplegic, who was injured in a skiing accident in 1979, talked about
the Performance Works showcase, which featured speakers such as CBC Disc
Drive's Jurgen Gothe.
"The key thing is getting people together -
to bring various people, who are interested in supporting musicians with
disabilities … together to discover, on their own, the ways that they
can contribute to the effort. Getting the funders, the resource people,
the disabled people, citizens, and the volunteers together is probably
one of the best things that happens here," he says.
How has VAMS support helped Jayne Dinsmore?
"Oh, it would take me a long time to answer that question,"
she replies. "VAMS has helped me a lot … I sang all my life, but
never really performed, and through VAMS I got support and confidence,
and I also met other musicians so I've got more of a network of other
people to play music with. And they got me out performing, which I never
Before that, she adds, "I wouldn't even do
karaoke. I was too scared. So I've come a long way since then."
For more information on VAMS, visit www.disabilityfoundation.org/vams,
call 604-688-6464, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.